Project Japan 34

Monday 27 August

One day to see the sights of Tokyo, and the pair of us totally knackered anyway: physically and emotionally exhausted, tetchy, short-tempered, in foul moods because we were about to go back to the UK. Laughable…

Because it was a Monday the almost impossible job of choosing where to go was made somewhat easier, insofar as almost all the galleries were closed. However, there were a few open and we eventually decided to go to Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum: not because there was anything we particularly wanted to see but a) because it was in Ueno Park where there were several other things possibly worth doing, and b) it was an easy journey by subway from our hotel.

On such ill-considered decisions do futures hang…

***

After brunch we headed up to Floor 2F to what we thought was an exhibition of modern art. We paid our 500¥ each and walked into this:

Moments like these are why the phrase “WTF!” was invented. Almost every genre of painting is represented. There’s calligraphy, sculpture, collage, photography, and those ceramic dolls, plates, and figurines. There is some nice stuff, but most of the work is pretty hideous and clearly amateur. In the absence of a single word of English interpretation and no-one amongst the staff on that floor able to speak English, we assumed it must be some kind of “Tokyo Open” competition.
OK. Fair enough, but not exactly what we were looking for. Surely our Japan art adventure couldn’t end here!

***

Bemused and rather dejected we wandered over to the other side of Floor 2F. At the entrance to the exhibition—free I may add—we were given a beautiful catalogue and this is a small selection of what we encountered:

Fantastic! Really, I could have put up twice as a many photographs as I have done and still not do the exhibition justice. Almost every piece was interesting and challenging in some way, but without it all getting vanishingly conceptual. Extending across two large gallery spaces, this was a genuine find: a large collection of high-quality contemporary art united by medium.

It was at a certain point in the last of the rooms that I struck up a conversation with a Japanese gentleman who fortunately had pretty good English. This turned out to be none other than the Curator of the exhibition and Director of Atelier Outotsu, Ritsuwo Kanno. This Outotsu Hanten exhibition, then, was a mixture of work from his atelier and open-call submissions, and it had recently been on show in Paris.
By now Heather had joined in the discussion and she got very excited: her background is as a print-maker. She and Kanno immediately got involved in some technical stuff whilst I smiled on benignly in the background. After a short photo-op, Kanno disappeared stage left, but then came back almost immediately with his wife Kaoru Higashi. She is a fellow print-maker—both she and Kanno have works in the exhibition—and another round of quite detailed discussion took place (with me again totally out of my area of expertise so just keeping my mouth shut). Needless to say that by this point Heather was almost visibly throbbing with excitement and on the verge of spontaneous combustion…
Both Ritsuwo and Kaoru were a delight to talk to, and, as has so often been the case with the lovely people we’ve met on this trip, they were unstinting in their generosity:

So what started out as a bewildering and rather unsatisfying gallery visit suddenly turned into a visual feast and another wonderful chance encounter. A fabulous end to our month in Japan.

***

We did one last bit of sightseeing around Ueno Park:


Then it was back to the hotel, start packing, have a final meal, and hit the hay. First thing in the morning we would be off to Narita and the UK.

The End

Project Japan 27

Downtime in Tokyo: knocking these posts out now to wrap this up before we get home and it all goes stale.

Monday 20 August

Heather and I leave Sugoshicho behind and head for Kyoto. The afternoon is spent finishing off the install at Gallery G-77 and, as at Tenjinyama, the most labour-intensive element is putting up Hev’s Pocket Remains 1-79. It takes about three hours of repetitive and painstaking work—not helped by a time-consuming false start—but it looks good when it’s done.

As does the show as a whole. The gallery is quite small but has two floors. Matthew and Hev rightly dominate downstairs but everyone is represented on both floors. Downstairs, panning from just inside the front door on the left all the way round to the right (behind the partition):

And with this on a low table in the middle of the space:

Upstairs, panning this time from the right-hand wall round to the left:

Hard work. Well done Heather and Matthew for doing such a well-considered and professional job. Well done Sueko for the logistics: ordering projectors, printing, and the PA, English-Japanese translations, and for doing all the driving!

Project Japan 16

The last couple of days in Sapporo were actually pretty hectic. Then – BANG – we’ve packed up and left and I’m writing this from a hotel room in Osaka. A bit like someone suddenly changing channels on the TV when you’re half way through a good film… So just a very quick review for completeness: I already feel like I’m in another world.

Sunday morning I spent video editing and then gave a presentation 1pm – 2pm on my films. The reaction to them has been incredibly positive and I had been asked lots of questions about my working methods. It was also an opportunity for us to give something back to the Tenjinyama residents and staff, and so proved to be a satisfying social event. Heather went out and bought cakes and soft drinks so a jolly time was had by one and all: nice to see some kids there too.

Sunday afternoon we had been invited to dinner by textile artist Yumiko Inagaki. She showed us her work space and some of her beautiful and lovingly produced pieces: she dyes her own thread, designs the patterns, and weaves using all sorts of materials including metal. These pictures simply do not do her work justice: there is a profound simplicity and honesty expressed in every nuance of colour, texture, and form:

Monday Yumiko travelled to Tenjinyama to see our exhibition before it was taken down. She arrived at 9:30am and by 10:30 sadly was gone, at which point our other friend Rinako Otsuka arrived with her parents. They had the full tour and were great company.

