Category Archives: Japanese 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.

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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