Some artists find inspiration in nature, others from history — then there is Hidemi Takagi, who finds hers in the grocery store.
Takagi began collecting products from ethnic food shops because she found herself drawn to their bright packaging. She traversed New York City by subway and on foot, purchasing chocolate, canned food and magazines — anything bright that appealed to her. “When I see a color, it just shows up in front of me,” Takagi said, “It can’t be ignored.”
What started out as a strange hobby — playing matchmaker for colors — collecting cans of juice, matryoshka dolls and Arabic pudding mixes and finding colorful backdrops to photograph them against, turned into an art exhibit: “Blender,” now on display at the Homefront Gallery in Long Island City.
The gallery is painted pale yellow, and small $40 photographs of the items Takagi has collected hang in red frames. Larger, slightly more expensive product portraits are in exquisite teal frames, painted to match a kiosk and a vending cart she has set up in the space.
Items Takagi has collected are placed inside the kiosk, as if one could purchase them, though they all originate in different countries and are not for sale.
Spanish cookies sit near Polish magazines. Takagi said many of the packages have been emptied out. “In the beginning, I really did taste everything,” Takagi said, “but I realized nothing was really familiar.” Now she only tastes the food occasionally. After five years of collecting, she has so many products that they require their own storage space.
Being in the gallery, it is easy to see that simple things like the pink of a gum wrapper or a fluffy white cat on a candy bar bring a type of instant happiness that advertisers have been relying upon for years. Passersby are drawn into the exhibit because its bright colors appeal to the most basic human instincts. Inside, it’s like being on summer vacation. Everything is sunny and cheerful, and for one moment, the grey of the city is eclipsed by pure pleasure.
“New York is not really colorful like other cities, like Miami or Los Angeles,” Takagi said. She tried to find a location to photograph some canned goods she had recently acquired and carried them around Woodside for so long that she got shoulder pains searching for color.
As part of her project, over the years Takagi has taken the subway to different locations throughout the five boroughs and written short descriptions of what types of ethnic goods one may find there.
“It’s more like my hobby. Basically, I didn’t start this as an art project,” she said, “I didn’t think it was art.”
Takagi said she will be donating the money she earns through the sale of her work to earthquake relief efforts in her native Japan.
Hidemi Takagi: ‘Blender’
When: Thursday through Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. through April 9
Where: Homefront Gallery, 26-23 Jackson Ave., LIC