In the Walnut 2
December 7, 2011
Toko Kawai – June – 2010 – 2+ volumes
I get so excited when I read series about art! Seeing characters discuss paintings at length makes me so happy. The only thing that separates my BFA from a BFA in History, Theory, and Criticism is about six credits of French and a sudden realization that an Art History degree is slightly more useless than a regular fine art degree. I love reading about the history behind art, though.
Anyway! Here’s your history lesson for the day. The book opens and closes with artists I’m very familiar with, so I’m taking it out on you.
The first chapter is about a fictitious Japanese painter, but Joseph Cornell comes up twice, once when a customer spots a piece in passing, and again when she buys it at the end of the chapter. Joseph Cornell is an assemblage artist, and one of the best. His work is primarily done in shadow boxes with glass covers, usually filled with common objects, and they remind one a bit of the type of objects that mean something to someone, that just can’t be thrown away. It’s fun to look at them and try to ascribe meaning to the objects in each box. Sometimes the collection has a clear theme, but usually you can come up with your own stories. They have a lot in common with the idea of the Cabinet of Curiosities, though on a much smaller, more quaint, and personal scale. He was famously reclusive and also self-taught, though for some reason he’s not considered in with Henry Darger and other Outsider Artists. All his work is untitled. One of the largest collections in the world is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The book ends with Nakai and Tanizaki going to an exhibit on contemporary art (for some reason, a note in the book conflates the ideas of modern and contemporary art, but that’s okay). The artist from this exhibit that is featured most prominently is Felix Gonzales-Torres. The untitled work that Nakai and Tanizaki look at is actually a representation of Gonzales-Torres’ lover, who died of AIDS. The candy pile starts at the weight he was when he discovered he had the disease, and taking the candy from the pile is meant to be the wasting away that goes with the disease, while at the same time taking a piece with you represents as an act of remembrance. It’s a beautiful piece, and it’s a shame the topic wasn’t discussed a bit further. Infinity does indeed taste like lemon. The candy is always delicious, and always presented in very pretty wrappers. Aside from being a very touching piece, the most fun you can have with it is standing in the gallery and watching people trying to decide whether or not they’re supposed to touch it.
That’s most of the fun of this series for me. But it is otherwise very good, too. I still like that the stories are more about art and the people coming to the gallery than they are BL. It fits the BL bill by being very character-centric, since most of the stories play up Tanizaki’s kindness. And Tanizaki’s gay, so… you know. It’s not really a romance, since Tanizaki and Nakai are already well-established lovers.
I liked the stories in the first volume a smidge better, but the stories here are still interesting. The first one is about a woman who brings a painting her late father loved in to sell. Tanizaki is confused, since he’s currently restoring the same painting for a slightly shadier client. We get to learn more about both art forgery and art restoration techniques. And if that’s not enough, the story even has a happy ending.
The second story is about someone who is trying to con Nakai out of $2 million yen. It’s someone Tanizaki knows, and he gets back at the man expertly by offering to sell him a painting he forces Nakai to make. This chapter focuses on Jackson Pollock. I love that the notes in the back describe him as an American hero. His paintings frequently have garbage stuck to them, if you look close enough.
The third story is about a man who tries to forge his own paintings from a popular period he had 20 years ago. Tanizaki takes pity on him and tries to help him make the forgeries better, but the story goes in a much different direction after that. Yet more info on art forgeries and how to make them more realistic. I love that Tanizaki is so shady. De Chirico is the real-life artist in this chapter, and Tanizaki discusses how De Chirico similarly forged his own work later in life.
The last main story is a bit longer, and meanders a bit through modern and contemporary art, but at its heart, it’s about a box that someone discovers at an antique dealer that has paintings done by Henri Matisse. The box is used to fund the move for a bar that Tanizaki and Nakai frequent.
There’s a short story in the very back that I adored, about just how dirty and sloppy Tanizaki really is. It makes you feel a little bad for Nakai. I love that such an awesome character in the story has simple faults like cleanliness. Also, that someone with hygene issues like Tanizaki used to be a model.
These two books were pretty great. I think I like Bondz and Just Around the Corner a bit better, but In the Walnut isn’t too far behind either of them. And it’s hard to deny the pleasure I took in all the art history the stories covered. I see that more volumes have since been released, and I hope that June can get around to publishing them. I would love to see more.