Sanya Kantarovsky’s “After Birth,” the inaugural release from Taka Ishii’s new Kyoto gallery, offers an eerie staging of an exhibition in a traditional Japanese townhouse. It is now almost de rigueur for artists passing through the city to exhibit their work in these rustic buildings, called Machiya. And why not? Full of rich woods and intricate arrangements of screen doors and straw floors, the structures look ready for art. Too often, however, the resulting installations take an overly reverent attitude towards the architecture in a desperate effort to harmonize with it. This is not the case with Kantarovsky. While the artist is known for pressing his subjects’ bodies into awkward positions, here his canvases themselves push against the given geometries of their 150-year-old abode.

Inside, the subdued lighting (when there is one) underlines the spectral qualities of the work. Bad girl, 2023, a painting of a crouching dog, stands on the ground in a completely obscured corner, from where the emaciated animal appears to cast a suspicious gaze at the viewer. Outside, on the walkway, a simple floral arrangement rests nonchalantly in boy with hole, 2023, a chunky vase whose surface Kantarovsky has adorned with the distended head of a child. The door to a courtyard urinal is left visibly open, revealing Nuppepō, 2023, a small work depicting a human face emerging from a puddle or cloud. By these gestures, “After Birth” does not kneel before the Machiya to haunt him.

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