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The Cloisters Venus and Pope's Workout

The Cloisters Venus and Pope's Workout
titled four times 'The Cloisters/Venus and Pope's Workout' (on the stretchers and bottoms of bottom half)
oil on canvas and panel in gold-leaf frame
overall: 302(H) x 311 x 7.3 cm. (118 7/8 x 122 1/2 x 2 7/8 in.)
top half (opened): 119.5(H) x 311 x 7.3 cm. (47 x 122 1/2 x 2 7/8 in.)
bottom half (opened): 182.5(H) x 311 x 7 cm. (71 7/8 x 122 1/2 x 2 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2004-2006 & retouched in 2009
Catharine Clark Gallery, New York, USA
Private collection, USA
Anon. Sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 29 November 2009, lot 1035
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Chronicle Books, Ascending Chaos: The Art of Masami Teraoka 1996-2006, San Francisco, USA, 2006 (illustrated in detail, cover, inside cover; & illustrated, p. 21).
Samuel Freeman, Masami Teraoka: Cloisters' Confessions, exh. cat., Santa Monica, USA, 2008 (illustrated, cover).
San Francisco, USA, Catharine Clark Gallery, Masami Teraoka: Venus and Pope, February - April, 2007.
Santa Monica, USA, Samuel Freeman (formerly Patricia Faure Gallery), Masami Teraoka: Cloisters' Confessions , April - May, 2008.

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

Lot Essay

Masami Teraoka is internationally recognized for his playful, creative interpretations of traditional woodblock prints ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”) fused with Western painterly techniques. In both watercolour and oil works, Teraoka mimics the often theatrical, erotic and humorous ukiyo-e to critique social, political and religious phenomenon. His critique is carefully balanced in an Eastern and Western perspective given his Japanese birth and later American residence. In the 1970s and 1980s, Teraoka’s prolific creations swiftly brought him recognition as a lyrical and satirical commentator. While the chosen subject of one work may originate from a single prominent current event, Teraoka’s work relentlessly points out fundamental flaws in our handling of taboo subjects such as AIDS, its relationship to Western and American culture, and our moralizing views about sexuality. In deciphering the infinite motifs of his works, the overarching themes he addresses as an artist are exposed to attest to the prominence of Teraoka as a provocative and pioneering contemporary Japanese artist.

After extensive travels in Europe, Teraoka’s imagery, medium and format in the 1990s was transformed from delicate watercolours to large sweeping oil on panel works encased by gold frames of Renaissance flair. Teraoka’s turn towards Western classical art and the Renaissance in particular allowed him to draw inspiration from reformation of religious, artistic and social customs. Within imposing frames that rival architectural church murals and altarpieces, Teraoka adapted aspects of Renaissance paintings in addition to the pre-existing references to Japanese fine art. In our featured ‘altarpiece’ The Cloisters/ Venus and Pope’s Workout, 2004-2006, Teraoka renders public icons in exaggerated poses, irrational spacing and stylized aesthetics to heighten the visual impact of the work in an astounding and mesmerizing manner. The arched shape panels echo the shape of the architectural cloisters in churches, providing us with contextual evidence as to what lies beneath. As viewers of this breath-taking opus, we recognize that beyond the visual aesthetics stemming from multiple traditions, an intellectual analysis of the scene will reveal a plethora of metaphors. In 2004 when Teraoka began painting this work, allegations of church related child sexual abuse and the banning of religious symbols in France sparked worldwide debate. The Cloisters/ Venus and Pope’s Workout perhaps addresses a few of these controversial issues while also exemplifying Teraoka’s masterful fusion of artistic and social concerns.


The angels, Venus and geisha are rendered with an exaggerated boldness, one that despite their coquettish stance, shows a defiant attempt to centralize the attentive and physical power towards themselves. Venus, our goddess of Love, exaggeratedly lifts the weights with ease as the ‘cardinal’ pleasures her. Her hair billows around her like Botticelli’s Venus in The Birth of Venus only without attempting to hide her sexuality. Teraoka’s mildly feminist approach insinuates an observation of the disproportionate sexual freedom between men and women in contemporary society. Teraoka points out the existing inequality of moral standards; at times when members of the ordained clergy are lightly punished for their wrongful acts, women of both Western and Eastern hemispheres represented by Venus and the geisha respectively are ridiculed for the mildest of sexual promiscuity. Its very absurdity is demonstrated in the revelling octopi, who like the fruits of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and the invertebrates depicted in Edo period ukiyo-e, engage in sexual acts with women.

Teraoka’s piercing and commanding painting of the age-old debate on religion and sex has been addressed with unique and purposeful execution, marking Teraoka as one of the principal artists of Japanese contemporary art. In recent years, Teraoka’s distinctive stylistic adaptation of contemporary life and artistic traditions has materialized in works of the numerous younger-generation contemporary Japanese artists such as Aida Makoto and Fuyuko Matsui. Teraoka’s sophistication and defiance is also comparable to Gilbert & George who utilize laughter and absurdity to explore controversial issues in already debatable religious contexts. Using church inspired ‘stained glass’ presentations of elaborate artistry, they use contradictions to subvert religion and its traditions, sex and gender roles in a similar fashion. In essence, Teraoka’s The Cloisters/ Venus and Pope’s Workout is universal in its ability to captivate worldwide spectators, tackling global and timeless social issues. It reveals a balanced transatlantic perspective and Teraoka’s lofty artistic concept executed with unwavering passion. As one of his masterpieces, it has been illustrated on the cover of his retrospective book Ascending Chaos The Art of Masami Teraoka 1966-2006 (Chronicle Books) and exhibited in notable exhibitions. Few have the audacity, creativity and ability to present such contentious issues with slapstick humour has earned Teraoka’s artworks places in renowned institutions including the Tate Modern, London, England; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA; Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, Scotland; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA; Fine Art Museum, San Francisco, USA and the Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, a testament to his profound aesthetic impact on the global art world.

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