Category Archives: Contemporary Art

F*ck art, let’s talk sports.

Last night just before the opening of The Osara Show at Target Gallery (in which the gallery shows what happens when you serve artists Tomoo Gokita, Jim O’Rourke, Masayuki Shioda and Peter Sutherland soba noodles, get them drunk and then give them plates to paint on), I was sitting on a plastic chair in the alley, drinking a small tin of Asahi with a colleague. We were just chit chatting when a sporty wheelchair started to make it’s way up the slight incline backwards. As it came even with us, the slender occupant, attired in a bright orange jersey, black cap and neat goatee, shouted in Japanese belligerently, “I just got back from South Africa!” while barreling on by.

So fuck it, let’s talk sports. The name is changing to Contemporary Sports in Japan, with full coverage of sports in Japan, all the time, every post. Let’s start with two guys who got the worst case of World Cup 2010 fever known in Japan. They even wrote a book about it. But I think they are just in it for the girls.

Taking our time with William Eggleston

William Eggleston at the Hara Museum, Tokyo -- June 2010 -- Donald Eubank Photo

There is no rush around here to be posting, just like there is no rush when you are having a conversation with a real Southerner. Last week an interview that I had the pleasure of doing with the photographer William Eggleston at the Hara Museum in the late afternoon of a sunny June day in Tokyo was published in The Japan Times. A resident of Mississippi and Tennessee, Eggleston was the first art photographer to have an a solo exhibition of color pictures (as he calls them) at the MOMA in New York. The show was — surprising if you think about it — as late as 1976, but was still, famously, labeled the “worst exhibition of the year” by one critic among a number of others who had negative reactions.

Looking back at the transcript there are of course other questions that I wish I had broached with him, and more that I had read in advance in preparation. But I was already wary of expecting too much having read others’ accounts of their time speaking with Eggleston and from having watched the dreamy, day-in-the-life documentary “William Eggleston in the Real World” by director Michael Almereyda.

I suspect now that there is a certain dis-ingeniousness to his posture — his unwillingness to answer deeper questions — but at the same time, I am sure that it comes from a real lack of desire to get into conversations about what he does … and that’s fine.

The JT interview had to cut the last bit, where we talked briefly about art writing. Here it is, along with my request to take a photo:

DE: I find it difficult writing about art, because I don’t consider myself a critic. I am an observer, or a fan. But there is a whole industry of people out there writing words and words

Eggleston: — yesss, I know, I know!

DE: Do you think it is all fruitless? Is it a shell game?

WE: Probably what happens is that a certain writer calls himself a critic, probably is assigned to write something about some artist, I don’t think they know what to write. Speaking very generally.

DE: Not naming names …

WE: There are certain brilliant minds out there.

DE: When I read the essay to “William Eggleston’s Guide” by (MOMA curator John) Szarkowski, what impressed me about it the most was that he was addressing the exact same issues that I have seen people attempt to address in the past five, 10 years with the rise of digital photography. And this is a document that’s now about 40 years old, and it was right on the spot at the beginning of a new world of art photography, but people are still struggling with the same questions.

WE: He had a stroke and died last year. We were extremely close friends. Worked together. He would help put together exhibitions and books with my stuff. We worked very hard at it.

DE: Is your son also a photographer?

WE: Not really, I would call him an archivist, because he is putting order into all these works of mine, which are a real mess. He’s got a hard job.

DE: Do you have plans for what you want to do with them?

WE: No, I don’t. I’ll continue publishing books, and traveling all around the world to different places. I can’t think of anything more to add.

DE: Can I take a picture?

— Pause —

(Click.)

WE: Good. It’s done.

DE: I am going to stop by the opening tomorrow for a glass of wine.

WE: I don’t drink wine , they don’t make it in Mississippi you know. I want you to share a glass of whiskey with me.

DE: That would be fantastic.

(End of Interview)

Looking for “a certain smell of ‘edge’ “

Mori art Museum director Fumio Nanjo presents a nice overview of the Asian art scene in The Korean Times, put together from a lecture at the Gyeonggi Creation Center.

