Archive for April, 2009

A space for all things

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

After a couple of year in planning and construction, the permanent outdoor sculpture The parliament of reality by Olafur Eliasson opens in just a couple of weeks at Bard College in New York. An art commission done in collaboration between Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies and the Luma Foundation, Eliasson’s sculpture consists of an island with a pond at its center that is accessed through a passageway turned tunnel by a latticework structure. The parliament of reality is inspired by the Icelandic Althing, an outdoor assembly considered one of the first parliamentary institutions ever. It is also inspired by the fact that it’s a sculpture made for a college, a space for constant discussion and public debate.

On Saturday, May 16, the opening day of The parliament of reality, a number of presentations and discussions by artists and scholars take place on-site Eliasson’s sculpture. Participants include: Andrea Zittel, Anri Sala, Eliasson, of course, as well as Felicity Scott (Colombia University), Molly Nesbit (Vassar College) and Peter Galison (Harvard University), among other scholars. The day before, the Human Rights Project at Bard College, which is directed by Thomas Keenan, is also hosting an event on-site. This one focuses on the use of music for torture—a “technique of interrogation and punishment by U.S. military forces and intelligence agencies.” The participant list is not confirmed yet, but knowing past programs of Keenan, it promises to be a quite eclectic and interesting group of people from different fields.


Some weeks ago, while in Tokyo, I had the opportunity of visiting Yu-un, a private guesthouse and museum-like space of art collector Mr. Obayashi. Yu-un, which translated to something like a place to retreat or a site of wonder, is designed by the renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando. At the start of the project, Obayashi and Ando commissioned a handful of artists to create works on site. One of the commissions was Olafur Eliasson. Invited to create a work for the courtyard, pictured above, the artist proposed cladding the walls with a platinum-glazed version of his “quasi brick” tiles. (Eliasson first used this brick in his installation in the Dutch Pavilion of the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003.)

Andreas Eggertsen, who worked in Eliasson’s studio while this art commission of Yu-un was in production, explains that the quasi brick “is a space filling geometry based on ‘fivefold symmetry’: a mathematical description of a quasi-chaotic geometry, which was found by a physicist in the 80s. The bricks can be rotated into 6 different positions, and put together randomly they create a very complex pattern.” To read more about Yu-un, and to see better images of Eliasson’s commission other than my amateur snap shot, above, check out Lucy Birmingham’s feature article on Yu-un for Architectural Digest; the article is illustrated with photography by Robert McLeod, showing interior and exterior views of the house.

Light village secrets

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

The everyday in Tokyo, I loved it all: its handsome men, beautiful women, the androgyny of some, their sense of respect and modesty, but also their conspicuous consumerism. The city’s old places. New architecture. Sparkling metro. Cherry Blossoms. The weight of history, sight of futures and melancholy peeking felt at once. Much enjoyed. Flavors with tamed exoticism, constant rituals, the expansive urban ‘scape and population density. That intensity. And more than anything, the cultural opacity yet indeterminate lightness.

Visits to what became preferred sites felt like village secrets. The largest city in the world suddenly shrunk, more personable in its less popular spaces, in places of exquisite taste and intimate surroundings. Memorable: lunch of soba noodles at Keyaki Kurosawa, one of four restaurants in Tokyo inspired by the family recipes of the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Known not only for his legendary films like Rashomon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1954), Kurosawa, I learned then, was famous for his deep interest and practice of native culinary art. I realized, though, that I probably better understand Kurosawa films than Japanese food, and that my eyes are better trained than my paladar. Memorable, too: late-night drinks at a private bar, allegedly, Nagisa Yoko’s, sited in small alley in Shinjuku Sanchōme neighboring various petite membeship clubs of the kind.

Another delight: Center for Cosmic Wonder, a space founded by Osaka-based artist Yukinori Maeda. Since the mid-1990s, Maeda has been creating artworks all the while making a fashion line that goes by the name Cosmic Wonder Light Source. The space combines his practice with collaborative productions, such as Cosmic Wonder Free Press, of which three issues have been published by Nieves in Switzerland. The first space opened in Osaka, and a couple of years ago another one was established in Tokyo’s Aoyama, in one of the many alley streets behind the avenue where Issey Miyaki, Prada and Comme des Garçons and other high-end boutiques are sited.

