Wrestling the Demon: Noriko & Ushio Shinohara

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WRESTLING THE DEMON Noriko & Ushio Shinohara


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WRESTLING THE DEMON Noriko & Ushio Shinohara

Noriko and Ushio, New York City.

art. The pair possess an unbridled creativity,

Wrestling the Demon

both vital and unrelenting, yet distinct in its manifestations. Noriko and Ushio embraced New York City’s art world at a time when artists such as Yayoi Kusama and the Gutai Group were asserting a Japanese voice in the thriving art scene of the United States. For nearly 50 years, the pair have continued to engage in

Living with Art, Living with Each Other

this artistic discourse, never ceasing to test the limits of their own creativity. The 1960s and 1970s marked New York City as the international hub of artistic innovation.

“Art is a demon,” “Making art is always

As calls for political and social reform swept

struggling.” Ushio and Noriko Shinohara’s

the city, resident artists pushed away from

parallel statements speak to the unremitting


and beautiful nature of a life devoted to

territory. From performance art to conceptual


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art, new movements erupted throughout the city. The work of artists such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roy Lichtenstein resonated





influencing the post-war art scene worldwide. Blurring the boundaries between fine art and popular culture, the American avant-garde of this time considered contemporary culture with a dose of irony. Challenging concepts of authorship, appropriation, identity, and consumption, movements such as Pop Art explored and critiqued the contemporary

Ushio and Noriko with Alex, New York City.

world through bold colors, unusual methods, and constant wit. These transgressive artistic avenues enticed both Ushio and Noriko to leave Japan and participate in this exhilarating art scene. For Noriko, her prints and paintings reflect self-actualization as an artist through her Cutie series and beyond. As Cutie develops over the years, Noriko exorcises her regrets, hones her artistic awareness, and finds empowerment through her work. In the adventures of Cutie, Noriko




Alex Shinohara, New York City.

tale of love and struggle with persistent humor. While her Cutie prints unfold in bold monochrome, Noriko’s etchings echo this playful attitude in lush detail. From her Un Voyages d’Inca series, to her fantastical city scenes, Noriko combines historical allusions, urban life, and rich, meticulously executed details in her works. As an Incan-style cat slinks down a flight of steps and floating nudes recall angels upon a Renaissance ceiling, Noriko’s etchings invite the viewer to ponder a new take on reality. From enfant terrible of the Japanese art scene,






continues to develop his action paintings and prints with unrelenting vigor and varied

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Noriko Shinohara. Kusama’s Rooftop Performance, 1969. 1973. Silkscreen. 20” x 28.” Ref. #: JPR-75123.

perspective. Ever in search of new inspiration, his

struggle of these two veterans of the New York

work reflects his many influences over the course

City art scene. The film won the Documentary

of his career, both artistic and experiential. While

Directing Award at Sundance Film Festival in

the Imitation Art series follows his introduction

2013, an Academy Award nomination for Best

to the American avant-garde of the 1960s and

Documentary in 2014, followed by an Emmy

the Oiran series channels his enchantment with

for Best Documentary in 2016. In the afterglow

ukiyo-e of the Edo period, Ushio synthesizes

of the film, the couple has participated in joint

each of his inspirations with clever irony. His boxing paintings punctuate his oeuvre with undiminished dynamism, while his motorcycle sculptures and prints draw from decades of artistic exploration and visual punning to capture the grit and glory of life in New York City. In 2013, Zach Heinzerling’s film Cutie and the Boxer explored the intersecting vibrancy and


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Making art is always struggling

Ushio, Alex and Noriko.

Ushio and Noriko in George Town, Bahamas.

exhibitions from Dallas to Tokyo. As Noriko

throughout the years, the print medium weaves

explains, “we are like two flowers in one pot.

