A Lover's Discourse: Ulala Imai

Exhibition Guide


in the company of


September 1–October 15, 2023

Aspen Art Museum

June 22–January 14, 2024 A Lover’s Discourse

Guglielmo Castelli Chase Hall Ulala Imai Stanislava Kovalcikova Zeinab Saleh Issy Wood

A Lover’s Discourse is a new series of artist-led presentations introducing unexpected dialogues between artworks from different generations. Each exhibition juxtaposes recent works by an early-career artist with their choice of a companion piece from a private collection in Aspen. Artist selections range from historical to contemporary pieces, and span figurative and abstract painting, sculpture, video, works on paper, and sound.

September 1–October 15, 2023

Ulala Imai in the company of Thomas Moran & Soshiro Matsubara

The third presentation of A Lover’s Discourse features a large new painting by artist Ulala Imai (b.1982, Kanagawa, Japan), which the artist chose to exhibit alongside a 1913 landscape by Hudson River School artist Thomas Moran and a contemporary ceramic wall sconce by Soshiro Matsubara. Imai paints scenes drawn from both her familial life and popular culture. She works in her home, transforming her children’s toys, quotidian foods—such as fruit and buttered toast—and other household items into compelling subjects, repositories for the more universal human exchanges surrounding them. Her style is deeply engaged with Western traditions of figurative painting across landscape, portraiture, and still life, from Piero della Francesca’s calm visual vocabulary to Diego Velázquez’s quick touch to Paul Cézanne’s existentially charged disruption of perspective. Imai’s new painting on display at Aspen Art Museum titled Lovers (2023) is exemplary of one of the artist’s recurring subjects, casting the Peanuts characters of Charlie Brown and Lucy van Pelt as uncanny anthropomorphized toy-friends amidst natural settings. The juxtaposition of Lovers with Moran’s exquisite landscape Grand Canyon of Arizona from Hermit Rim Road directs our attention to Imai’s ability to capture the awe-inspiring and sublime qualities of a view worthy of contemplation. The artist’s appreciation of one’s environment in all its details, be it real or fictional, is echoed in Matsubara’s delicate wall lamp in glazed ceramic, which additionally points to the emotional dimension of objects and their power to stage elusive mirrors of human life.

Ulala Imai was born in 1982 in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, where she continues to live and work. She received her undergrad- uate degree with a concentration in painting from Tama Art University in 2004. She was raised in a creative household where her father, Shingo Imai, painted in the Western tradition. With his encouragement, she started painting at an early age and was ex- posed firsthand to pre-modern and modern painters during family trips to Europe. Imai’s recent solo exhibitions include The Scene , Karma, New York, NY (2022); Rem- iniscence , Union Pacific, London (2022); Melody, Parco Museum, Tokyo (2021); Hola Strangers, Lulu, Mexico City, Mexico (2021); Amazing , Nonaka-Hill, Los Angeles (2020). Selected group exhibitions include Public Private , curated by Jareh Das, Pond Society, Shanghai, China (2023); The Postmodern Child , Busan Museum of Contemporary Art, Busan, Korea (2023); Blue Wind , High Art, Arles, France (2023); La proie et l’ombre , Crèvecœur, Paris, France (2022); Bodyland , Max Hetzler, Berlin, Germany (2022); VOCA, Ueno Royal Museum, Tokyo, Japan (2021); Still Time , Fitzpatrick Gallery, Paris, France (2021); and Natsuyasumi: In the Begin- ning Was Love , Nonaka-Hill, Los Angeles, CA, USA (2021). Ulala Imai’s artworks are included in the permanent collections of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; the High Museum, Atlanta, GA, USA; He Art Museum, Guangdong Province, China; and Space K/ Kolon Museum, Seoul, Korea.


