Looking out at the New York City skyline from atop the new Whitney Museum I was reflecting on the ambiguous title of the new Whitney’s inaugural art exhibition: “America is Hard to See”. In referencing Robert Frost’s ode to the unintended consequences of discovering America, I thought of my own discovery tour of the Japanese art world. Whitney curators appeal to the difficulty of charting the course of American art, and perhaps of the American identity itself. Art is not only a portal to the identities of the artist, but also an opportunity to escape the limitations of one’s own narrow perspectives and discover new possibilities.
Transcending borders is what expats do for a living, so it was fitting that Project Art Lounge invited members of the expat organization InterNations to visit 3331 Arts Chiyoda Center in Tokyo. In a converted high school building near the manga and electronics mecca of Akihabara, artist Masato Nakamura has created a space to bring together contemporary artists and the local community. Rather than the sleek facade of many new contemporary art spaces, this revitalization of an existing public gathering spot is a unique pairing between old and new traditions of Japan. Like the traditional call and response ritual symbolized in the 3331 name, a single stroke of ingenuity enables artists and galleries to show off their hard work and achievement.
3331 Chiyoda Arts hosts more than 10 contemporary art galleries along side co-working spaces and creative agencies such as the Huffington Post and Softbank’s robotics lab featuring Pepper. Through an artists in residence program, international artists add global perspective to an otherwise very local environment which also plays host to community flee markets and knitting clubs. An interesting gift shop and Japan’s only Lomography Gallery Store can be found in the center’s lobby.
During the InterNations visit, Tama Art University’s AKIBATAMABI21 gallery gave a sneak preview of their new graduate curated show. The Kyoto Design Lab showed of innovations in 3D-Printing and architectural innovation. KIDO Press presented the emotive manga-esque prints of Bangkok artist Wisut Ponnimit, while Bambinart Gallery showed an enigmatic paintings solo show by Shinobu Hanazawa. In Gallery Jin, visitors learned the difference between the words “kawaii” (cute) and “chow” (scary) in an freakishly intriguing installation by Yuriko Sasaoka. The art space Island Medium presented an simple but poignant installation from Akira Fujimoto’s “New Recycle” series, which was also featured along side Yang02’s work at the Art Fair Tokyo. The Able Art Gallery showed a number of interesting works produced by artists with disabilities.
The exhibition that drew the biggest response from the expat visitors, though, was probably the exhibition of #Hogalee at Gallery Out of Place Tokyo. The artist was on hand with gallery director Kazushige Suzuki and assistant Emily, who guided the group of expats on a tour of the center.
In the show “n-th derivatives”, artist Hogalee quotes a work by Cindy Sherman before superscribing himself with photographs of his own version of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #96 taken at spots around Tokyo like a traveling gnome. By further expanding the idea of derivatives, Hogalee invites visitors to take pictures of his work and post them on social media with the hashtag #hogalee. Hogalee then re-appropriates the images on Hogalee’s instagram account, displaying the resulting posts in the gallery in a manner similar to the Instagram series presented by artist Richard Prince.
After a fascinating tour, the expats of InterNations had plenty to talk about over food and drinks in the center’s 3331 food lab. As exhibitions change almost monthly (including an impressive exhibition of Jasper Johns prints at KIDO Press), 3331 Arts Chiyoda center is definitely worth a return visit. The exhibition schedule can be found on their website: http://www.3331.jp/schedule/en/.
Thank you to everyone who visited the exhibition “Water Abstracts – Photographs by Silvia Sinha” presented by Project Art Lounge in Tokyo. In case you missed it, here’s a look back at the event.
On the first anniversary of the exhibition LIGHT BREAKS, Project Art Lounge visited Michele Schuff in her studio in Atlanta. In addition to a whirlwind of gallery visits and film showings, we also had plenty of time to talk about Michele’s artistic evolution and her ambitious plans for the future.
When you think about the bustling art centers in the US, you probably think about New York and Los Angeles. What few people realize is that there are a number of other large and mid-sized cities that enjoy top rankings among artists and critics alike. With an energetic community of artists, galleries and collectors, Atlanta is often found at the top of the list. Given it’s moderate cost of living, affordable studio space and proximity to excellent art institutions, it is no secret that emerging artists love Atlanta.
Last year she left her job as Historic Collections Manager at the iconic Fox Theater in Atlanta to commit herself full-time to her artwork. Before leaving the company, Michele was instrumental in getting a 50 thousand dollar grant to help the Fox Theater “go green” with environmentally friendly lighting. Let’s hope her collectors are equally generous.
Thanks to the ingenuity and architectural creativity of her partner Brian, Michele now has a newly renovated studio to call her second home. This is where we sat down to talk about her work.
