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/.
When visiting a contemporary art exhibition, who hasn’t heard the expression “my four year old could have done that”? Or how about the other favorite quip: “is that art, or is it trash that can be thrown away.” The fact is that both of these statements might sometimes be true – and that’s the beauty of it.
Recently, artist Michele Schuff introduced me to the Drifters Project by her friend Pam Longobardi. By turning plastic debris found in the ocean into beautiful sculptures, she is raising awareness about the massive amount of plastic drifting around the oceans, washing up on beaches and how it is personally connected to all of us.
Pam Longobardi: Drifters: Plastics, Pollution, and Personhood
In her artwork, Pam Longobardi’s encourages us to see that trash for what it is and not just walk by and ignore it. She challenges us to recognize our own role as consumers of plastic and to do something about it. By picking it up and making great art from it, she’s done her part as an artist. Now it’s our turn. Read more about the Drifters Project and The Concious Ocean on her website and buy her book Pam Longobardi: Drifters: Plastics, Pollution, and Personhood.