Rakuko Naito reviewed by John Yau in Hyperallergic

Working across different mediums and materials, Rakuko Naito seems to have had at least four careers, while remaining nearly unknown in New York. Born in Japan in 1935, she studied Nihonga (traditional Japanese painting) at Tokyo National University, graduating in 1958. That year, she and her husband, the painter Tadaaki Kuwayama, moved to New York City, where they have lived ever since. Historically speaking, Naito belongs to the generation of diasporic Japanese artists born before World War II who have lived in New York, including Arakawa, Yoko Ono, On Kawara, Yayoi Kusama, Tadasky (Tadasuke Kuwuyama), and Minoru Niizuma. Of them, she is the least known. This is due partly to the fact that she has no signature style, which is made clear in the compact exhibition Rakuko Naito, at Alison Bradley Projects (November 4–December 11, 2021), nimbly curated by Gabriela Rangel.

The exhibition features nine works (four paintings, one photograph, two wire cube sculptures, and two paper reliefs), all done between 1965 and 2021. In the early 1960s, Naito was introduced to acrylic paint (an American material) by her friend, the painter Sam Francis, as Rangel tells us in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition. With acrylics, she began to explore simultaneously two different possibilities, “Op Art with a moiré effect and geometric divisions of the square.” In “RN821-65” (1965), Naito rotates a square with the square of the pictorial space, so that each corner touches the middle of the four sides. Within the rotated square, or diamond, she rotates and suspends a smaller square. Limiting herself to two colors (black and a color that is not quite maroon), she alternates vertical stripes, which shift when they cross into the large diamond and again in the smaller diamond. She unsettles the composition by incorporating a visual shift, which suggests that her interest in Op Art was ambivalent. It is likely that Naito’s interest in what Rangel calls a “moiré effect” is the reason that William Seitz did not choose her work for the exhibition The Responsive Eye, at the Museum of Modern Art (February 23–April 25, 1965), which he curated. 

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December 8, 2021
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