through each triumph and growing pain. The

It’s difficult. Sometimes we don’t get enough

exhibition approaches these works not as solitary

nutrients for both of us. But when everything

art objects, but as a continuous evolution over

goes well, we become two beautiful flowers.” 1

several decades. Though these two prolific

Amidst financial struggles and artistic stifling

careers knot and intersect, neither loses its fierce

over the past four decades, their art captures

independence. Their son, Alex Kukai, carries

such moments of artistic blossoming. Noriko

this artistic legacy into the next generation,

and Ushio Shinohara have participated in solo

drawing inspiration from street art of New York

and group exhibitions internationally. Noriko

and Tokyo. From Noriko’s famed Cutie series to

has exhibited her work at the Japan Society

Ushio’s notorious boxing paintings, this exhibition

New York, IPCNY, and the Marta Shefter

considers decades spent wrestling with the

Gallery in Krakow, Poland, to name a few. Her

demon of art, and quite often, wrestling with

work can be found in collections such as the


Davis Museum and Cultural Center at Wellesly College. Ushio has participated in exhibitions at the Tate Modern in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Guggenheim Museum SoHo. His work can be found in permanent collections such as the Museum of Modern Art New York and The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto. Wrestling the Demon: Noriko and Ushio Shinohara explores decades of printmaking within






each artist’s materials and styles fluctuated

1. Cutie and the Boxer. Directed by Zachary Heinzerling. New York: 2013.

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NORIKO Born in Toyama Prefecture, Japan in 1953, Noriko Shinohara moved to New York City in 1972 to study at the Art Students League. After six months in the city, she met Ushio Shinohara,

Noriko Shinohara. Cutie has a Secret. Cutie series. 2014. Acrylic on canvas. 8” diameter. Ref. #: JPR-75119.

who is twenty one years her senior, and gave birth to their son Alex one year later. Financial and emotional strain paused Noriko’s career.

into the basis of her novella New York of Sigh,

She states, “after my husband had skimmed off

which was accompanied by a solo exhibition

my paint, canvas, and ideas, nothing remained

in Tokyo. The following year, Noriko spent time


By the time Alex was two years old,

in Japan studying etching at Kyoto City Art

Noriko returned to her work. Determined to

University and Tokyo National Art University.

develop her own distinct style, Noriko claimed

Her talent in this medium can be seen in the

physical space in their DUMBO studio. Banning

intricate, visually dense Un Voyage d’Inca

Ushio from her self-proclaimed “queendom,”


Noriko refused to let her work be stalled any

images rich in texture and heavy in atmosphere.

in me.”







Noriko’s evocative power conveys humor, as

Noriko’s work brings together boldness

in the fantastical scenes of animate sculpture

of color, line, and persistent humor. Instilling

and surreal gondola rides in Pineapple Eaters

her work with irony and poignancy, her

in Venice (1998). Yet, Noriko deftly uses her

contemporary scenes draw inspiration from

skill for poignancy as well. In Here is still…After

a variety of art styles across time and culture.

Sep. 11th (2002), the print erupts in flowers and

In 1981, Noriko exhibited her work at Whitney

memories in the wake of this world-changing



event. In the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge,

exhibition, followed by her first solo exhibition,

the intricate etching evokes a mind caught

held at the Cat Club in 1986. In 1994, she turned

between devastation and hope for the future.



her tumultuous experiences in New York City

1. Eric C. Shiner and Reiko Tomii, Making a home: Japanese contemporary artists in New York (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 2007), 144. 2. Cutie and the Boxer.


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Noriko Shinohara. Banana Party at the Garden of Versailles. 1998. Etching. 15.5� x 11.25.� Ref. #: JPR-75212.

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Noriko Shinohara. Paris Under Bermuda Sea. 1998. Etching. 10.5” x 15.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75114.


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Noriko Shinohara. Much Ado About Nothing at St. Michael. 1998. Etching. 12.5” x 15.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75215.

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Noriko Shinohara. Champagne on the Seine River. 1998. Etching. 15.5� x 12.� Ref. #: JPR-75132.


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Noriko Shinohara. Pineapple Eaters in Venice. 1998. Etching. 15.5� x 14.� Ref. #: JPR-75218.

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Noriko Shinohara. If Everybody Has Gone... After Sept. 11th. 2003. Etching. 19.5” x 15.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75207.


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Noriko Shinohara. Here is Still... After Sept. 11th. 2002. Etching. 19.5” x 15.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75245.

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Noriko Shinohara. Golden Temple. 2002. Etching. 19.5” x 15.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75209.


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Noriko Shinohara. Toto, We are not in Japan anymore. 2007. Etching. 14� x 11.� Ref. #: JPR-75134.

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Noriko Shinohara. Un Voyage d’Inca 1. Inca series. 2004. Etching. 15” x 15.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75125.


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Noriko Shinohara. Un Voyage d’Inca II. Inca series. 2004. Etching. 15” x 15.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75137.