Michele’s medium of choice is encaustic painting. Her studio is full of bags of wax, pigment and resin that she heats and mixes in a laborious process before applying it to wood and canvas with a hot iron, knives, brushes and molds. Her technique has evolved over the years to the point where some of her paintings are three dimensional sculptures and installations. In her 2007 work “Lux in Tenibris” (Light in Darkness), Michele created a multitude of lanterns out of wax and hung them by piano chord in a darkened room of Atlanta’s Whitespace Gallery adjacent to several celestial paintings in deep blue. As art critic Jerry Cullum wrote in an essay about the show, the “repeated image of lights that are either stars in a night sky or illuminated vessels floating in a richly luminous dark” suggests the presence of an “inner light” which is apparent in much of Michele’s artwork. It was this persistent and fragile warmth that was at the heart of the LIGHT BREAKS exhibition a year ago.
Michele is a dreamer, whose artwork is informed by introspection. Her paintings, with titles like “Lori’s Dream” or “What is Mine”, are as much about a state of mind as they are about the stories that inspired them. During her 2013 show “Measure for Measure” at Georgia College and State University’s Blackbridge Art Gallery, Michele described how “a space outside of time might exist when one is entirely engaged in some kind of creative work- where everything drops away and that one can tap into a completely alive, creative state of consciousness where time becomes irrelevant.”
In her new studio, Michele has plenty of space to explore big ideas, which is good, because she likes large scale works. A couple of large format pieces hang in the Raffles Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey and we agreed that would be a great place for a Project Art Lounge retreat as soon as we can find the time. For now, Michele is busy planning her next steps.
Like other artists, Michele has at times contemplated tossing her art in the trash bin or onto a big bonfire “as a cathartic exercise to liberate myself from the past”. She’s also thinking about venturing into new mediums and smaller formats. In the past, she has created beautiful works on paper and mixed media, including an exciting new project that reveals Michele’s wild and crazy side. Without giving too much away, Michele says she’s “burning for a fresh start”. Burn permit or not, Project Art Lounge is anxious to see what Michele comes up with. If you are interested in learning more about her work, you can visit Michele Schuff’s Artist Page on Facebook or her profile on Project Art Lounge.
“I don’t know what just happened.” That was Bearskis‘ reaction when Project Art Lounge introduced them to Design Festa vol. 40 at Tokyo Big Sight on November 8th. Understandable. Sprawling over two floors of Tokyo’s largest international and futuristic exhibition center, Design Festa brings together a wild and crazy assortment of creative characters. Artists, designers and performers of all types present their paintings, photographs, toys, clothes, masks, bags and all sorts of other things. Visitors, too, get into the act, many complete with outfits and costumes to emote their favorite meme. Coming on the heels of Halloween, vol. 40 was like a art fair dress-up party or Harajuku on steroids with a punk band playing on the outdoor parking lot. Design Festa cannot be compared to other contemporary art fairs, but careful observers will discover some talented young creators. The interesting thing about this fair: anything goes. First timers may be surprised and a little overwhelmed, but it’s definitely a trip worth taking. Welcome to Tokyo everybody.
Where I grew up, parents teach you: “Don’t talk to strangers.” That advice is ok if you are a wandering child on a public street. If you are sitting in the living room, though, you are most likely surrounded by friends or relations of some sort – even if you don’t know them by name. Such was the case for me yesterday in “The Living Room” project by artist Lee Mingwei at the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills.
Through January 4th, 2015 the Mori Art Museum is hosting the exhibition “Lee Mingwei and His Relations” – a series of projects involving various acts of participation under the motto “Take Part. Make Art.” After the museum invited me to host a session in the Living Room, I met with the artist Lee Mingwei and spent an afternoon in The Living Room on November 10th.
“The Living Room” was originally created for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It is a space where community members are invited to tell stories about their own personal collections and share conversation with visitors, just as Mrs. Gardner might have done in her own art-filled living room. As living with art is a major part of life for me and my partner, and as a member of MAMC, I was delighted at this opportunity.
For Lee Mingwei and visitors, I recounted how the Mori Arts Museum has become a kind of living room for me – a place to enjoy art and meet other art enthusiasts. Living far away from “home” and unable to bring my art to the museum, I shared a collection of my impressions about moving to Tokyo, interacting with artists and how living with art has changed my life since curating the exhibition LIGHT BREAKS last year.
When I visited the Living Room a day earlier, I sat in the beautiful wooden chair that belonged to Lee Mingwei’s grandmother. A glass of water was offered to me and I thought about what stories I might share while staring at the skyline of Tokyo and listening to Lee Mingwei’s voice in the background, where he was having a conversation. I saw my reflection in the window and thought about my Uncle Arthur who had a portrait of himself hanging above his fireplace. I only met Arthur and his partner of 60+ years late in his life when he was 90 years old, and listened to stories about Arthur’s and Walter’s Glass and Wedgwood collection in his living room over the first gin martini I had ever had. If they were still here today, I would share with them my fascination with art how it has enriched my life.
