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.

In the Walnut 1

November 24, 2011

Toko Kawai – June – 2010 – 2+ volumes

After reading Bonds and Just Around the Corner by Toko Kawai, I became completely obsessed and ordered all her books. Happily, they all are available in English, save one that appears to be forthcoming from suBLime next year. I’ve since read all of them save Our Everlasting, but I haven’t gotten around to discussing them yet. In the Walnut was my favorite of this second wave, so I’m going to cover it first.

This is a BL story that takes place in an art gallery. It’s a BL story with an established couple, and it’s told in an episodic format where the main plot points deal a lot with art history. It’s also fairly well-written.


The couple goes together well. One of them is a messy, shaggy, unshaven, and very lazy gallery owner who seems to need coerced through life by his cheery partner, who works in video production. Tanizaki is the gallery owner, and Nakai is the video production worker. Both seem to be openly scornful about the interests of the other, with Nakai openly bored with visits to the art museums and Tanizaki showing no interest in helping Nakai make his videos. It’s not really a romance, and a lot of the interaction between the two involves Nakai brow-beating Tanizaki to take baths and change his clothes and things.

But the meat of the story is about the goings-on in the gallery Tanizaki owns, In the Walnut. Sometimes his business dealings are shady, and Tanizaki is one of the best art verification specialists in Japan, and often uses this knowledge about legitimate paintings to do very good forgeries. But Tanizaki is a good guy, so his forgeries usually help people or punish the bad guys. For example, one of the stories is about a small boy who is trying to obtain an original Paul Klee sketch for his sister, who is on the brink of losing her eyesight and is a big Klee fan. The little boy asks Tanizaki for help, and offers to buy one for $60, and Tanizaki has to explain to him that Klee’s sketches are in museums and aren’t for sale. Later, Tanizaki asks the boy to pray to God for one of the Klee angel sketches, and while the boy is praying, Tanizaki draws a very good forgery. It is ADORABLE.

Conversely, in a two-part story, we learn a little bit about the history of the gallery, and about how Tanizaki conducts business. He’s bullied into paying big bucks for a painting he knows is a forgery, and has to think of a way out of the situation without disgracing the name of his gallery. Naturally, the solution is highly illegal, complicated, and just about the sweetest revenge you can think of.

Tanizaki is the main character, but Nakai is there by his side for all the stories. And yeah, it’s not really a romance, but the requisite “how did Tanizaki and Naki meet and fall in love” chapters are crammed into the back of the volume. And you know what? They’re short, and Kawai clearly didn’t enjoy writing them as much as she did the main stories, but they’re still really, really good.

And ahh, the art history. I love it. I’ll talk more about that in the next volume, though. I did like that there was a full list of all the featured artwork, including stuff glimpsed in the splash pages, on the publication information page in the front of the volume.