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Noriko Shinohara. Un Voyage d’Inca III. Inca series. 2004. Etching. 15” x 15.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75139.


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Noriko Shinohara. Un Voyage d’Inca IV. Inca series. 2004. Etching. 15” x 15.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75127.

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Noriko Shinohara. Un Voyage d’Inca V. Inca series. 2004. Etching. 15” x 15.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75143.


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Noriko Shinohara. Sunbath in Bamboo Grove. 1998. Etching. 6” x 9.” Ref. #: JPR-75121.

Noriko Shinohara. Woman and Aloe. 1996. Etching. 8.5” x 14.” Ref. #: JPR-75147.

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Noriko Shinohara. In a Cactus Grove. 1998. Acrylic on canvas. 40” x 42.” Ref. #: JPR-75251.


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Noriko Shinohara. In a Cactus Grove. 1998. Etching. 17” x 15.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75116.

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Noriko Shinohara. Do You Have a Bank Account. Cutie series. 2016. Ink on paper. 18” x 24.” Ref. #: JPR-75241.

CUTIE SERIES Noriko is best known for her Cutie series, a

the narrative of self-determination. The story

semi-autobiographical story of her relationship

spans medium and scale, from intimate artist

with Ushio. The character of Cutie emerged

books to 20-meter-long murals. In 2003 and

in 2003, recognizable by her long braids and

2005, Noriko’s work appeared in the IPCNY

rounded, perpetually nude form. In Noriko’s

New Prints exhibition. In 2007, she was included

words, “when I started Cutie I felt I am truly,

in the Japan Society Gallery’s Making a Home:


Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York, a

tale of Cutie evolves in comic-like fashion,

group exhibition with Ushio, Yoko Ono, Yayoi

with speech and thought bubbles furthering

Kusama, and others.

from bone to skin, head to toe, an artist.”


1. Emma Carmichael, “Interview with Cutie and The Boxer’s Noriko Shinohara.” The Hairpin. August 01, 2017. Accessed October 01, 2017.


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(Above) Noriko Shinohara. Cutie as Olympia. Cutie series. 2016. Ink on paper. 14.25” x 20.” Ref. #: JPR-75243. (Left) Noriko Shinohara. “Cutie as...” Cutie series. 2014. Acrylic on canvas. 12” x 9.” Ref. #: JPR-75249.

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Noriko Shinohara. Reversible . Cutie series. 2014. Ink on paper. 24� x 18.� Ref. #: JPR-75239.


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Noriko Shinohara. Different in the Evening. Cutie series. 2009. Ink on paper. 24� x 18.� Ref. #: JPR-75170.

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USHIO Born in Tokyo in 1932, Ushio Shinohara comes from an artistic family. His father a poet, his mother a nihonga painter and doll maker, Ushio






attended Tokyo University of the Arts in 1952. While his schoolwork focused on Westernstyle





with academia and drawn to the innovative world of post-war art unfolding around him. In 1957, Ushio left the university to pursue his education independently, pouring over international works of art criticism and avantgarde theorists. Ushio entered the 1960s as a force of the Japanese avant-garde community with his action paintings.


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(Above) Ushio Shinohara. Three Oiran. Silkscreen. 1969. 20” x 46.” Ref. #: JPR-75247. (Below) Ushio Shinohara. Wonder Woman Motorcycle. 2014. Mixed media sculpture. 21” x 14” x 19.” Ref. #: JPR-75130.

Ushio established himself as the enfant

even participated in Twenty Questions with

terrible of the Japanese art scene, where he

Bob Rauschenberg in Tokyo. In 1965, Ushio

gained particular notoriety for his boxing


paintings. Attaching sponges to his boxing

Japanese tradition. Upon seeing woodblock

gloves, Ushio would saturate the gloves with


paint and punch his way across a long paper or

Ushio created his Oiran series, blending the

canvas. Hair shorn into a Mohawk, he produced

iconography of Edo-period courtesans with

these works before eager crowds, emphasizing

the vivid colors and geometric shapes so

the art of the action itself. In 1960, he was

popular within American Pop Art.










one of the founders of the Neo-Dadaism

In 1969, Ushio moved to New York City on

Organizers, an avant-garde group known for its

a scholarship from the John D. Rockefeller III

unconventional materials and performances.