The Center for Cosmic Wonder is neither an art gallery nor boutique, nor is it Light Source’s signature shop or a concept store by Maeda. But it seems to function like all of them at one point or the other. In its minimal white-cube garage area is a video projection of a Cosmic Wonder performance in Paris. Trough the back door, a garden trail connects that gallery with a high-ceiling, bright-but-soft-lit space that has rotating perimeter walls hiding closets; a large mirror cube placed on the ground that like a vault carries jewelry; a rack made of a rock sculpture with bended steel holds a handful of clothing items. The space has occult references no doubt, and is openly theatrical. Its air brings to mind a de-saturated Kenneth Anger sky, and arrangements an adaption set in Scharder’s Mishima—but, in any case, in movement by a play of light, conceptual transparency and willful opacity.

Thanks to the people who introduced me to these sites, Andrew Maerkle, Mami Kataoka, Elisa Uematsu and Jeffrey Rosen, and to Doryun Chong for helping me find places in town.

101 Tokyo

Friday, April 10th, 2009

I just returned from Japan, where I traveled to participate in a program of the 101 Tokyo Contemporary Art Fair. It was a short but intense trip, and got a chance to make multiple site visits to galleries and museums in Tokyo, plus do some sightseeing around town. The gallery Take Ninagawa held the first solo exhibition of the young sculptor Yuuki Matsumura, an artist schooled in Kyoto, whose sculptures made of broken, crashed or crumpled materials are simulacrums of minor disasters and common figures. This gallery, which was founded only a year ago, is one of the notable emerging commercial galleries in Tokyo. Other galleries founded in recent years by a young generation of art dealers, and which I sadly didn’t get to visit, are Misako & Rosen and Arataniurano.

The Mori Art Museum was exhibiting an elegantly installed showcase of works from the Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection, and the Museum of Contemporary Art a minimal yet stunning exhibition of media artist Ryoji Ikeda. Also elegant were the museum’s collection galleries—and, to my surprise and great delight, with works that had little if nothing to do with new media art and with just a few examples rubbing off anime or manga. There are big names and big works in the collection, from local and international artists alike. I was more drawn to discrete works by Japanese artists. Collection highlights include an ample set of like color-book drawings by Shinro Ohtake, a series of almost monochromatic landscape photographs by Naoki Ishikawa, and a conceptualist instruction-based work made into a multi-channel video and sound installation by Koki Tanaka.

The Japan Times journalist Donald Eubank was the organizer of the series of public programs for the 101 Tokyo Contemporary Art Fair. The topic of the panel discussion I participated in centered on the discursive support to the arts, or lack thereof, particularly in Tokyo. Issues around the local production (and export) of cultural identity, arts education and scholarly publications and public programming were addressed in what turned out to be a lively discussion. Panelists included Doryun Chong, curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; Mami Kataoka, senior curator at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo and international curator at the Hayward Gallery in London; Yichiro Kurata, president of Shinwa Art Auction Company in Japan; Yusaka Imamura, director of Tokyo Wonder Site; and myself. The panel moderator was Tokyo-based art critic Andrew Maerkle, author of the incisive introduction to the Japanese art scene for the 2009 Almanac of ArtAsiaPacific magazine.

In it’s second version, 101 Tokyo Contemporary Art Fair was quite small, with around 20 Japanese galleries and less than 10 international more as exhibitors. It also had a project space featuring an exhibition of artworks by local artists and from abroad on loan by another group of select galleries. A thoughtfully designed space and with a strong backing of sponsors, the fair has potential. Because it’s specific to contemporary art—even if some galleries included did not display the most qualitative—it competes only minimally with the couple-years-older and more established art fair, Art Fair Tokyo. This other fair, which ran concurrently last weekend, combines modern and contemporary art galleries with businesses of traditional arts and artifacts, such as nihonga. In principle, I find interesting the idea of combining different traditions and historical periods under one roof, but less so if it’s spatially organized in a separatist standard manner. Anyway, on Sunday, in the plaza separating Art Fair Tokyo’s main venue to its hall of younger galleries, there was a great flea market, showcasing primarily twentieth century domestic items and decorations of colonial times, old Western art books, Japanese traditional cloths and clothing, and native religious artifacts. This roving collection of images and things was another engaging viewing and eclectic shopping experience.