Even in the comfort of The Living Room, engaging others in conversation wasn’t easy. Upon hearing me speak English, many Japanese visitors shied away, perhaps feeling a bit uncomfortable with their own English skills. The language barrier is still quite difficult to overcome in Japan, and while I am learning Japanese, I am not yet fluent enough to engage a native speaker. Perhaps the bravest visitor, though, was a Japanese girl who didn’t say a word. She simply came over and handed me a flower from Lee Mingwei’s “Moving Garden.” With the city view in the background, this “unexpected encounter” with a stranger was clearly a spontaneous act of courage for her and I could see the reflection of her fanning her reddened face as she left The Living Room.
Most of the visitors with whom I spoke in The Living Room were tourists visiting Japan for the first time. Many were eager to share impressions about people in Japan and hear about the places I have visited. I brought along the copy of a book which I had received many years ago before my first trip to Japan. Entitled “Bluff Your Way in Japan,” author Robert Ainsley wrote about Japanese society in the 1980s. Many of his observations are still accurate today. About sightseeing, he encouraged visitors to deliberately bypass popular tourist attractions and observe the more commonplace wonders like the endless variety of vending machines throughout the city. I recounted that a visiting friend from Germany was so fascinated by the “Jihanki” that he returned home with hundreds of photos of them and compiled a book about it, which I brought to show. I shared the story of exploring Tokyo’s unlikely art spaces with two Living Room guests from New York, including a visit to the “container” gallery housed in a hair salon, also featuring a vending machine for art outside. I told them about Design Festa, the most unique assortment of art, design and creative expression that I have yet to experience in Japan.
Not everyone came to the Living Room to talk. Some were there to simply enjoy the gaze out the window or take a break on the comfortable sofa. A couple from Sweden was there with a small baby. While the mother went off to feed the child, I had a chance to converse with the father who was originally from Laos. I recounted that my partner and I had encountered a large community of Swedes in Ko Lanta, Thailand. We talked about the inspirations of cross-boarder experiences and I shared some of my thoughts on the exhibition “Go-Betweens” immediately preceding the Lee Mingwei exhibition at the Mori Art Museum. Among my Japanese conversation partners was a young relational artist, who spoke well about her work on the relationship between mothers and children.
Moving to Tokyo and traveling back and forth between my native homes in Switzerland, Germany and the United States has been a great adventure so far. The opportunity to explore the art world in Japan has given me new insights into the way Japan views itself and new ways for me to think about art in my life. My explorations in Japan inspire me to continue with Project Art Lounge – a sabbatical to my 20 year career in IT and digital media. Thanks to Lee Mingwei and the Mori Art Museum I now have new relations to India, London, Vancouver, Sweden, Laos, New York and Tokyo. From Art Fair Tokyo to the art sites around Naoshima to the Yokohama Triennale – and a chance to meet artist and curator Yasumasa Morimura – I have plenty of stories to bring back to my own living room conversations in the future.
At the end of the first day at Art Fair Tokyo 2014, it’s too early to pick favorites or draw conclusions about the Japanese contemporary art scene. One thing is for sure, though: with plenty of refreshing young artists around every corner, tradition is never far away. Art Fair Tokyo combines the classical with modern and contemporary art like few other contemporary art shows. While one museum manager told me this is simply the result of the limited size of the contemporary art market in Japan (and the need to fill the booths), the fair’s curators paint a broader picture. In a section titled “Artistic Practice: Modernity, Created by Japan” the emergence of modernity in Japanese Art is chronicled over the decades of the last century, suggesting a continuity between the old and the new. In an interview with BlouinArtInfo, curator Hozu Yamamoto goes even further saying “We need to spread the message in Japan that art is precisely a commodity where historical awareness and knowledge is indispensable.”
With all this historical peer pressure, the contemporary spirit was everywhere. At an evening talk session, it was not a Japanese artist – but Hong Kong based Pak Sheung Chuen – who summed up best the aspirations of a contemporary artist unapologetic about his break with the past. “Real art,” to paraphrase his words is both deeply personal and completely of the moment. As I understood him, it’s about overcoming limitations, not being defined by them.
With that breath of fresh air, I am looking forward to day two of Art Fair Tokyo!
When I first visited some Japanese galleries at Art Basel a few years ago, a few of the gallerists I spoke with were reluctant to talk about the state of contemporary art in Japan. With traditional Japanese art still strongly rooted in modern culture and superstar contemporary artists from Yayoi Kusama to Takashi Murakami interweaving the worlds of art and fashion, it’s hard to define the clear guideposts in the Japanese art scene. One gallerist even told me, “these are great artists, just not really from Japan.”
For a better perspective on the current state of Japanese art, Project Art Lounge will be spending the next three days at Art Fair Tokyo, self acclaimed as the biggest art fair in Japan with over 150 galleries and partners. We will be talking to galleries, artists and meeting other art enthusiasts to talk about their views. After a sneak peak at yesterday’s preview, it looks like a busy three days ahead. The show runs until Sunday, March 9th. If you would like to meet up, visit the contact page and leave us a message.