Too beautiful to be true? – Yet on the other hand, doesn’t something repulsive necessitate such beauty? Art is situated in reality but also acts as its counterpart. Or to put it differently: reality has many layers – both high and low, basal and ephemeral, political and aesthetic, humane and inhumane. Which of these are in the focus today? Political and medial on the one hand, those that are uniform, and on the other hand those resulting from hyperactivity and terror; material consumption and event euphoria on the one hand and suffering and dispossession on the other; aesthetic shock and sensationalism on the one hand and all kinds of games on the other; morally judgemental despite all consternation in the face of factual complacency. In this situation, art can pursue different options: those of approximation or resistance, of the marketable reprise or the tenaciously asserted innovation, of ironic alienation or the clever mix of cultural codes. However, there are also other ways. One – particularly significant – will be spoken of here.


Inconspicuous objects: curtains, neon lamps, bowls, stations, human bodies, geometric rooms, landscapes. Yet all this is alive – in particular the inorganic objects. The light of the neon tube spreads downwards like a cloud or a womb, and the more it spreads out, the more corpulent it becomes – plump with intensity, warmth and softness that one wants to nestle into. Or the bowls (the receiving, non-exuding counterpart to the neon tubes): they reproduce themselves, cast shadow pictures of their curves, their body, their socle; and their opening is filled: with light reflexes, shadow plays, milky light. And all the objects are breathing.


But there is still more. Everything unfolds in an ambience of light and beauty. Or rather – because the light is not predetermined, it is not lighting but is generated quasi by the objects themselves – everything is bathed in light, is a phenomenon of light. In the process, the light and the objects go together and alongside one another. They are interwoven, linked, entwined. This mutuality between the light and the objects explains the beauty of these paintings.


But beauty: is that not an anachronism, something out-of-date? Oh yes, rather than the beautiful, the media and many sections of today’s art world favour the outré, the flashy, the ultimate kick – which then, as with all drugs, requires more and more escalation, until the idling cycle of perpetual sameness. And modern art has itself renounced the beautiful often enough. In place of the predominant beauty, the futurists wanted to propagate something different, something that was downright ugly for well-established tastes: the roar of a racing car’s engine – they called it the “beauty of speed”.[1] However Barnett Newman stated categorically that “the impulse of modern art” resides in the “desire to destroy beauty [2] – and scores of artists have followed him in this ruthless outlook, right up until today. It seems they were blind enough not to see that Newman painted beautiful pictures and that his polemic against beauty only applied to the beauty popular at that time, while on the other hand he advocated the abundant beauty of the sublime. One must be deluded not to recognize that beauty (of different kinds) has always been a component of art. That art to a great extent has consisted of inventing new forms of beauty for all the world to see. [3] Was not Leonardo da Vinci, who described the eye

as our “noblest sense”, [4] because #“the beauty of the world is reflected in it”,[5] at the same time aware of the discrepancy of the ways in which beauty shows itself and is envisioned? Did not Dürer, who dedicated a lifetime to the search for beauty, almost despair over its polymorphism and incomprehensibility (“What beauty is, I know not” – only to then bequeath a study book on beauty (Four Books on Human Proportions, 1528)? Does one want to claim that one of these two, or the thousands upon thousands of successors, had given up striving towards beauty because of its polymorphism and indefinability? On the contrary! It is particularly that which is so varied in shape and form and unspecified which appeals to artistic talent. Did Frenhofer not pine for a new beauty that had never been seen before? Or did not Dubuffet, who all too generously declared that beauty was of no importance for him at all,[6] nonetheless produce lithographs of almost supernatural beauty (Cosmographie, Sol céleste, etc.)? And could one do justice to Mondrian, Turrell or Richter and numerous other artists without speaking of beauty? In short: beauty is an integral part of art. Only: what it consists of must constantly be rediscovered, negotiated, surmised.


Only in the case of one tendency is aversion justified as opposed to beauty: with regard to the merchantable occupation of beauty through advertisements, the media and salesmanship that is rife today. However, beauty was always something other than prettiness, the cosmetic, the catchy, yesterday’s wilting beauty. Real beauty must be discovered, created, re-invented.


But let us come back to Miwa Ogasawara. She frequently works with reflections. But what does she reflect? Nothing, at least not a specific object. The reflexes are rather parts, elements of the picture itself, inner reflections, not interjections from without. ‘Reflection’ doesn’t just mean a physical reflection but also an intellectual deliberation, mindwork. Sometimes it really is as if these images were thinking – reflecting themselves, building themselves up via inner reflections. Only that image neurons do not create fire up but vibrate gently, radiate and interweave. Sometimes the result is diffuse, sometimes it is razor-sharp – but it is always consistent. Like thinking, which can sometimes be dreamy, sometimes extremely precise. Yes, the artists that count all reflect in depth (but are not, thank God, academic-discursive but artistic-productive). And it is always the modulations of light and dark, the light forms, which constitute the body and structure of the pictures. The light is – once again – not lighting (from without), but quasi carnal self-generated light (from within). It is corporeal, is in league with the objects, generates its own glow, is (like all living creatures) an self-operator and self-enhancer. It expands, but it also nourishes and cares. It does not irradiate but concedes and respects.


