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Two views of the 
Tokyo International 

Richard Long:
Hemisphere Circle, 
 Photo Saito Dasamu.

MOT, the Museum 
of Contemporary Art, 

Yoshiko Shimada's 
Balloon Bomb, Rising 

Yoshiko Shimada.

The Ebisu crew 
(l. to r.): Satoru Shiraki, 
Yoshiyuki Shiina, Michiyo
Kamata, Atsushi Kashiwagi 
and Daisuke Miyatsu.

Asako Tokitsu at work.

from tokyo 

by Kay Itoi


Before the grand opening this month of 

the Tokyo International Forum, a new 

multipurpose complex of theaters and 

auditoriums, the city's art dealers, 

artists, collectors and journalists were 

invited to preview its 134-piece art 

collection. The enormous $1.6-billion 

facility, designed by American architect 

Rafael Vinoly, is sited in the middle of 

Tokyo's business district and was paid 

for by Tokyo taxpayers. 

We were divided into several groups of 

two dozen or so people to explore the 

Forum's large seven-story glass hall 

and four adjacent theater buildings. 

Each group was led by a well-informed

official from NLI Research Institute, 

which helped organize the installation

of the collection under the guidance 

of art critic Tatsumi Shinoda. 

Shinoda's overall theme for the 

collection, "A Boat of Diversity," 

reflects its diverse and cosmopolitan 

character. With 34 conference and 

convention rooms, as well as several 

lounges and lobbies, the Forum offers 

ample space to decorate. On view are 

works on paper by Jennifer Bartlett, 

Zao Wou-ki and Sean Scully, paintings

by Gerhard Richter, a horse sculpture

by Deborah Butterfield and flower 

photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe.

One of the most popular works was 

Hemisphere Circle, a seven-meter circle of 

22 basalt stones that Richard Long placed 

outside the glass hall. In the Forum 

catalogue is a photograph of the artist in 

his kitchen, explaining his work using 

boiled potatoes. 

By the end of an hour-long (and 

exhausting) tour, I saw many beautiful and 

interesting things. But Forum officials 

don't like discussing the financial aspect 

of the collection. I knew it cost $5.3 

million as a whole, but when I asked how 

much each work was, they just gave me a 

phone number of the Tokyo metropolitan 

government office. I called, but a city 

official said he would not fax a price 

list, though if I came over he would read 

me the prices. No, not on the phone. I 

have not had the chance yet, but maybe 

I'll visit them some time. 


Devastating news for the two-year-old 

Museum of Contemporary Art (which asks

to be called MOT, though nobody knows

what that stands for): it will no longer 

enjoy the luxury of an acquisitions fund,

thanks to cutbacks by the debt-ridden

Tokyo metropolitan government. Set up

in 1988, the acquisition fund has 

enabled Japan's largest museum to buy

art worth $66 million, including works

by Hockney, Stella, Warhol and 

Wesselmann. The most memorable 

purchase has proved to be Roy 

Lichtenstein's Girl with a Hair Ribbon, 

bought for $6 million in 1994, which 

prompted some politicians to ask 

loudly why an enlarged cartoon 

should cost so much. 

Museum officials are understandably 

furious about the loss of their funds. 

MOT chief curator Kunio Yaguchi 

complains that it "will destroy many 

of our long-term plans," such as the 

purchase and placement of open-air 

sculptures. But the Tokyo government,

whose deficit will reach $4.5 billion 

this year, says that the remains of the 

fund--some $21 billion with accumulated 

interest--will have to be used for "more

urgent things than art," such as welfare. 

From next year on, the museum will 

have to ask for government approval 

for every purchase, which previously 

was not required for items costing less 

than Y200 million ($1.8 million). 

Imagine yourself explaining why a 

canvas filled with Campbell soup cans 

should cost millions of dollars to a 

group of artistically challenged 

Japanese politicians!


The New York Public Library recently 

bought two etchings by Yoshiko Shimada, 

Japan's premier feminist artist. Since her 

theme--the role women played during World 

War II--is often considered sensitive in 

Japan, most museums here are too scared 

to touch her work. Lately, though, some 

brave ones began presenting her in such 

acclaimed shows as last fall's "Gender 

Beyond Memory" at the Tokyo Metropolitan 

Museum of Photography. Still, the 

library's acquisitions,Balloon Bomb, 

Rising Sun(1993), which features wartime 

school girls below a Japanese flag-like 

red balloon, and House of Comfort (1993), 

which depicts a building in which women 

were forced to serve as sex slaves, were 

the first Shimadas to make their way into 

a public collection.

The two etchings were most recently seen 

in a small but well-organized one-woman 

show at Tokyo's Keio University Research 

Center for the Arts in December. Among her 

works on view, the one that might have 

made conservative Keio scholars nervous 

was an installation of hundreds of condoms 

to indicate how many times a month a sex 

slave had to service Japanese soldiers. It 

was prominently displayed right under the 

full-length portrait of Yukichi Fukuzawa, 

the Keio founder whose face graces a 

10,000 yen banknote. 


If you hang out at gallery openings, have 

art catalogues piling up in your living 

room and feel strongly about new artists, 

then you probably want to visit this new 

art Website, too. Last fall, seven 30-

something art-loving Tokyoites launched a 

colorful homepage called Ebisu Art-Net 

Party, which is surprisingly relevant and 

informative, finding many fans among 

Japanese art professionals.

