Explore Independent New York: Kota Ezawa

Highlights from our presentation in New York.

Grand Princess, 2024 (excerpt)
single channel video, duration 2:57, dimensions variable, edition of 5

Fraenkel Gallery and Ryan Lee Gallery are pleased to present a joint Independent New York exhibition by Kota Ezawa, featuring light-boxes, collage, watercolor, sculpture, and animations based on found imagery from contemporary culture and art history. This exhibition marks the debut of Grand Princess, incorporating video animation and a vinyl wall installation. The piece depicts the arrival of a cruise ship into the San Francisco Bay in March 2020, carrying some of the first known American cases of COVID-19. Set against the picturesque landscape, the film distills these images into their most elemental forms, evoking the feelings of anxiety and alienation that marked the coming of a global pandemic.

Photogram, 2023
transparency in lightbox, 28-3/4 x 20-3/4 inches (overall) [73 x 52.7 cm], edition of 5

For his series​ The History of Photography Remix, Ezawa recreated important art and documentary photographs in his signature flattened style, making a recognizable yet reimagined version of history.​ This image from the series depicts a photogram by László Moholy-Nagy, the influential Bauhaus artist and teacher, transforming the experimental abstraction into a glowing lightbox.

Hand Vote, 2008
painted plywood sculpture, 11-1/8 x 16-3/4 x 5-1/2 inches (overall) [30.2 x 42.5 x 14 cm], edition of 3

Different from many of Ezawa’s works, there is no specific reference image for Hand Vote, a painted plywood sculpture that depicts rows of men and women with raised hands. For Ezawa, the sculpture doesn’t address a particular election, but illustrates an act that is “fundamental to the idea of democracy,” he said.

A Lady and Gentleman in Black, 2015
transparency in lightbox, 52 x 43 inches (overall) [132.1 x 109.2 cm], edition of 5

This lightbox depicts a version of Rembrandt’s 1633 painting A Lady and Gentleman in Black, one of 13 works of art stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the brazen 1990 theft. Ezawa’s series The Crime of Art chronicles real and fictional museum heists and acts of art vandalism, calling attention to his own use of appropriated images while recreating artworks that may exist only as a kind of collective memory.

Brawl #2, 2011
paper collage, 10-1/4 x 12-1/2 inches (framed) [26 x 31.7 cm]

Brawl #2 depicts a scene from a notorious NBA fight that broke out during a 2004 Pistons-Pacers game and eventually led to the suspension of 9 players. In Ezawa’s paper-cutout version, the chaos of the original moment has been smoothed away. “You’re left suspended somewhere between the ostensible truth of the original footage and the aesthetic conundrum of its remake,” film professor Holly Willis remarked. Ezawa, she continues, raises “a series of questions and contradictions that pivot on the recognition of shared historical moments as they’re rendered visually.”

Lennon, 2011
paper collage, 9-3/4 x 12-1/8 inches (framed) [24.7 x 30.7 cm]

Ezawa depicts John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their 1969 “bed-in”, in which the couple spoke with the press from their hotel room as a protest against the Vietnam War. The collage builds on Ezawa’s 2004 animation Lennon Sontag Beuys, which paired a stylized clip of Lennon and Ono with recordings of Susan Sontag and Joseph Beuys, as each talk about art in the context of social change.

Ezawa has often returned to projects to create related works in different formats, including light boxes, 35mm slides, watercolor, and paper collages. “It has to do with my wanting the work to progress rather than to stay as one thing,” Ezawa has noted. “I like putting images through the mill and exhausting them.”

Polaroid Supercolor 1000 (no date), 2005
transparency in lightbox, 20-5/8 x 24-5/8 inches (overall) [52.3 x 62.5 cm], edition of 5

While many of the images from The History of Photography Remix​ are based on well-known photographs, the series also includes an image of a Kodachrome slide and a Polaroid​ camera​—self-reflexive references to the development of the media. As Lars Bang Larsen and Chus Martinez​ write in the introduction to the monograph dedicated to the series, these images emphasize that “it is no longer the art work, but technical reproduction itself that is now the star​ in the continuing drama of the art work in the age of its technical reproduction.​”

National Anthem (New York Jets), 2019
watercolor on paper, 13-3/4 x 21-3/4 inches (framed) [33 x 53.3 cm], one of three unique variants

​For his series National Anthem, Ezawa draws from broadcast footage of NFL athletes “taking a knee” during The Star-Spangled Banner, in protest of police violence and the oppression of people of color. The series includes hand painted animation as well as individual watercolors. Writing about the series, Aruna D’Souza has noted that by removing these images “from the unthinking speed of social media outrage…[Ezawa] lets us dwell on the implications of the action and the reverence of the gesture.”

Who’s Afraid of Black White Grey #2, 2011
paper collage, 9-1/4 x 11-1/8 inches (framed) [23.4 x 28.2 cm]

This paper collage revisits a scene from Ezawa’s two-channel animated video installation Who’s Afraid of Black, White and Grey, which ​​depicts scenes from Mike Nichols’s 1966​ film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf​. In his title, Ezawa also references Barnett Newman’s series o​f large-scale paintings​ Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue, which pair powerful, flattened fields of color.

Self Portrait, 2011
paper collage, 12-3/8 x 10-3/8 inches (framed) [31.4 x 26.3 cm]

Another image from The History of Photography Remix pictures a 19th-century photographer with his daguerreotype camera. Several images from the series depict artists with their cameras, including Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol. In Ezawa’s simplified renderings, the differences between these artists and their eras fade.

Works on View

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