Choice quotes:

* “The museum boom in Japan was actually in the 1970s through the 1990s,” said Nanjo, the director of Mori Art Museum, but the art market has become increasingly stagnant since the late 1980s.

* “If you go to an art fair in Asia, there will be a Taiwanese buyer of Indonesian art, and an Indonesian buying Thai art. Korean galleries are showing Japanese artists and Hong Kong showing Chinese.”

* “It used to be an age of museums, but that’s over now and it’s the age of collectors.”

Read the whole story here.

Changes in the creative landscape of Tokyo

COURTESY OF ReBITA

With the fears in Japan that its 20th century manufacturing strength is facing serious competition from China and other rapidly developing Asian countries, contemporary art and the creative industries are becoming the buzz in Tokyo. To help the transition from “software” to “hardware,” movers and shakers are looking to creative industries to not only lead the way, but even help people reconsider the work/life balance that has been accepted in the modern urban world of Tokyo.

Three new spaces are represent this new way of thinking: 3331 Arts Chiyoda, an artist-led initiative done in collaboration with the Chiyoda Ward government to turn an abandoned high school — with the birthrate declining, more schools around Japan are becoming redundant — into a profitable rental space for art-related businesses and NPOs; SOHO in Odaiba is a newly constructed building meant to provide a community-oriented office center for young design-related businesses; and Tabloid, the most recently opened project, features a renovated warehouse that once housed printing presses for the Sankei Shimbun newspaper and has now been repurposed by the real estate management company ReBITA as another space meant to foster cross-discipline interactions between young creatives. (You can see my full story on Tabloid in The Japan Times here.)

What is interesting about all these buildings is that while they align themselves with the excitement that has gradually been building about contemporary art in Japan, for the most part, they don’t appear to be engaging with the major players in the commercial art world — the galleries of Kiyosumi (Taka Ishii, Hiromi Yoshii, Tomio Koyama, etc.), as well as other big names like Scai, Wako, Mizuma, Radium — or with the new generation of young galleries such as the New Tokyo Contemporaries (at the opening for Tabloid, there were few of the usual Tokyo art crowd prowling around). Instead, 3331 is about community outreach and SOHO and Tabloid are more about design and business; which is fine, but does nothing to address some of the major issues facing the art world in Japan: that the local collecting market sucks; and that contemporary art in Tokyo often feels segregated from other creative fields, to its detriment. Hopefully in the future we will see interactions not only between those who occupy these buildings, but also with the galleries that are doing the best to promote great contemporary art, Japanese and Western, both here and abroad. (I can’t say anything specific, but it looks like this might be on its way to happening with one location.)

In a related note, Hiromi Yoshii announced last night during the press conference for Tokyo Photo art fair (to be held again this September), that he will be taking over the gallery T&G on Roppongi’s Imo-arai-zaka street. He plans to use the second space — with two floors and a bar (now that’s what I call a gallery) — for exhibitions that feature architecture, design, fashion and more, so there is the possibility that some unusual cross-genre projects could arise there.

Roppongi Crossing 2010

Video still of contact Gonzo from the 2008 performance “We're Gonna Go Dancing!! Vol. 9” at Beppu City Center, Oita; Toda Yoichi Photo/Courtesy of Mori Art Museum

I look forward to the triennial “Roppongi Crossing” exhibitions as a chance to see what the leading curators and critics in Japan are doing to present Japanese contemporary art in an international context. This year the show was not only drastically reduced in number, but contained a number of puzzling choices that made for a disjointed experience.

Include rabble rousers Chim | Pom in the show but seal them off behind glass as if they were dangerous to encounter in person? I thought that was their point — that art should get in you face. The six should have been given a whole room to desecrate so that viewers would have to stumble through the mess they left behind.

Rogue Gallery’s powerful sound and video installation of performances produced through recording night cruises in their Citroen is shut off behind sound-proofed doors you could easily walk past? How many people missed the chance to be mesmerized by flashing tailights and a throbbing motor? I think I would have greated people at the front door with this aural onslaught to let them know things were different around here.

contact Gonzo squeezed in next to Ujino so that it was hard to tell where one started and the other ended?