The highlight of Ebisu Art-Net Party, most 

recently updated in early January, 

includes color pictures of Cindy Sherman 

being mobbed by admirers at an October 

opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art 

in Tokyo, a profile of new anime-punk 

artist Masakatsu Iwamoto (images of his 

works can be downloaded from the site), 

and a lecture given by Yasumasa Morimura.

"We love art, but art magazines are filled 

with knotty art jargon. We wanted to offer 

something more," Daisuke Miyatsu, an ad 

director who doubles as an investigative 

reporter for the site, starts to explain. 

But Atushi Kashiwagi, a freelance writer, 

stylist and leader of the group, says it's 

not as formal as that. "Okay, okay," 

Miyatsu tries again. "We just wanted an 

excuse to meet artists and then brag about 

it." Kashiwagi's colleague Yoshiyuki 

Shiina, and Satoshi Shiraki and his wife 

Michiyo Kamata, who both work for an ad 

agency, are also on the site's staff. 

They have already interviewed artists 

Dennis Oppenheim, Christian Marclay, Jean 

Francois Brun, Jan Fabre and Paul McCarthy 

and are working to put the translated 

texts on the site. Though the Ebisu Art-

Net is currently only in Japanese (they 

hope to bilingualize it in near the 

future), Shiina, the technohead of the 

group, is trying to use Shockwave so the 

visitors can hear the artists' actual 

voices. "We'll be using one 

technologically new thing after another to 

make the site more interesting," he says.

Among other attractions, art-industry 

gossip is a treat of the site. According 

to the Ebisu Art-Net, the second artist to 

work for designer Issey Miyake's "Pleates 

Please" series would be photographer 

Nobuyoshi Araki, which Miyake's office is 

yet to confirm. Pretty soon, art writers 

here will be heavily quoting the Ebisu 

Art-Net Party homepage. 


Asako Tokitsu, a 31-year-old Tokyo native, 

was one of the most visible new Japanese 

artists last year, with a string of solo 

shows at places big and small. A two-month 

one-woman exhibition through December was 

appropriate to mark the end of her 

breakthrough year. It was at the Saito 

Memorial Kawaguchi Museum of Contemporary 

Art, a private museum noted for its 

support for new artists. The show featured 

her signature charcoal drawing 

installations in various scales and forms.

A small woman full of energy, Tokitsu 

draws by swinging her arm in great arcs. 

Her lines, while sharp and stoical, have 

beautiful rhythms and movements. So it is 

no wonder that some dancers took notice of 

her work. She will be collaborating with a 

dance company in February to provide a 

stage setting. Then after a group show, 

titled "Art Scene 90-96," at the 

Contemporary Art Center of Art Tower Mito, 

she will have several more exhibitions. 

At the same time, Tokitsu is seeking an 

opportunity to work in the United States 

later this year. Why leave now, when 

people are starting to see her work? 

"Well, I don't think those opportunities 

(in 1996) came up necessarily because 

people really understood and appreciated 

my work--I was more or less a pinch-hitter 

in a situation or two," she explains. 

"Besides, I feel a need to see myself in a 

different environment." 


Who said there's no audience for Japanese 

contemporary art? If that was true, then 

who were those 600 people who stormed a 

one-day-only group show, which was more 

like a party complete with a bar, thrown 

by nine marketing-savvy young artists on 

Oct. 27?

The artists--Daisuke Nakayama, Izuru 

Kasahara, Tetsuya Nakamura, Keiichi Bando, 

Yukiko Onoue, Yuriko Matsushita, Takahiro 

Fujiwara, Yoshihiro Suda and Isao Sato, 

who are all in their late 20s, 

fashionable, soft-spoken and surprisingly 

likable--organized a show called the 

STARTS Exhibition to mark the move of 

Studio Shokudo, which they have shared 

(but had gotten too crowded) in Tachikawa, 

a Tokyo suburb. 

Of the 600 visitors, who came despite an 

ambitious 2,000-yen ($17) admission fee, 

most were "fans," many of them art 

students, in their teens and early 20s. 

The place was actually too jammed to view 

artworks, which were displayed in a rather 

amateurish way. But this obviously did not 

bother the young visitors. We saw a 

teenager shrieking, "I talked to him, I 

talked to him!" Such wild enthusiasm was 


In this country's conservative art world, 

the Shokudo artists have sometimes raised 

eyebrows because of their knack for 

publicity and marketing. That is probably 

why the art establishment here largely 

ignored the event (except for a piece 

written by an art student in an art 

magazine Bijutsu Techo). 

But one should not overlook the impact of 

this group. In 10 years, some of them will 

be representing Japanese art. A handful of 

the Shokudo members are already making 

their mark: Nakayama's beautifully 

polished work is currently on view in 

Hamburg and will be featured in a group 

show in Budapest in March (then he will 

head for New York on an Asian Cultural 

Council Fellowship Grant in November). 

Suda, noted for his delicate wooden 

sculptures, will be showing in Berlin and 

Tokyo this spring. And in 15 years, who 

knows how many of the youngsters (who did 

not mind paying $17 to get in) would turn 

out to be wealthy collectors? They could 

make a sizable market. 

KAY ITOI is a Tokyo-based journalist who 

writes about art, technology and