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Sponsored by Deutsche Bank
Miwa Yanagi at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston



Young women that seem cloned, spry grandmothers, fairy-tale heroines that mutate into evil old ladies – in her photo works, Miwa Yanagi explores stereotyped images of women in a very unique way. Now, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston is hosting the young Japanese artist's first American solo exhibition.




Miwa Yanagi, Elevator Girl House B4, from the series Elevator Girls
Deutsche Bank Collection
©Miwa Yanagi

Back in 2004, the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin gave Miwa Yanagi her first comprehensive museum exhibition; one-person shows in Moscow and Tokyo followed. Now, an extensive selection of her works can be seen in the US. After a successful premiere at the New York Chelsea Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston is showing over 30 primarily large-scale photo works as well as a new video piece by the Kyoto-based artist. Deutsche Bank, who introduced Miwa Yanagi in 2004 as artist of the fiscal year, is sponsoring the exhibition and loaning works from its collection.




Miwa Yanagi, TheWhiteCasket, from the series Elevator Girls,
Deutsche Bank Collection
©Miwa Yanagi

In her photo series, Miwa Yanagi examines the roles Japanese women play in society, together with their fantasies and longings. The artist, born 1967 in Kobe, had her breakthrough with Elevator Girls (1993-99) – large, elaborately manipulated digital formats depicting young uniformed women in futurist settings. The series is based on the uniformed Japanese hostesses that run the elevators in luxury department stores. "Elevator girls are, by design, without their own identity," writes Manon Slome, head curator at the Chelsea Art Museum. "Clad in corporate uniforms, their personality has been erased to reflect the branding of the store or space within which they exist. As such they become a tabula rasa onto which others may project their own thoughts and fantasies. Their role is not dissimilar from women in pornography – a surface fantasy, presented to stimulate desire which (the location suggests) can only be satisfied through consumption."



Miwa Yanagi, Yuka, from the series My Grandmothers, 2001,
Deutsche Bank Collection
©Miwa Yanagi

In empty shopping malls, Yanagi photographed groups of young, slender, pretty women typifying the classical elevator girl. She then digitally manipulated the cool ambience of these consumerist temples and transformed her models into interchangeable objects. In some of the works of the series, they pose like goods on sale in storefront windows. In the first image of the four-part work White Casket, three of these hostesses in bright red costumes lie like corpses on the elevator floor; in the second, they are surrounded by a red fluid reminiscent of blood, but also of the color of their uniforms. In the last image, there are only a few little puddles of this synthetic-looking substance left: the essence of what the elevator girls embody – in other words, the store they work in.



Miwa Yanagi, Hiroko, from the series My Grandmothers, 2001,
Deutsche Bank Collection
©Miwa Yanagi


In Elevator Girls, Miwa Yanagi explores youth and beauty as well as adaptability and conformism, attributes fetishized by the consumerist society. On the other hand, her subsequent series, My Grandmothers (since 1999), examines the subject of aging. Here, her interest is directed at the desires of individual women. For the project, she asked young Japanese women what they wished their lives would be like in 50 years' time. "They want something for their future," explains the art photographer, "but they have a hard time expressing what they want, as if their desires were subdued or locked inside." The artist's pictures transform these fantasies into reality. Whether they imagine themselves as grey-haired dominas or riding in the sidecar of a motorcycle with their hair whipping in the wind behind them, the women, aged with the help of make-up and digital imaging, in no way meet up to traditional expectations.



Miwa Yanagi, Gretel, from the series Fairy Tales 2004
Deutsche Bank Collection , ©Miwa Yanagi


In contrast to these computer-manipulated color photographs, Yanagi employs classical black and white for her Fairy Tales from 2004. As with the Grandmothers, she once again works with special effects and make-up to help young girls slip into the personae of old women. The fantastic dream scenarios and eerie rooms she concocts for her works are anything but mere illustrations of fairy tales like Rapunzel or Snow White .


Miwa Yanagi, Sleeping Beauty, from the series Fairy Tales 2004
Deutsche Bank Collection , ©Miwa Yanagi


Red Riding Hood embraces her grandmother inside the slit belly of the killed wolf, while Gretel bites hard into the shriveled hand reaching into her dark cage. The wicked stepmothers and witches that torment young girls in classical fairy tales find their equals here. Thus, Yanagi's Sleeping Beauty grabs her spindle and attacks an old woman sitting at a spinning wheel as young, innocent fairy tale heroines mutate into ominous, evil creatures, turning Miwa Yanagi's latest series into her own subversive interpretation of Grimms' Fairy Tales – as a nightmare rife with sexual and psychological associations.

Miwa Yanagi – Deutsche Bank Collection
February 10 through May 4
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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