A thought kept recurring to me as I wandered around this exhibition: only kids are this imaginative. Yet sixty-three year old Takeshi Kitano can hardly be classified as a child, although he can be described as a filmmaker, actor, TV presenter, comedian, painter and writer. At the Fondation Cartier, this multi-talented man has created a site-specific exhibition that is refreshing, thought provoking, and most of all, fun.

The exhibition, entitled ‘Gosse de peintre’, restores the joys of imagination, so often forgotten with the loss of childhood, to every member of its audience.  Japan may know all about him (in his native country he has a popularity that rivals sushi), but the majority of us have been missing out on Kitano’s luminary imagination.

His inventiveness is touched upon quite literally in the statue, ‘Self-portrait with brain’. The powerhouse of his creation, the brain, is held in his hands. The piece offers a symbol for the essence of the exhibition: an exploration of the wonders that can be found inside Beat Takeshi’s grey matter.

Interaction is key to ‘Gosse de peintre’. Takeshi takes children very seriously, and by inviting us to play with the exhibits, he inspires in his audience a nostalgia for their own childhoods, and thus flags up the importance that they hold.  In proceedings that feel very much like the golden ticket in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, if you find a dinosaur on the back of your ticket, you win the opportunity to decorate a huge cut out dinosaur with a paint gun. Nobody actually knows what colour the Tyrannosaurus was, although it is normally depicted in muted tones. By giving us the chance to paint it however we like, Beat Takeshi Kitano opens up our imaginations, and the importance of questioning the status quo.

Other interaction is open to everyone, regardless of  their ticket. My favourite was probably the workshop in which you listened to sounds (of a character, musical composition or landscape) and then drew what they conjured up in your mind. The finished masterpieces are then stuck up on the wall, side by side with other people’s impressions, forming ‘a montage of the diversity of the human imagination’. It is a beautiful sight to see the variety on display. For the music soundtrack, some drew instruments or monsters, others abstract squiggles or police cars.

Contemporary art is humorously mocked via the metaphor of a vastly over-sized, incompetent sewing machine that rattles and clatters to create a few stitches that would be created far more creatively by hand, the traditional means of sewing.

Kitano also pokes fun at his native Japan, as well as the clichés that are associated with the country. A sign reads ‘Discovery! Volumes of the Japanese Imperial Army’s secrets have been found’. These secrets are detailed anatomies and figures of animals turned into weapons by the Japanese Army. Although an elephant with a gun for a trunk is inevitably amusing, the anatomies beg the question, if weaponry is this silly with animals, why is it not bizarre for humankind to adopt guns? Takeshi adds that ‘there is a serious analytical component to it… quite seriously, a whale is much better in the water than a hydroplane. A dragonfly can fly better than a helicopter. All of these man-made technologies are inspired by living creatures, but they can never equal them’.

Vivacious and almost innocent, Beat Takeshi Kitano’s paintings are also on display, along with video archives of his work and pieces that merge art and scientific exploration.  There is a vast diversity of work on display, but the triumph of imagination unites them all.

Kitano himself sums it up best with the admission that, ‘With this exhibition, I was attempting to expand the definition of “art,” to make it less official, less conventional, less snobby, more casual.’ He certainly succeeds. But first and foremost, the exhibition proves the mighty talent of Beat Takeshi Kitano.

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