Fund. Though the scholarship ended after a

In 1961, the famed photographer William Klein

year, he made New York his permanent home

immortalized Ushio and his boxing paintings.

and he began his motorcycle sculptures.

Printed in the 1964 photo collection Tokyo, this

While his view from Canal Street presented a

photo is echoed by a similar portrait in Klein’s

grittier New York than he had imagined, Ushio

2013 collection Brooklyn.

incorporated the city’s found materials and

In 1963, Ushio discovered a deep and lasting

subcultures into his work. 1 Ushio has been

inspiration in the American avant-garde on

featured in many solo and group exhibitions

the pages of Art International. He promptly

worldwide, including the National Museum

began his Imitation Art series (1963), ironizing

of Modern Art Tokyo, National Museum of

the work of artists such as Jasper Johns and

Modern Art Kyoto, Museum of Modern Art

Robert Rauschenberg. Ushio captured the

New York, and the Japan Society New York, to

interest of these giants of American art, and

name just a few.

1. Ikegami, 20. roningallery.com | 212.688.0188


Ushio Shinohara. Purple and Pink on Yellow and White. Boxing Painting series. 2014. Acrylic on canvas. 48” x 60.” Ref. #: JPR-75107.


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Ushio Shinohara. Blue and Green on White. Boxing Painting series. 2012. Acrylic on canvas. 36” x 49.” Ref. #: JPR-74097.

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Ushio Shinohara. Green and White on Sunflower. Boxing Painting series. 2015. Acrylic on canvas. 21” x 41.5.” Ref. #: JPR-73890.


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Ushio Shinohara. Cupcake Party. 2000. Painting on paper. 14” x 10.” Ref. #: JPR-75221.

Ushio Shinohara. 7 UP. 1977. Silkscreen. 18” x 13.” Ref. #: JPR-75235.

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Ushio Shinohara. Black Oiran. 2015. Painting on canvas. 47” x 51.” Ref. #: JPR-75205.


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Ushio Shinohara. Oiran. 1971. Silkscreen. 22.5” x 28.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75173.

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Ushio Shinohara. Roar. 1971. Silkscreen. 28.5” x 22.5.” Ref. #: JPR-73888.


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Ushio Shinohara. Kanzashi. 1973. Silkscreen. 18” x 15.” Ref. #: JPR-75233.

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Ushio Shinohara. Strawberry Ice Cream. 1977. Silkscreen. 25” x 19.” Ref. #: JPR-75223.


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Ushio Shinohara. Motorcycle. 1977. Silkscreen. 22.5” x 30.” Ref. #: JPR-75175.

Ushio Shinohara. Bahama Hotel. 1973. Mixed media. 22.5” x 28.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75179.

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Ushio Shinohara. Genji. 1971. Silkscreen. 22.5” x 28.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75177.


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Ushio Shinohara. Kunisada. 1969. Silkscreen. 22.5” x 28.5.” Ref. #: JPR-75110.

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Alex Kukai

Alex Shinohara. Frame One. Kendo series. 2008. Oil paint on canvas. 40” x 34.5.” Ref. #: JPR-76444.


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Alex Shinohara. Untitled. 2017. Ink, gold leaf, and paper on canvas. 32” x 24.” Ref. #: JPR-76442.

