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A Faithful Art

Makoto Fujimura and the redemption of abstract expressionism.

Mar 7, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 23 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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He doesn't always hit the mark. Some of his paintings ramble. Occasionally his crushed-mineral pigments seem lifeless--in some of the sparser paintings, where colors have less opportunity to heighten and play off one another. His recent Manhattan show included a short video called Nagasaki Koi, of which Fujimura writes, "I took this video in a pond in Nagasaki, not far from where the second atomic explosion took place." These smug sleek fancy fish become mobile sculpture or living Celtic interlace as they glide and intertwine. Some of the stills are striking, and the video sounds alluring--but isn't as good as it sounds. It seems bland and superficial next to Fujimura's best paintings.

BUT HIS BEST PAINTINGS mark Makoto Fujimura as a superb artist who does honor to the Japanese traditions he uses, and helps fan life back into several magnificent western traditions--traditions as new as abstract expressionism, as old as Christian art.

His paintings point not to the past but to the future, in which art is raised gently and lovingly from the gutter and reinstated at the center of modern life. For thirty years, abstract expressionism has been neglected by the American art establishment in favor of the toothless tedium of Installation Art, Conceptual Art, Computer Art, Porno Art, Excrement Art, Dead-Animal Art. The pinball has caromed from boring to infantile and back again, while the world looks on in complete indifference. But it takes far worse than this to kill the artist's impulse to take a canvas, panel, or sheet of paper and cover it with line and color. Art survives; art triumphs. Makoto Fujimura proves it.

David Gelernter is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.