Earlier this month I visited Massimiliano Gioni's much anticipated The Encyclopedic Palace in Venice. To my and many others delight Gioni's elegant show blurred the distinction between outsider and professional artists presenting tantalizing roster of unknowns. Among them Shinichi Sawada born with severe autism who express himself through sculpting an expanding menagerie of clay figures in his mountaintop studio.
All of Sawada's works - dragons, demons, totemic figures with multiple faces, and twisted, howling masks - bristle with hundreds of handmade clay spikes, which give them an intricate, ornamental beauty and a menacing look. Some seem to be inspired by ancient Japanese lore, other by Noh theatre masks or even Manga and Anime. Yet others recall the arts of African tribes but their true nature and cosmology state the inner life of the artist and may never be known.
The other Japanese artist in the show is not so unknown and since his works have been sown at last dOCUMENTA (13). Nevertheless it was good to see his riotous, multi-layered works in painting, sculpture and bookmaking in different context, which played in his favor. Responding directly to mass media and contemporary urban life, Shinro Ohtake's works feature accumulations of found materials, which manage to suggest both short burst of slapdash energy and years of considered, geologically paced buildup.