Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, brought 250 of his museum's treasures to the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo's newest and now its most high-profile (not to mention the world's tallest) art venue. Titled "Modern Means: Continuity and Change in Art, 1880 to the Present," the show is on view through Aug. 1, 2004. Featured works include a familiar Andy Warhol silkscreen of Marilyn Monroe from 1967, Egon Schiele's Standing Male Nude with Arm Raised (1910), a soft ice cream cone by Claes Oldenburg (Floor Cone,1962) and Robert Indiana's big, red, blue and green LOVE (1967).
Organized by MoMA curators Deborah Wye and Wendy Weitman in collaboration with Mori director David Elliott and curator Kim Sunhee, the exhibition is divided into four sections: "Primal" (1880-1920), "Reductive" (1920-50), "Commonplace" (1950-70) and "Mutable" (1970 till today). With a wide range of items, including furniture and design as well as fine art, it is "probably the first time we bring to another museum a whole scope and richness of our collection in a comprehensive way," said Wye at the press conference on Apr. 27.
"Modern Means" is a challenging exhibition, despite the curatorial echoes in its thematic categories of MoMA's much-mocked "People, Places and Things" re-installation of its permanent collection five years ago. In Japan, the curatorial scheme faced yet another question, at least from the press. Of the 250-or-so items on view, only six were by Asian artists (excluding a marble sculpture by Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi). Does this mean that Asian art isn't modern?
Elliott did his best, and responded that the show is a question, not a statement. What's more, Tokyo art lovers who came to the Mori expecting to see the world's best-known artworks were a little bit underwhelmed by the actual selection. On opening day, there were whispers among the visitors that they would have liked to have seen more of MoMA's textbook works.
The Mori occupies the top two floors of the sparkling new, 54-story Mori Tower, which is itself located in the middle of a sprawling 270 billion yen ($2.3 billion) business, shopping and residential complex named Roppongi Hills. Since opening in October 2003, the museum has done quite well.
Its inaugural exhibition, "Happiness: A Survival Guide for Art and Life," which Elliott co-organized with independent curator Pier Luigi Tazzi, attracted over 750,000 visitors during its three-month run. "Kusamatrix," which featured new works by Yayoi Kusama, was on view Feb. 7-May 9, 2004, and "The Roppongi Crossing: New Visions in Contemporary Japanese Art," Feb. 7-Apr. 11, generated a considerable buzz.
Some visitors to the museum, of course, simply come to enjoy the observation deck, which offers a magnificent, panoramic view of the metropolis. Buy a ticket at the entrance, and a high-speed elevator zips you to the top of the building. For the MoMA show (and the view), weekday admission is 1,800 yen, or $17, with the price jumping to 2,000 yen, or $19, on weekends and holidays.
But the Mori has not had a completely flawless opening. A month before the Apr. 28 premiere of "Modern Means," an automatic revolving door at the Mori Tower crushed a six-year-old child to death. Police have searched the offices of Mori Building Co., which developed the Roppongi Hills complex and runs the museum, as well as the manufacturers of the doors. Mori immediately closed the revolving doors and recently announced that it will replace them with automatic sliding doors. Mori also canceled the festive events planned to celebrate the first anniversary of Roppongi Hills, where most shops and restaurants opened in April 2003, six months ahead of the museum.
The Complex art building
Near the Mori is the Complex art building, which is located in the same Roppongi neighborhood and is packed with top contemporary art galleries. A year ago, the Mori Building Co., which owns the aged five-story structure a few minutes walk from the Mori museum, invited several art dealers to move in, hoping to spur a new art neighborhood. "It's great to have those galleries in our neighborhood," says Mori director David Elliott.
The galleries which occupy the Complex are Röntgenwerke, Ota Fine Arts, Taro Nasu, Gallery Min Min and Hiromi Yoshii, who opened a gallery space on the fourth floor and also shares a viewing room with Gallery Koyanagi (Koyanagi maintains its main gallery in Ginza, Tokyo's traditional art and shopping district). High-powered agent Yoshiko Isshiki, who represents Yasumasa Morimura and Nobuyoshi Araki, has an office in the building as well. Artsy types relax at Traumarisu, a small bar managed by art journalist Chie Sumiyoshi, which is on the ground floor.
