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/.
It’s easy to get lost in Tokyo. In this city of 13 million people, street names are rare and house numbers hard to find. With addresses a mix of district, block and house numbers, even google gets lost in translation. Knowing the name of a gallery or atelier is no guarantee that you’ll wind up at the right location. So every adventure begins by exploring. Wandering the maze of mega city and urban village you’ll find a lot of interesting places to stop along the way.
Tokyo’s art spaces are spread all over. From soho like galleries in the posh neighborhood of Omotesando to traditional art houses in Chuo-ku and international gallery spaces in the touristy commercial center of Roppongi, it takes time to discover contemporary art in Tokyo. Given the high rents, it’s no surprise that art spaces come and go. A long sought after gallery may now be a hair dresser or noodle shop. If you look a little closer, the surprise can be a pleasant one.
In Daikanyama, for example, artwork is on display in a cargo freight container turned gallery inside the Bross hair salon. Aptly called “The-Container,” solo exhibitions usually last 2-3 months. In the recent group show “Multi(Multi)ples”, the retail nature of contemporary editions was taken to an extreme with small works sold from a vending machine.
This discovery led me to look further into other contemporary art spaces today. While “white cube” galleries may still be the norm even in Tokyo, contemporary spaces like The-Container are pushing the idea further. Some galleries double as event spaces such as SuperDeluxe, while others are Cafe add-ons such as My-Cafe-My-Bar by Hiromiyoshii. Perhaps the best example of the “micro gallery” is the TANA Gallery Bookshelf, which is literally just that – a gallery on a bookshelf.
Since contemporary art is about concepts and dialogue, these new art spaces invite visitors to question and interact. This can be a daunting task for newcomers in Tokyo, however, as language barriers and a tradition of subtle communication often make it difficult to feel completely at home. Luckily, it is also an international community full of sherpas to show you the way. At the TobinOhashi Gallery, for example, Robert Tobin and Hitoshi Ohashi welcome gallery visitors right into their home, where they invite you to share their own experience in “Living with Art” over a glass of wine.
Bringing art and people together in innovative spaces is how Project Art Lounge was launched with the exhibition LIGHT BREAKS at Atelier Davidseck last year in Basel. Project Art Lounge is now at the beginning of its discovery tour in Tokyo, which began at the Art Fair Tokyo earlier this year. Along the way, we will update you on interesting people and places. If you have a recommendation to share, please leave a comment. You can also follow Project Art Lounge on twitter or Facebook.
Project Art Lounge is pleased to announce its first exhibition featuring the works of Kamila Najbrtová, Michele Schuff and Silvia Sinha. –> CLICK HERE FOR A RECAP OF THE EXHIBITION HIGHLIGHTS.
Each of these artists capture light, time and space in a unique and captivating way. Please join us for the opening and vernissage on Saturday, November 16th from 4pm-10pm.
The exhibit continues on Sunday with a VIP Brunch with the artists (invitation only) and open to the public throughout the afternoon.