500 Daido Moriyama Books Bloom at Aperture

We were going to have to make some tough choices.

There were 54 double-sided works, 108 pages of legal-size paper, posted on one wall of the Aperture Foundation in Chelsea on Friday, each one bearing at least one image by the Japanese master Daido Moriyama, most in the artist’s trademark high-contrast black and white.

One page showed a closeup of a woman’s crotch, covered with underwear and translucent pantyhose, which was opposite another that presented a large, blurry print of a woman’s mouth emerging hovering in darkness.

An old man with tiny glasses and a red scarf stood on a deserted Tokyo city street in still another; to the side: a woman, face down in bed, nude below the waist, shot from behind by Mr. Moriyama. Did she know he was there?

Each of these pairings represented a double-sided page, each labeled with a tiny black number, but we would only be able to pick 20 for the custom Moriyama book, called TKY, which we were there to assemble.

There were about 30 other participants present on that first afternoon of Mr. Moriyama’s Performa work. Each of us held a short pencil and a small paper printed with a grid of 20 empty boxes, where were were to sequence the work. (We had paid $75 for the privilege of creating–and keeping–one of 500 books.)

The room was hushed, as the assembled photographers, collectors and editors examined the wall with intense concentration, plotting their choices. They used scrap paper and the backs of envelopes to experiment with various orders, scratching out numbers as they went along.

“I have to think about who I am going to show this to,” one man whispered to a friend.

One could build a book focused solely on sex and late-night scenes: women posing for–or being preyed on by–Mr. Moriyama’s camera. But one could also build a book focused on urban scenes or color photographs (of which there were a handful) or the mysterious men–some comical, some sinister–that have long populated his photographs.

We moved quickly, compulsively, scribbling down the numbers for a few photographs we thought we had seen before (they had all been shown in the last 10 years), some we had just seen for the first time, and loved. There were two cover options being silk-screened on site: black and purple. We went with the former, and handed our card over to a team of assistants assembled in the center of the gallery, ready with stacks of the pages. A photocopier was off to a side, fully prepared to make replacements.

As we surveyed the scene, Mr. Moriyama’s team worked, ordering the pages as we had requested and then slipping the cover around them. Then they punched two thick silver staples through the whole stack.

This was a recreation–or a reworking, more accurately–of a work that he had done exactly 40 years earlier, in which which the artist had set up shop in a Tokyo gallery and photocopied images that he had taken in New York.

Here the dynamics were reversed: these were scenes of Tokyo in a New York gallery, realized not by a scrappy young artist but a seasoned veteran staging a work of performance in the most expansive, loosest sense of that term.

Mr. Moriyama, who is now older than 70 but looks 30 years younger, watched all of this in a T-shirt and jeans, rarely speaking but smiling occasionally at the group of people laboring so determinedly over his art.

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