List of works

Ulala Imai Lovers , 2023 Oil on canvas. 76 3/8 × 102 in. Courtesy the artist, Nonaka-Hill, and Union Pacific Thomas Moran Grand Canyon of Arizona from Hermit Rim Road , 1913

Chromolithograph. 26 1/2 × 35 1/8 in. Collection of Lynda and Stewart Resnick

Soshiro Matsubara Last Night XLV , 2023 Glazed on ceramic, oil, lightbulb. 15 × 11 3/8 × 2 1/2 in. Courtesy the artist and Union Pacific, London

A Lover’s Discourse

September 1–October 15, 2023

Ulala Imai in the company of Thomas Moran & Soshiro Matsubara

Creepy Pivot Matt Connors

When I was a child, I had a recurring dream, in which I was meandering across a serene landscape and would eventually come upon a long row of parked bicycles that stretched far into the horizon (and right up against a cliff?). I would then slowly approach this column of bicycles and either lightly touch or gently lean against them. Immediately, in one dreamtime instant, all of the bikes would slam to the ground (over the cliff?) with a loud CLAP, and I would jump awake with fright and a sense of curious dread would be delivered to the pit of my stomach. Ulala Imai’s paintings—in particular, her lush, combination still life/landscape, over-scaled oil painting simply titled Lovers —conjures this kind of queasy, dreamlike sensation with its breakneck collapse of zoomed and dilated focus, incredibly near and impossibly far placed directly on top of each other, and an eerie freeze of fluttering movement and stark stillness. This is rendered narratively in all of Imai’s work through her favored subject matter—a sort of tilted and staged everydayness, embodied by a domestic pantheon of at hand dolls, figurines, masks, and toys, as well as assorted combinations of breakfast, lunch, and dinner food stuffs. However, just as important and in fact, as effective in fostering this uncanny atmosphere, is the lush physicality of paint and Imai’s loose virtuosity with it. In Lovers , a miasma of liquid paint quickly assembles before your eyes (almost as fast as the bikes fell in my dream) into an almost photographic depiction of a pair of dolls/lovers (Charlie Brown and Lucy Van Pelt) somehow stranded in a treetop or stuck deep in a bush. Especially when seen with the naked eye, these marks assemble and disassemble back and forth in a way that directly mirrors the subject matter’s pivot between banal and beautiful as well as the actual dolls depicted position, both near and far, in painted space.

The punctum of this creepy fidget, for me, is the swift brushstroke sitting right on the surface of the canvas that briskly renders the sewn line of Lucy’s mouth, a motion of wet-on-wet paint, the application of which you can easily conjure in your head, but once fallen into place as the unreal doll mouth, continually struggles against its plain materiality. While Imai’s work is often situated within the context of a history of impressionistic and expressionistic, figurative painting, to me, the above mentioned tussle/collusion between material and meaning, and the plumbing of the seemingly shallow depths of the everyday, all filtered through a loose and casual painterly meticulousness with which small things are rendered large, silly things scary, and banal things portentous, puts her in a more specific lineage with artists such as Hans Bellmer, Balthus, Morton Bartlett, Gertrude Abercrombie, and Leonora Carrington. The conversation between the three works presented here, Imai’s Lovers, Thomas Moran’s meticulous 1913 lithograph, Grand Canyon of Arizona from Hermit Rim Road , with its multiplying and tight, competing perspectives, and the scale and functional play in the ceramic lamp/portrait bust/sculpture by Soshiro Matsubara, effectively restages the quasi-theatrical narrative and material superimpositions depicted within each work individually, when seen through, next to, or after each other, or even, while just holding them in your mind at the same time. The tingling combination of nature induced sublime panic, dizzying hyper- focused micro attention, and dream logic’s time-mind-body confusion that Imai’s painting specializes in, is sprinkled through all three works when seen in concert. A real time palimpsest of near and far, material and the things it’s depicting, the suburban and the cosmic, all sort of twitching between states, before your eyes.

Aspen Art Museum


Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 1979, the Aspen Art Museum is a thriving and globally engaged non-collecting contemporary art museum. Following the 2014 opening of the museum’s facility designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Shigeru Ban, the AAM enjoys increased attendance, renewed civic interaction, and international media attention. In July 2017, the AAM was one of ten institutions to receive the United States’ National Medal for Museum and Library Services for its educational outreach to rural communities in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley and its fostering of learning partnerships with civic and cultural partners within a 100-mile radius of the museum’s Aspen location.

Aspen Art Museum 637 East Hyman Avenue Aspen, Colorado 81611

aspenartmuseum.org (970) 925-8050

Hours Tuesday–Sunday, 10 AM–6 PM Closed Mondays

Admission to the AAM is free courtesy of Amy and John Phelan.


A Lover’s Discourse is curated by AAM Curator at Large Stella Bottai. AAM exhibitions are made possible by the Marx Exhibition Fund. General exhibition support is provided by the Toby Devan Lewis Visiting Artist Fund. Additional support is provided by the AAM National Council.

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