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Timeline 1932 Ushio Shinohara born in Tokyo, Japan. 1953 Noriko Shinohara born in Toyama Prefecture, Japan. 1953 Ushio begins Tokyo University of Fine Arts (leaves in 1957). 1964 Ushio exhibits his sculpture during Robert Rauschenberg’s appearance at Sogetsu Hall, Tokyo 1966 Ushio participates in The New Generation at the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art and Contemporary Trends in Japanese Painting and Sculpture at the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art. 1969 Ushio moves to New York City on the Rockefeller Fund Grant. 1971 Ushio is the subject of the documentary The Last Artist, airs on CBS in 1972. 1972 Noriko moves to New York City to study at the Art Students League. 1973 Ushio participates in exhibition Japanese Artists in the Americas at the Kyoto National Museum. Noriko and Ushio meet and move in together. 1974 Noriko and Ushio’s son, Alex Kukai Shinohara, is born. 1975 Ushio participates in the group exhibition Modern Japanese Art: A Perspective at the Seibu Museum, Tokyo. 1979 Ushio participates in exhibition of Japanese sculpture at the New York Sculpture Center. 1982 Ushio is featured in a solo show at the Japan Society, New York. 1983 Ushio featured in solo exhibition at the Museum Modern Art, Tochigi. 1985 Ushio participates in exhibition Reconstructions: Avant-Garde Art in Japan at the Museum Modern Art in Oxford, England. 1986 Noriko’s first solo exhibition at Cats Club, New York. Ushio participates in Japon des Avant-Garde 1910 1970 at the Center Georges Pompidou, Paris. 1991 Ushio participates in exhibition Japanese Anti-Art: Now and Then at The National Museum of Art, Osaka. 1992 Ushio featured in first retrospective, Ushio Shinohara at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art. Alex is awarded the Mark Rothko Award (Sponsored by the Daily News and the Mark Rothko Fund). 1994 Noriko publishes novella New York of Sigh. Ushio participates in Japanese Art after 1945: Scream Against the Sky at the Guggenheim Museum SoHo, which later travelled to the Yokohama Museum of Art. 1995 Noriko studies etching at Kyoto City University of Fine Art and Tokyo National Art University. Ushio is artist-in-residence at Kyoto City University of Fine Art. 1996 Alex graduates from Rhode Island School of Design. 1998 Ushio takes part in group exhibition Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979 at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The show travels to The Museum of Applied Arts, in Vienna and Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. Ushio peforms boxing paintings at these two museums for their openings. 2003 Noriko participates in summer New Prints exhibition at the International Print Center New York. Ushio exhibits work and performs a boxing painting at the Ise Cultural Foundation, New York. 2005 Noriko participates in autumn New Prints exhibition at the International Print Center New York. Ushio featured in retrospective Shinohara at Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, Japan. 2006 Alex featured in solo exhibition ILLMATIC at the Ise Cultural Foundation, New York. Ushio featured in retrospective Ushio Shinohara at Open Air Museum, Kirishima, Japan. 2007 Noriko and Ushio participate in the exhibition Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York at the Japan Society, New York. Ushio participates in a two-artist exhibition Gyu and Chu: Ushio Shinohara and Chu Enoki at Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Japan. Ushio receives the Mainichi Art Award. 2012 Ushio featured in the retrospective Shinohara Pops! at Dorsky Museum at New York State University in New Paltz. 2013 The documentary film Cutie and the Boxer released. Noriko and Ushio featured in exhibition Love is Roar-r-r!!! at the Parco Museum, Tokyo. Ushio is included in the group exhibition Tokyo 1955-1970 at the Museum of Modern Art New York. 2015 Ushio participates in The World Goes Pop at Tate Modern in London. Ushio participates in International Pop at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and Dallas Museum of Art. 2016 Noriko featured in solo exhibition at Carleton University in Ottawa. International Pop travels to Philadelphia Museum of Art 2017 Ushio featured in a retrospective at Kariya City Museum in Aichi, Japan. Noriko publishes e-comic book Cutie and B---. Noriko participates in the group exhibition Self Re-imagined at Center for the Arts at New Jersey City University. 44

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Selected Sources “About.” Alex Kukai Shinohara. April 28, 2017. Accessed October 01, 2017. https://alexkukai.com/about/. Cutie and the Boxer. Directed by Zachary Heinzerling. New York: 2013. Emma Carmichael. “Interview with Cutie and The Boxer’s Noriko Shinohara.” The Hairpin. August 01, 2017. Accessed October 01, 2017. Ikegami, Hiroko, Ushio Shinohara, and Reiko Tomii. Shinohara Pops!: The Avant-Garde Road, Tokyo/New York. New Paltz, NY: Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, 2012 Shiner, Eric C., and Reiko Tomii. Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary artists in New York. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 2007. Shinohara, Ushio. Zen’ei no michi [The Avant-Garde Road]. Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppan-sha, 1968. Reprinted in 2006.

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RONIN GALLERY 425 Madison Ave New York, NY 10017 212.688.0188 www.roningallery.com ronin@roningallery.com Chairman: Herbert Libertson President: David Libertson Executive Director: Roni Neuer Director: Tomomi Seki Assistant Director: Travis Suzaka Research Associate: Madison Folks Gallery Associate: Sayaka Ueno Assistant Registrar: Sydney Stewart Photographs courtesy of the Shinohara family

RONIN GALLERY The Largest Collection of Japanese Prints in the U.S. Japanese and East Asian Contemporary Art

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