Rinako, Heather, and I then headed into town for lunch and an appointment with Yuki Yamamoto at Naebono Art Studio. This is an art collective based in an old canning factory near the railroad tracks in central Sapporo. There are six artists based in the complex and they have their own gallery, this currently hosting an exhibition of Mexican artists entitled Mexicaido: the link to Japan and Sapporo being none other than our new friend and LA resident Kio Griffith:

Yuki generously gave over most of his afternoon to us and proved a highly genial and amusing host as well as a hugely talented artist (with pretty decent English). He has an exhibition in Hamburg coming up and was hard at work on a series of abstract works that he imbues with an almost 3-dimensional surface through the clever use of translucent acrylics and an industrial sander:

This is an incredibly abbreviated account of our last two days in Sapporo, but it’ll have to do. By the time we’d finished our tour at Naebono with Yuki, the weather had broken and it was absolutely hammering down. It had been hot and humid the whole time we’d been in Sapporo and the sudden change seemed to foreshadow our equally sudden departure…

Last night—it already seems a lifetime ago—we packed and said our farewells. A last few goodbyes early this morning and we were on the road by 7:30am.


What a great time we’ve had! The people we’ve met in Sapporo have without a single exception been delightful, and we are especially grateful to Yumiko and Rinako for their generosity, kindness, and thoughfulness. The staff and residents at Tenjinyama Art Studio have been just great: a massive “thank you” to one and all.

I suspect I’ll still be processing all this for many months to come.

Project Japan 4

After lunch we headed to the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art. What a lovely building!

Artists (from the top): Hanada Kazuhara, Kanda Nissho, Momose Hisashi, Nakae Norihiro, and Richard Anuskiewicz.


What a brilliant day! A very special thank you to Yumiko for her generous gift of time and her invaluable local knowledge. Tomorrow: work.

Dalí/Duchamp

On its last day we managed to catch the Dalí/Duchamp exhibition at the Royal Academy. It wasn’t an entirely satisfying visit—it was pretty busy, there were a lot of exhibits crammed into a relatively small space, and photography was forbidden—but worth it nonetheless.

Firstly because it was an interesting idea to present the work of these two artists together: firm friends in real life but with remarkably different approaches to the artistic endeavour and diametrically opposite strategies for maintaining their public personas.

Secondly, because any opportunity to see The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even should not be spurned (even if this is the Richard Hamilton recreation):

For me, the work of Marcel Duchamp is crucial to understanding the development of art in the twentieth century and beyond. However, I’m not ready to write that piece just yet. Suffice it to say that his work continues to delight, baffle, and infuriate in just about equal measure.

Salvador Dalí is perhaps easier to take the measure of. Looking at the shockingly bad photo above that I took in the RA on Wednesday (under clandestine conditions, I hasten to add), could I direct your attention away from The Bride… to the Dalí painting we can just see toward the upper right-hand corner. This is a small part of his 1958 Madonna, which looking at it now we can see clearly prefigures many of the later developments in Op-Art and Pop Art. Note the “sheet of paper” painted in the top-left corner with a pull-cord hanging from it: even at this distance it looks believably three-dimensional. The painting as a whole is a stunning tour-de-force of optical effects. What ever else we say about him and his weird landscapes, deformed figures, and crazed deviant sexuality, Dalí is a technically brilliant painter!

Also in the show, his Still Life Moving Fast is almost like a sampler (in the old sense of the word), a demonstration of complete technical expertise. Beautifully painted folds in cloth that match any Renaissance master, glass and liquid suspended in mid-air the equal of Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, the stunningly lifelike hovering bird and baby cauliflower.

Typically, the question with Dalí is whether the deployment of all this technical skill adds up to anything meaningful…

Easter in Paris

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louvre
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romans

hermaphrodite

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Bauhaus at the Barbican

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interiors

From Russia

This week I managed to get up to see the From Russia exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London. In particular, I was keen to see the collections of French art assembled by Shchukin and Morozov, reappearing for the first time in the West since they were bought in the early years of the 20th century.

To be honest, I found the exhibition bit of a disappointment generally. A lot of the Russian stuff I found very poor and/or highly derivative. However, it was worth the price of admission alone for the relatively small number of paintings by Cezanne, Derain, Matisse, and Picasso. There were also some fine works by Kandinsky and Malevich on display. My highlights:


Paul Cezanne, Bridge Over the Marne at Creteil (1894?)


Pablo Picasso, Farm Woman (bust) (1908)


Henri Matisse, Nude (Black & Gold) (1908)

I had never seen this Matisse before, and it completely blew me away: the boldness of execution, the use of colour. It’s so rough, so far removed from ‘reality’, and yet manages to be a totally convincing representation of the woman. Sculptural!


Henri Matisse, Harmony In Red (1908)

One of my favourite Matisse’s. I would have paid the £11 just to come and see this, and it didn’t disappoint. The image above gives no real indication of the impact it has in real life: it’s huge—over 2 metres wide—and the depth and richness of that red really is something. Interestingly, this painting was originally called Harmony In Blue, but just before it was due to be delivered to Shchukin Matisse repainted it. Although you can’t see it on the image above (which has been cropped slightly), Matisse left a thin strip of the original blue around the edge. This creates the illusion that this huge expanse of red is somehow floating on the canvas: a brilliant touch.


Wassily Kandinsky, Winter (1909)


Kazimir Malevich, Red Square (1915)


Kazimir Malevich, Black Circle (c.1923)

Finally, there was a large model of Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International. The model wasn’t all that fantastic, but there was a film looping in the same room that showed what St. Petersburg would have looked like had it been built. In other words, they taken archive footage and inserted a CGI model of the building into the landscape, and ‘aged’ the model so that it blended in with the grainy black & white film stock. Incredibly convincing.

Although this isn’t that film, here’s a similar short from YouTube that at least gives an impression of what I’m talking about:

So, despite my reservations about much of the work on show, I’m really glad I made the effort to go. It really was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to directly experience some great works of art. Sweet…