Syncopation: Contemporary encounters with the Modern Masters

2019.08.10 — 2019.12.01


This exhibition presents a wide range of items from the Pola Museum of Art collection, including paintings, sculptures, and Oriental ceramics along with works by 12 artists active on the front lines of contemporary expression. This marks the first full-fledged exhibition devoted to contemporary artists since the museum opened in 2002.


The word “syncopation” refers to the musical technique of altering a standard rhythm by displacing the regular metrical accent in order to add texture and tension to a composition. Derived from the ancient Greek word sunkopḗ, the technique is widely used in classical music as well as being a fundamental part of more modern genres such as jazz, blues, and ragtime. Syncopation entails shifting the normal stress or accent, or reversing the strong and weak, a process that might also be seen as a means of reexamining the relationships among things and exploring new interpretations. In this exhibition, a group of contemporary artists presents a wide range of works, including installations that extend throughout a space, videos, photographs, sound, performance, and an outdoor piece. These efforts evoke syncopations that transcend time and national borders, shedding contemporary light on works by masters of the past, and giving rise to new rhythms.


Nestled in a rich natural environment, the Pola Museum of Art strives for a symbiosis between nature and art while restoring the intimate, innate connection between the two. There should be no distinctions made between the art of the past and that of the present. Together they should be allowed to perpetually forge new relationships with each other.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot x Claude Monet ーWater and Transience

The natural world shifts constantly, and humans have always looked to water as a symbol of these transformations. In philosophy, literature, and art, whether ancient or modern, Western or Eastern, the flow and movement of water has been deployed to express the sensation of time passing, or shifts in form and appearance. The Impressionist painter Claude Monet had an intense interest in water ever since he aspired to be a painter: in his late life, he built a pond with floating water lilies on the grounds of his own home, making works that repeatedly depicted the surface of this water. Céleste Boursier-Mougenot arranges a variety of white ceramic vessels in various sizes on the surface of a pool of water, prompting them to collide with each other in a random, fortuitous fashion. The environments created by these two artists in their respective eras invoke the shifting nature of a water surface that cannot be predicted in advance.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, clinamen v.7, 2019 ©Céleste Boursier-Mougenot Photo: Keizo Kioku

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1907, Pola Museum of Art

Shizuka Yokomizo x Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pierre Bonnard ーThe Hundred-year Waltz

Each of us constantly harbor within us a memory of a cherished, intimate place that serves as an emotional anchor. The Impressionist painters Monet and Renoir, as well as their successor Bonnard, devoted the mature stages of their lives to creating work in the gardens of their own homes. The countless brushstrokes and touches that these painters left behind on their canvas are still alive and breathing within their paintings. Shizuka Yokomizo captures on video the figures of four older women performing one of Chopin’s waltzes, as well as images of their favorite interiors and gardens, projecting them onto two screens. The touch of their fingers imprinted with their respective ages, and these melodies that exalt grief and sorrow, gradually forge a link to eternal time in front of the viewer.

Shizuka Yokomizo, Forever (and again), 2003, DVD projection, two screens
©Shizuka Yokomizo, Courtesy of Wako Works of Art Photo: Keizo Kioku

Claude Monet, Flowered Riverbank, Argenteuil, 1877,
Pola Museum of Art

Pierre Auguste Renoir,Anemones, ca. 1883-1890, Pola Museum of Art

Pierre Bonnardr,Stairs with Mimosa, ca. 1946, Pola Museum of Art

Alicia Kwade x Salvador Dalí ー The Other Side of the Mirror

Using hard materials like metal, mirrors, and glass, Alicia Kwade creates installations that amplify the sense of disjuncture in human consciousness. This work, Between Glances, contains both mirrors that reflect the figure of the viewer, as well as transparent glass panels that allow the viewer to see through to “the other side.” The lamps that ought to have disappeared light up like some phantom vision, confusing our gaze and beckoning us towards the world that lies beyond. Salvador Dalí also created works that invite the viewer into a labyrinth. Illusory spaces also unfold within Dalí’s paintings, populated by multi-layered fleshly figures, and the mirror images of menacing clouds and curious rock formations.

