FriendsWithYou | Koichi Sato | Emily Yong Beck
918 Ruberta Ave
Glendale, CA 91201
The Pit is pleased to present a three artist exhibition featuring FriendsWithYou, Koichi Sato, and Emily Yong Beck. The installation consists of new ceramic vessels by Yong Beck, a suite of new large paintings by Koichi Sato, alongside an installation of new wall-bound plasticine reliefs as well as a large-scale inflatable sculpture by FriendsWithYou. There will be a public reception from 5-7pm at the gallery on Saturday March 4, 2023. The exhibition will be on view until April 8, 2023.
Japan’s embrace of cuteness developed in the self-aware and politically competitive environment of the 1970’s. The aggressive development of the kawaii aesthetic was highly manufactured, according to researcher Christine Yano — part of Japan’s intention to boost cultural standing globally. Shedding the association with imperial domination which shadowed the country after the second world war, Japan shifted it’s focus on being analogous with coolness and youth, in a more feminized less threatening manner. The attitude toward kawaii has, of course, been mixed. Some suggest that it infantilizes the country and couples Japan’s rich cultural heritage too closely to kitsch. Artists have similarly looked to the aesthetic with admiration as well as derision. The works of three distinct artists in the exhibition are a small selection revealing the impact of kawaii culture on artists from different backgrounds.
Koichi Sato moved to New York in the late 90s from Tokyo, Japan were he grew up fascinated with old American magazines that portrayed icons of American pop culture from musicians to actors to sports stars. In an obvious split from kawaii aesthetic, the language of his paintings is strongly informed by the vintage feel of these magazine images. The joyful portraits don’t depict actual people but imaginary characters in contrived poses. Sato’s imaginative scenes become especially clear through the figures’ hands which often included more than five fingers. This oddly grotesque gesture further distances Sato from his home country’s obsession with cuteness.
For Emily Yong Beck, who is of Korean lineage, the phenomenon of kawaii culture is intentionally deceitful. For Yong Beck, Japan’s successful “cute washing” obscures their devastating history of imperialism. To focus attention on this deceit, Yong Beck depicts popular Japanese anime characters using traditionally inspired Korean pottery techniques. By applying the same method of cuteness to her cloyingly embellished ceramic vessels, she reveals the psychological and aesthetic power of kawaii while acknowledging the history of its adoption through the materials she employs.
FriendsWithYou is the art collaboration of Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III, created with the intention to bring more joy, kindness, and love to the world using cute aesthetics often compared to Japanese kawaii. The collaboration is a vehicle for the exploration of emotional healing through culture creation and art making. Each work is created with the intention of transcendence, and nurturing care for the viewer or participant. Their stated goal is to “connect and heal as much as possible through our work, to grow the love and joy in each person, creating an exponential aggregate of sharing, healing, and compassion for each other and our living planet.” The duo is most known for their unique “pop positive” visions taking form in a variety of mediums with an un-ironic use of kawaii tropes such as fuzzy characters with large dewy eyes and renderings of beloved childhood cartoon characters.