All this is part of the beauty of these pictures. Should one call this beauty inconsiderable? It is certainly not emblazoning. It is light-years away from the market cry of beauty in media and advertising. It is delicate, gentle, whispering, intimate, alluring – and yet precisely for this reason so engaging, uplifting and irresistible. It does not capture, but invites. It is full of friendliness and humanity. This beauty may remind us of childhood experiences, of happier or more peaceful times or of those rare hours in which our existence was safe or more fulfilled. All this occurs without pomp or any great to-do, without technological-medial upgrading, without the hype of the art squallers. This beauty shows an alternative to the medial and consumerist prettiness. It is different, it is a genuinely artistic beauty. Which also means: it is authentic (and beauty that was not authentic would not be beauty at all, but merely prettiness).  


And one more thing: this beauty has not masked the darkness, has not negated it; rather it integrates it, reveals it, is in league with it. The light is not without shadow and vice-versa (indeed a great deal of black has been worked into these paintings). There are also pictures that directly address the horror. For example three landscapes (saigai). They revoke “Fukushima” – more the psychological and mental complex that is connected to this name than the occurrence. A reminiscence about the artist’s home country, embedded in artistic language, which for her part (though very subtly) hints at her roots in a country where the aesthetics of light and shadow are one.[7]


Until now we have been speaking about light, objects, reflections, shadows. But not about people. Do they not appear? Yes, they do, but not always. Miwa Ogasawara is far from making people the centre of attention.[8] Indeed, sometimes her work process goes as far as creating a setting, that initially contains figures, which is then completely without people in the end (this was the case, for example, in the development of Gang to Hallway). And in many paintings there are human artefacts but no people. At another moment the people are discernable as shadows (Reisende). But then there are also the paintings that only have people as their theme and this – quite classically – in the form of nudes, which do not show the whole body, but only parts of it: legs, backs, arms, hands, which are however completely dedicated to the beauty of these bodies, to the skin, the human shape.


One viewer felt ill at ease regarding this aspect: are not the portrayals of flawless bodies far too sensual, seductive, are they not close to being pornographic? Mon Dieu – are we soon going to censor Fra Angelico, Canova, Ingres, and others too? Just because in our information world the abuse of children and youths is currently such a popular topic? Alas, this social blindness that considers itself so perceptive – until the eyes are soon rolled at something else. Open your eyes, friends, here and elsewhere! Using painterly means, Miwa Ogasawara envisions the softness of skin, the androgynous architecture of a back, the graceful dexterity of a hand, the delicateness of a breast. Are we not familiar with this? We have at best forgotten it or have failed to perceive it in all its beauty and innocence. It can fascinate us all the more if it is presented to us, as in this case, not in a lascivious and lurid way, but in its gentle beauty. Yes, such painting is not autonomous per se, but depictive. With painterly means it sensitises us anew for the beauty of the human body, which at the same time expresses an inner beauty. Good old Aristoteles (the first aesthetic who loved art and who dedicated wonderful narrations to it) would have taken pleasure in it: art depicts reality – but not simply as it commonly appears, but better and more beautiful, namely the way it is, when it can be completely itself – untroubled by a disapproving gaze or mediocre expectations.


It is brave to present such beauty in our world of excitement and shock, to show this converse possibility to our society. This art thinks much more highly of us than our opinion leaders – and all too often we ourselves – do. What a blessing.



Wolfgang Welsch

[1] Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Erstes Manifest des Futurismus [1909], in: Marinetti e il futurismo, ed. by Luciano De Maria (Milan: Mondadori, 1973), 3–9, here 6 [4].

[2] Barnett Newman, "The Sublime is Now", in: Tiger's Eye, vol. 1, no. 6, Dezember 1948, 51-53, here 52.

[3] Cf. Wolfgang Welsch, "Wiederkehr des Schönen?", in: idem., Blickwechsel – Neue Wege der Ästhetik (Stuttgart: Reclam, 2012), 116–132.

[4] Leonardo da Vinci, Trattato della pittura [#Reprint of Codex Vaticanus Urbinas 1270] (Neuchâtel: Le Bibliophile, o.J.), 23 [23].

[5] Ibid., 20 [20], likewise ibid., 19 [19]. In another section: the eye “contains the beauty of the whole world” (ibid., 23 [24]).

[6] Ibid., 22.

[7] Cf. Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, Lob des Schattens: Entwurf einer japanischen Ästhetik [1933] (#Zurich: Manesse, 1987).

[8] Aside from all the aesthetic pleasure taken in her work, this fascinated me from the very beginning. Cf. in congruity with this: Wolfgang Welsch, Immer nur der Mensch? Entwürfe zu einer anderen Anthropologie (Berlin: Akademie, 2011) and Homo mundanus – Jenseits der anthropischen Denkform der Moderne (Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft, 2012).