Alicja Kwade, Between Glances, 2018
Courtesy of the artist, KöNIG GALERIE, Berlin / London and 303 Gallery, New York
Photo: Keizo Kioku

Salvador Dali, Invisible Sleeper, Horse, and Lion, 1930, Pola Museum of Art
© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, JASPAR Tokyo, 2019

Abdelkader Benchamma x Gustave Courbet ー Magnificent nature

Earth, water, fire, rocks, wood, clouds, stars — these are the various elements that make up nature. Abdelkader Benchamma presents a dynamic vision of Earth where these elements coexist in a state of chaos in monochrome worlds that seem to extend as far as the eye can see. While making reference to a diversity of disciplines including literature, philosophy, and indigenous faiths and beliefs, Benchamma deploys improvisatory gestures to depict an endless, pleated expanse of richly varied light and shadow, as if to look back on the distant memories of ancient times. Courbet, whom Benchamma greatly admires, was an artist who explored forests in search of rocky mountains with conspicuous traces of tectonic movements and undulating terrain as subjects for his paintings. These artists, fascinated by the boundless life force of the natural world, dip their brushes in this sorcery in order to depict astonishing landscapes.

Abdelkader Benchamma, Body of Ghosts, 2019
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Templon, Paris Photo: Keizo Kioku

Gustave Courbet, Landscape with a Rock,Pola Museum of Art

Hirofumi Isoya x Pablo Picasso Drawing the Event

The colors of these photographs that capture familiar objects and events have been pulled outside the edges of the frame. Each of these images, divided according to shape and color, are sorted into a “past” that has now faded to sepia, and the “present” of the frame in front of you, creating a bizarre sense of disjuncture between time and consciousness. This still life painting by Picasso,
too, depicts items he loved — glasses, tobacco, newspapers — that serve as trusted companions, indispensable to life and creation. The painting, which contains several perspectives and evokes multiple times and spaces, prompts us to have a complex vicarious experience. By placing a Picasso work in the center of the room as an “object,” Isoya solicits the involvement of the viewer while also designing our actual experience of that space.

©Hirofumi Isoya Photo: Keizo Kioku

Pablo Picasso, Newspaper, Glass and Packet of Tobacco, 1921

Oliver Beer x Oriental Ceramics The Shape of Voices

The various vessels on display here, just like the respiratory organs in our body, contain hollow cavities made for storing air. Oliver Beer inserts microphones into these vessels and causes sounds to echo within their interiors: by amplifying them, he causes the various “voices” that lie dormant there to reverberate. An amphora from ancient Greece, a Roman jug, a piece of Etruscan ceramic,a Congo mask, an ancient Japanese pot, an Indonesian object, an English artillery shell — here is a veritable orchestra of objects that were given form in various times and places, alongside acts of human labor, from 3000 BC up until the 21st century AD: voices residing in an assortment of vessels that resonate with each other.

Oliver Beer, Devils , 2017,
16 vessels, 16 plinths, with microphones and associated audio equipment
Collection of Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, the Netherlands
Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London/Paris/Salzburg © Oliver Beer Photo by Stephen White

Susan Philipsz x The Impressionists Running Through the Forest

This work is dedicated to Lucia Joyce, daughter of the novelist James Joyce, who was active as a dancer in Paris during the 1920s. By taking as her subject the song “La flûte enchantée” (The Magic Flute) — a favorite of Lucia’s from Shéhérazade by Maurice Ravel, who has also been labelled an Impressionist — Philipsz creates a certain resonance with the Impressionist paintings that form the core of the Pola Museum Collection. Philipsz extracts the timbre of the flute from the song and separates it into the individual notes of a scale, letting the sound of each note reverberate individually through 11 speakers, one note per speaker. The timbre of “The Magic Flute” is superimposed onto Lucia leaping through space as she dances like the wind, as well as the brushstrokes of the Impressionist painters, taking on a three-dimensional, almost sculptural presence. As these sounds run through the spaces between the trees along with the breathing of the performers, they inject a sense of illusory color and vitality into this place and moment.

Suzan Philipsz, Wind Wood, 2019
©Susan Philipsz Photo: Keizo Kioku

Suzan Philipsz, Wind Wood, 2019
©Susan Philipsz Photo: Keizo Kioku

Suzan Philipsz, Wind Wood, 2019
©Susan Philipsz Photo: Keizo Kioku