Terry Grimley enjoys the humour in an exhibition of new Japanese art in Wolverhampton.
Between them, Paris and New York dominated the history of art in the 20th century, but at the beginning of the 21st there is no single dominant focus.
Instead the international art world is more geographically and stylistically diffuse, with hotspots corresponding with emerging economies. That tends to mean China and India (an exhibition of recent Indian art opens at Frank Cohen's Initial Access gallery in Wolverhampton this week) but Japan, with its blend of traditional culture and dynamic Western-style capitalism, should also be strongly placed to make a distinctive contribution.
The exhibition Passage to the Future: Art from a New Generation in Japan, just opened at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, is a touring show from the Japan Foundation which surveys the work of 10 individual artists and the cooperative Maywa Denki.
This is a generation born between 1963 and 1975, so we are looking at established artists rather than an emerging wave.
Even though the exhibition is uneven in quality, it contains some interesting and unusually entertaining work, and I would strongly recommend a visit.
The top priority is to see the extraordinary work Japanese Kitchen by Tabaimo. This is apparently a scaled-down version of her original work, which was presumably a lifesized recreation of a traditional Japanese house.
In the doll's house version here, there are three screens showing Tabaino's own excellent animated films, in colours reminiscent of Edo period woodcuts, showing a woman cooking in her kitchen as suicides fall past her window.
It's not quite clear what happens at the end, after she grabs the businessman (her husband?) from behind his desk and starts chopping him up with the carrots - but perhaps only in her imagination, since he subsequently reappears with a gun and shoots her.
I would be fascinated to see more of Tabaimo's work. This dry comment on the stresses of contemporary Japan, accompanied by a whiny solo cello score, is one of the contenders for star of the show.
The other is the daft output, including a very funny explanatory video, of artists' cooperative Maywa Denki. This group straight-facedly mimics corporate Japan, referring to itself as a company, with lead artist Nobumichi Tosa as its president, and dressing in identical blue overalls.
However, the products it designs and makes, while not necessarily useless, are certainly eccentric. All of them are inspired by fish, so that you have, for example, a cross-bow in the form of a fish's skeleton and a mechanised fish-shaped stack of glasses for doing the wet finger-on-a-wineglass trick.
There is also a fish-skeleton extension lead which has been put into mass production and is available to buy at 4,800 yen (about £25). Hopefully it conforms to higher safety standards than the electric xylophone complete with light bulbs and deliberately uninsulated wire which is a threat to anyone reckless enough to play it (I should say this only features in the video, not in the gallery).
If the satirical humour of Maywa Denki and Tabaimo is the most winning element here, there is plenty of variety in the rest of the exhibits.
Like Maywa Denki, Tetsuya Nakamura is inspired by product design, though his stream-lined fast car is actually part of an entirely static sculpture.
Of the two painters, Nobuyuki Takahashi and Atsushi Fukui, I preferred the latter's economical images of buildings and landscapes in a distinctive range of dry pastel colours to Takahashi's minimalist graphic images.
Milan-based Satoshi Hirose creates a beautiful sculpture out of beans and torn bits of maps suspended in a block of clear acrylic, not far removed from the beautiful transparency of Mikyuki Yokomizo's installation Please Wash Away, in which screens are made from blocks of soap recreated in subtly-coloured resin and suspended in clear plastic sleeves.
Tomoyasu Murata's inclusion reflects the trend towards assimilating animated films into fine art exhibitions, where traditionally they have been seen as a sub-genre of cinema. His films about a successful pianist revisiting scenes from his childhood are meticulously crafted by the artist, who created all the doll-like characters and settings. They are very beautiful, if a bit sentimental.
One of the most remarkable contributions comes from Yoshihiro Suda, who has carved and painted a wooden peony petal so meticulously that it is difficult to tell from the real thing.
He usually finds some niche in the gallery in which to place exhibits like this, so that they often go unnoticed. As that was not possible in this touring show he has chosen to show it in a glass case alongside a raku tea bowl made in 1997 by Raku Kichizaemon.
* Passage to the Future: Art from a New Generation in Japan is at Wolverhampton Art Gallery until April 26 (Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; admission free).