It's been a good first year for the dealers there. "Whether we are more profitable here still remains to be seen, but we have many more visitors," says Hidenori Ota of Ota Fine Arts. "Clearly, a gallery is no longer a place for serious art collectors only. Many young people also come to see what's happening, because all of us are here."
The freshest show at the Complex is a one-woman exhibition of newcomer Maiko Haruki's "Rain" series of photographs, on view at Taro Nasu through May 15, 2004. At first the pictures seem to be divided into simple geometric sections of black and white, but upon close examination you can see outlines of the real world, including dim, grayish streaks on the surface. By the time you realize that they are rain drops seen against a gray sky under an overpass, you will be thoroughly fascinated by Haruki's poetic, sometimes moody images. Her photographs -- particularly her use of delicate light and water -- are almost impossible to reproduce. You should hope that her work will be shown at a gallery or a museum near you.
Haruki has always taken landscape photographs, but some pictures in the show feature faint figures of humans. "I recently began to feel like I've reached the point where I can take pictures of people," says the artist. Born in 1974 in Ibaraki, north of Tokyo, educated in Tokyo and at Goldsmiths College, University of London, in 1995 and 1996, Haruki is one of Tokyo's new artists to watch.
Another attraction at the Complex is a lunch-only restaurant, Monkey Traumaris, operated at Traumarisu by Yuka Otsuka of Ota Fine Arts.
The new Kagurazaka gallery center
If the Complex art building's first anniversary lacked fanfare, plenty of buzz and free-flowing sake greeted the opening of yet another (though smaller) art center in the city on April 10. The 35-year-old building in Kagurazaka, an old Tokyo neighborhood traditionally known for geisha houses and publishing and printing businesses, opened its doors with three new galleries: the brand-new Yamamoto Gallery, the Tokyo branch of the Osaka-based Kodama Gallery, and a viewing room for the art collection of the celebrity psychiatrist Ryutaro Takahashi. A graphic design firm still occupies some space in the building, but Yamamoto and Kodama share the top (fourth) floor and the third is devoted to showing a selection of Dr. Takahashi's treasures.
Yuko Yamamoto cut her art-dealing teeth at Röentgen Kunstraum (before it relocated to the aforementioned Complex and renamed itself Röntgenwerke) and more recently worked at SCAI (Shiraishi Contemporary Art) The Bathhouse.
The gallery's inaugural show is "Electro" (though May 15), which features works by Motohiko Odani. The 32-year-old artist's star has been rapidly rising particularly since he shared the Japanese pavilion with the L.A.-based Yutaka Sone at the 2003 Venice Biennial. The advance notice for Odani's new works -- a stuffed bambi figure and a girl wearing a white dress identical to the one worn by Edgar Degas' famous dancer -- has been excellent, with most of them quickly sold to collectors.
Among other artists Yamamoto represents are Kenji Yanobe, who is best known for his Atom Suit Project and was featured in the Mori Art Museum's "Roppongi Crossing" show, and Yasuyuki Nishio, who also was in "Roppongi Crossing."
Yamamoto hopes to make her gallery an adventurous place. "A gallery is a private space, as opposed to a public domain, so I would like to show particularly edgy works, things that people would turn their face away from," she says, using a particularly Japanese expression. Yamamoto has international ambitions, too, notably concerning the Basel Art Fair. "I hope to participate in the not too distant future."
Dr. Ryutaro Takahashi, a familiar face from Japanese TV, has collected new Japanese art for seven years. His collection includes major works by Kusama and Murakami. His viewing room, which is open on Saturday and by appointment on other days, is also presenting Odani's works. The star of the show is Human Lesson, (1997), a gorgeous human figure wrapped in fur and with the face of a two-headed wolf. Odani made it for his master's project at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. "This work hasn't been shown much," the artist said at the opening. "I'm happy to see it myself." The show, titled "Motohiko Odani Retrospective," is on view at Takahashi through May 29.
Kimiyoshi Kodama, who has shown works by such artists as Daisuke Nakayama and Katsushige Nakahashi, has been a leading young art dealer in the western Japan since opening in 1999. For his inaugural presentation in Tokyo, Kodama is showing playful drawings by Tomoki Kakitani, who is having his premiere. Kodama will go back and forth between the two cities. Many agree that Kodama's website -- www.kodamagallery.com -- is the best among Japanese galleries.
Unlike Roppongi, where a national gallery will be build in a few years to expand its art-community status, Kagurazaka is a bit off the map for art lovers. Yamamoto isn't worried. "Those who come all the way here are the people who really care about art," she says.