One last thought — the Japanese art market continues to struggle despite the great level of creativity here. I love installation art that creates immersive experiences, but the reality is in an underdeveloped market, 2D will still be king among the collectors that exist. At the yearly survey of 2D art held at the Ueno Royal Museum, “Visions of Contemporary Art,” it is always entertaining to see the breadth of taste among the 40 some curators, critics and professors who each pick one artist to join. But the result is inevitably disjointed and kind of a let down. What if the Mori had used its curatorial muscle to taken on 2D art in “Roppongi Crossing” — creating a “Best of painting/photography/new media in 2D” exhibition? What better way to find a way to seriously engage with the kind of work that you find in the best of Japanese galleries?

My publicly sanctioned account is here: “‘Roppongi Crossing’ may be better when crowded”

“Koh-Jutsu” exhibition charts a different course

The latest Roppongi Crossing exhibition, the Mori Art Museum’s triennial survey of Japanese contemporary art, opened on March 26. The Mori has positioned itself as an international venue from the start, when they assembled a very professionally managed English language PR department and made sure that their new existence was document abroad as well as at home. Thus the Roppongi Crossing surveys are a fantastic way to broadcast the art practices in Japan that are not always apparent to observers abroad.

The first two, held in 2004 and 2007, were comprehensive affairs that made the variety of trends in contemporary art here clear. Featuring 57 and 36 artists respectively, they had a lot to work from. The latest, unfortunately, suffers from too few artists on show — only 20 in 2010 — and a lack of an engaging curatorial vision. Looking back to the influential 1990s performance group Dumb Type, the exhibition tries to present socially conscious art, but the results feel dated rather than fresh and forward looking.

I discuss this at length in The Japan Times this coming Friday, but I wanted to mention here an alternative vision of what contemporary art in Japan looks like: The “Koh-Jutsu” exhibition at Spiral in Tokyo’s Minami-Aoyama. Arranged by Tsutomu Ikeuchi of Roentgen Werke gallery, “Koh-Jutsu” focuses on skill and technique, “the unique discipline of Japanese art”: “Koh” captures the meanings of adept, masterful, eloquent, while “Jutsu” — the second character in “bijutsu,” the catch-all term for fine arts — is an art or science.

Ikeuchi has selected 12 artists (Katsuyo AokiSeiji ArugaSatoshi UchiumiSakan Kan-noHideki KuwajimaYoshihiko SatoYoshihiro SudaAtsushi SuwaAkiko & Masako TakadaTetsuya NakamuraHaruo MitsuyaTakato Yamamoto) to demonstrate this quality of Japanese art,  resulting in a fantastic display of work. Kanno’s glossy globes in green, red and orange great visitors, revealing the intricate organic patterns that he paints in white across their bulging surfaces. Opposite these works is what appears to be the skeleton of some species from an unknown future stage of evolution by Tetsuya Nakamura. Both sets of works aptly show a care for craftsmanship and a perfectionism in execution.

Delicately cut  paper works by Akiko & Masako Takada and Seiji Aruga, fascinating x-rays by Hideki Kuwajima, and realistic wood-carvings by Yoshihiro Suda complete Ikeuchi’s argument.  (There is a good selection of images here.) Most importantly, while these works are intricate and celebrate craft, they all feel as if they are in the camp of contemporary art rather than being purely decorative. They are in conversation with the past of Japanese art while trying to find new ways forward.

While the exhibition is not comprehensive concerning the trends in contemporary art in Japan — which is not its intention — it could easily have been a gallery or two of Roppongi Crossing’s selection.

I put forward in Friday’s Japan Times that Japanese art is at a cross roads, shaking off the manga/anime influenced work of the ’90s and the MicroPop trends of the 2000s and moving into new territory. Ikeuchi-san has done an excellent job at Spiral of pointing out one of the new directions we can expect to see contemporary art in Japan thrive in. (Unfortunately the show is only for four days, so not enough will see it — but hopefully its influence will be felt in future surveys in Tokyo. )

Japan Times Backlog

A list of all the stories previously written for the Japan Times