General Manager's Chair In An Abandoned Building

General Manager's Chair In An Abandoned Building
acrylic on board
145.6 x 103 cm. (57 3/8 x 40 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1996
Private Collection, Asia
Sakura City Museum of Art, Chaosmos ’07: In the Face of Sadness, Chiba, Japan, 2007 (illustrated, p. 24).
Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Ltd, Tetsuya Ishida - Complete, Tokyo, Japan, 2010 (illustrated, p. 50).
Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Ltd, Tetsuya Ishida’s Note, Tokyo, Japan, 2013 (illustrated, p. 52).
Tokyo, Japan, GUARDIAN GARDEN, 6th Hitotsubo 3.3-Sq.-Meter Exhibition of Graphic Art, Grand Prize winner solo show, Tetsuya Ishida Exhibition, The Person Who Drifts, 7-18 October 1996.
Shizuoka, Japan, The Person Who Was Not Able To Fly, Sumpu Museum, 10 November – 24 December 2006.
Chiba, Japan, Chaosmos ’07: In the Face of Sadness, Sakura City Museum of Art, 16 November – 24 December 2007.
Ashikaga Museum of Art, The Hiratsuka Museum of Art, Tonami Art Museum, Shizuoka City Museum of Art, Japan, Tetsuya Ishida, September 2013 – March 2015 (touring exhibition).

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Annie Lee
Annie Lee

Lot Essay

Tetsuya Ishida once said that he wished to change the world, bit by bit, with his paintbrush. It has been twelve years since he passed away in a train accident in 2005. The world is no more peaceful than before; the line between good and evil is as blurry as it has ever been; and utopia is a distant shore across a vast ocean. While capitalism and military power might still rule the world, the art of Ishida stands stalwartly against tyranny. During his short artistic career of ten years, he strove to expose social injustice in Japan, as well as depict the depression and the sense of helplessness experienced by the country’s youth. Ishida was on a mission to utilize his meticulous brushwork to crystallise these issues into an artistic expression.

Tetsuya Ishida was born in the Shizuoka Prefecture in 1973. He graduated from the fine art and design programme at the Musashino Art University in 1996. He briefly worked in the commercial design industry after he graduated. However, the great recession brought by the collapse of the economic bubble in the 1980s made Ishida give up his career in design. As an artist who was barely making a living from doing odd jobs, the financial instability and threat of unemployment became artistic inspiration. In his early work Guchi (complaint) (Fig. 1), Ishida responded to the tedium and indignity that he personally experienced at work. During the economic downturn, people became more isolated and turned their attention toward material pleasure. The characters in Ishida’s work show a flat affect and lack communication, revealing the psychology of a twisted society.

Japan gives the impression that it is a powerfully unified nation. This cohesion is dependent on its people’s deeply rooted beliefs in traditional hierarchy. It is a caste system that is highly institutionalized, and it is viewed as a social construct that brings order, stability, and progress. From an early age, school children are taught to obey the conventional relationship of the elders and those to their junior- it is an indomitable line which cannot be transgressed. In the workplace, the concept of seniority is revered. Those who are considered senior are empowered by an authority which is bestowed by tradition. This phenomenon made the mentality of “the young fearing the old” and “the old bullying the young” very commonplace. A lifestyle that overemphasises decorum and etiquette further reinforces this hierarchy. As a member of Japanese society, Ishida cannot change its rigid pecking order. Nevertheless, he is sympathetic towards everyone who is mired in this archaic classism, and it is this attitude that is concretely expressed in his art.

Looking at the complete oeuvre from Ishida’s ten-year long career, The General Managers Chair in an Abandoned Building (Lot 49) can be considered an elegy, which most succinctly describes social and workplace stratification in Japan. Filled with Ishida’s signature imagery of surrealistic fantasy, the sole character in the picture is the socalled manager. Sitting crossed-legged, his body is amalgamated with the metal frame and upholstery of the chair-his flesh bonding with the chair itself. Though the absurd imagery is comedic, it is meant to evoke sympathy from the viewer. Despite donning a 3-piece suit and tie to match, the authority of the manager is completely undermined by his humiliating position. By his listless countenance and empty gaze, viewers can deduce that he is apathetic towards his current condition. Perhaps he has gotten used to the derision and contempt from his superiors- he understands that no one is spared from the hierarchical rules of the workplace. At the same, he does not forget the fact that he has used his subordinates as a chair (Fig. 2). The General Managers Chair in an Abandoned Building profoundly explains how an individual can play multiple roles in a society- in a hierarchical world, ranking, be it high or low, is not absolute but rather merely relative. Abandoned in an empty building, this “chair” shows obvious signs of aging as if it is worthless. It is a reminder of the grim reality that followed the collapse of the economic bubble.

Spanish painter Diego Valazquez’s Pope Innocent X (Fig. 3) can be considered as a masterpiece that most thoroughly reflect reality in the Western portraiture tradition. In the painting, the Pope sits on a flamboyant throne - it is a symbol of power. Not only does this amplifies the presence of the sitter, it is also a metaphor for the power relationship in the society. In Ishida’s painting, the interaction between the supervisor and the chair is even more closely related. Other than articulating the structures of class and power, it also attempts to delve into the fundamental interactions between humans and objects. Through his Surrealistic representation, Ishida hollowed out the soul of the manager and transmuted him into an inanimate object. In Perspective II: Manets Balcony (Fig. 4), René Magritte turned all the figures in Manet’s original into coffins - same postures are kept, yet they are lifeless. In this regard, the supervisor that Ishida depicted still possesses a glimmer of hope. At least he is feebly holding up his head on the upper part of the painting where the colour are relatively bright. This sense of placidity can perhaps be considered as a blessing. Compared to the old man with his face buried in his hands in Van Gogh’s Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity) (Fig. 5), Ishida’s manager resolutely suppresses his emotions. Obstinately, he persists his crossed-legged pose and accepts his fate. The attitude expressed here is hinting at the traditional values of the Japanese people.

Amongst the 200 some paintings that Ishida had left behind, a young man with cropped hair makes repeated appearances. This character experiences various forms of oppression and bullying— human dignity is as expendable as machines or inanimate objects. When they appear as a group of clones in Ishida’s compositions, the viewer can surmise that this character is a portrait of Ishida himself, who also represents the group portrait of those who share his collective fate. This problem is not unique to Japan— all over the world, countless people are stuck in similar predicaments. In order to survive, they live lonely lives that are no different from that of inanimate objects. They are similar to the clones in Ishida’s paintings— day after day, year after year, they have lost their sense of self.

An armchair is a simple object. It is also a vessel that symbolizes the fate of people. In an age where money rules, it is true that art is helpless to rectify injustice. Yet, Ishida’s work affirms the value of humanity and asserts the importance of human dignity. He believes that art can reawaken the dormant sense of compassion, soothe wounds, and offer hope to the world. Life is full of conundrums that cannot be perfectly resolved. Nevertheless, Ishida’s paintings silently stimulate our blunted sensibilities and compel each viewer to take a renewed interest in reflecting on the meaning of life.

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