Footwear at Hayakawa
One of the fun shows in Tokyo right now -- at least for the Japanese Carrie Bradshaws who just love shoes -- is under way at Masataka Hayakawa in Shinkawa. Shinkawa is yet another Tokyo neighborhood that is emerging as an important art center, with galleries like SHUGOARTS, Taka Ishii and Tomio Koyama. Hayakawa relocated there early last year.
The French artist Marie-Ange Guilleminot, who has worked with Hayakawa for eight years, set up an installation of monochrome photographs of dozens of different shoes, as well as gray cast models of these shoes. This body or work was inspired by her visit to the Beta Shoe Museum in Toronto, which houses a collection of over 10,000 items spanning 4,500 years -- every form of footwear imaginable and unimaginable, in other words. For her work, she chose 31 shoes from different parts of the world and different times. The show, "Shoe/Chaussure," Apr. 10-May 29, 2004, invites visitors to take of their own shoes and step on the photos and the cast models to provoke their imaginations.
Some of the shoes -- actually, many of them -- look painfully uncomfortable, but the artist, who was in Tokyo for the show and to discuss future projects, said that comfort (or discomfort) wasn't her concern. "I was interested in their architecture, their composition," she said. "And how people in different cultures reacted to the activity (of walking)."
Tomoko Sawada proliferates
Japanese artist Tomoko Sawada, 26, is everywhere. Having won acclaim for her photo-booth self-portraits in dozens or sometimes hundreds of disguises, she may be the busiest young Japanese artist right now. Sawada, whose had her first solo show in the U.S. at Zabriskie Gallery last summer, has now won the Kimura Ihei Memorial Photography Award, one of the country's top prizes for photographers.
This victory marked an important turning point for the 29-year-old award, since Sawada is the first artist to win it who doesn't actually take her pictures with her own hands (she employs other photographers, and a passport photo booth). The portrait photographer Kishin Shinoyama, who was a member of the prize jury, commented that her work is excellent -- so it doesn't matter who actually presses the shutter.
The issue has come up before. About ten years ago, Yasumasa Morimura was in the running for the prize, but lost out because he didn't take his own photos. Sawada's award "reflects the changes in a concept of photography," commented the Nihon Keizai Newspaper.
A solo exhibition celebrating Sawada's prize has just closed at Tokyo's Konica Minolta Plaza Gallery, and her photos are also included in "Four Expressions of Photography" at Hamada Children's Museum of Art in western Japan through July 11, 2004, and in "Mediarena: Contemporary Art From Japan" at New Zealand's Govett-Brewster Art Gallery till June 7, 2004. Her first photo book -- a collection of 400 faces from her ID400 series, for which she went back to a passport photo booth outside the subway station near where she lives in Kobe -- was published in April by Seigensha Co. Sawada will be back in New York in May to pick up the Infinity Award for a Young Photographer at the International Center for Photography. And she has a solo show coming up at the Third Gallery Aya in Osaka, June 14-July 8, 2004.
Opera City to show private collections
The art gallery in the Tokyo Opera City complex (which also houses an opera house, as the name suggests, along with a concert hall, shops and restaurants) plans to open a sure-to-be-interesting show called "Why Not Live for Art?" On view May 26-July 11, 2004, the show features nine Japanese private collections that largely focus on contemporary art.
The focus is sociological, with info on how each collector got started, how they live with art, what they enjoy about it and the like. Though the collectors remain anonymous in the show and its catalogue, the nine of them are well-known figures in the Japanese art world. It will be fun to connect a collection with a name.
Guggenheim comes to Tokyo, too
The day before the Mori and MoMA gave their joint press conference about "Modern Means," the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, and a Japanese media conglomerate, the Fuji Television Network of Tokyo, announced that they, too, are staging a large exhibition in the city.
"Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection: From Renoir to Warhol," a selection of 79 major works, goes on view at the Bunkamura Museum, July 17-Oct. 11, 2004. The development seems a logical extension of ongoing interests of both parties: Fuji Television Network sponsored popular exhibitions of works from MoMA's collection in 1993, 1996 and 2001, and Guggenheim director Thomas Krens had approached Mori Building Co. several years ago about working together to set up a Guggenheim branch in Tokyo. The idea was rejected -- but did inspire the Japanese company to build its own museum.