Jul 31 2017

July Roundup: Notes from Nippon

by Peter Augustus Owen

July in Tokyo featured several notable events, including the collaboration of two of the most respected museums in the region to present artworks by artists from Southeast Asia, and an important announcement by a sought-after Japanese curator regarding her work with a major biennale. Also, it was a particularly busy month for one of Japan’s most celebrated photographers.

TUAN ANDREW NGUYENThe Irony of Worship, 2017, wood, metal, neon, LED lights and plastic, 210 × 64 × 65 cm. Photo by Peter Augustus Owen for ArtAsiaPacific.

Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now

Jul 5 – Oct 23

Mori Art Museum and the National Art Center, Tokyo

To mark the 50th anniversary of the formation of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), the curatorial teams of the Mori Art Museum and the National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT), teamed up with the Japan Foundation Asia Center to present approximately 180 works of art by 86 Southeast Asian artists. Presented in two sections, each housed in one of the two museums, the exhibition is the largest display ever of Southeast Asian art in Japan, featuring representation from the 10 member states in the form of photography, painting, installation, sculpture and participatory art, including a room at the NACT by Thai artist Surasi Kusolwong titled Golden Ghost (Reality Called, So I Woke Up) (2014), where viewers are invited into a space filled with five tons of “thread waste” to search for one of nine golden necklaces featuring a golden ghost charm. The lucky treasure hunters will get to keep the jewelry and also receive a signed certificate from the artist.

Many large-scale works were commissioned for the exhibition, including a life-size, eight-meter-long elephant sculpture suspended over the entrance to the Mori Art Museum by Thai artists Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Chai Siris. In addition, an exhaustive list of emerging and established artists are featured in this important show, including Indonesian artist Heri Dono, Thailand’s Montien Boonma, Singapore’s Lee Wen and Ho Rui An, Vietnam’s Tiffany Chung and Malaysia’s Wong Hoy Cheong.

The Mori Art Museum and NACT have scheduled several artist talks, symposiums and tours to further engage the public, including special sessions for visually and hearing-impaired attendees to experience this multicultural, all-encompassing exhibition.

Installation view of EMMANUEL SAULNIER’s Round Midnight (2016). Photo by Nacása & Partners Inc. Courtesy Fondation d’entreprise Hermès.

Emmanuel Saulnier: ATM Tempo I/II/III

Jul 14 – Oct 31

Ginza Maison Hermès Le Forum, Tokyo

French sculptor Emmanuel Saulnier is a close collaborator of the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès and mentor to the young artists’ residences at Hermès workshops. Now, he brings his large-scale installation work to Tokyo’s Le Forum gallery for an exhibition inspired by jazz musician Thelonious Monk. The exhibition, arranged in three parts as in a musical score, includes a dramatic reinterpretation of Saulnier’s recent show, “Black Dancing,” at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. An installation of glass and wood sculptures covered in black ink are displayed in a manner that alludes to Monk’s signature spontaneous musical performances, completely filling two storeys of the gallery. Also on view are previously exhibited large, hollow, glass-tube sculptures, which the artist fills with water to represent the body and the fragility of life, and is an interpretation of tragedy based on the artist’s investigations of human existence in the 1980s. In addition to sculptures from “Black Dancing,” “ATM Tempo I/II/III” includes a presentation of pieces from Sauliner’s personal art collection, featuring artists with whom he shares a special connection, promoting the importance of collaboration and humanity in an artistic sense. This is Sauliner’s first solo show in Tokyo.

JOHN ZURIERNight 46 (Kurashiki), 2010, distemper on linen, 76.2 × 50.8 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy THE CLUB, Tokyo.

John Zurier: At the Very End of the Blue Sky

Jul 14 – Sept 29


Located in the newly constructed Ginza Six complex in Tokyo’s famed shopping district, THE CLUB is an emerging gallery which will focus on bringing “rarely seen” artists to Japan. Led by Yukako Yamashita, a Sotheby’s alum specializing in Western art, the gallery is tucked away behind an unassuming doorway near Ginza Tsutaya Books on the 6th floor of the building. This month, the gallery presents California-based artist John Zurier’s solo show, “At the Very End of the Blue Sky.” The exhibition features Zurier’s abstract paintings, which the artist notes are deeply influenced by different aspects of Japanese culture and aesthetics. This includes the presentation’s title, which is taken from a poem of the same name by Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa.

Entering the second room of the gallery, where each painting is illuminated by its own dramatic spotlight, the space offers a museum-like experience as shaped by THE CLUB’s director, who shows incredible promise when it comes to bringing new, exciting experiences to the commercial gallery space.

HIERONYMOUS BOSCHTondal’s Vision, c. 1490–1500, oil on panel, 54 × 72 cm. Photo by Peter Augustus Owen for ArtAsiaPacific.

Fantastic Art in Belgium

Jul 15 – Sept 24

Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo

This month, the Bunkamura Museum of Art opened “Fantastic Art in Belgium,” featuring highly detailed paintings and drawings spanning from the 1500s to today. Much of the curious work depicts bizarre creatures set in unorthodox biblical scenes stemming from several Flemish artists’ vibrant imaginations.

Unfortunately, despite being held in a museum that is included in a complex which houses a concert hall, cinema and theater that attracts just under 3 million visitors a year and boasts that it is a place where one can “enjoy a range of cultural and artistic experiences in a relaxed atmosphere,” the exhibition itself lacked supportive printed material (save painting name, date and medium), audio guide or curatorial statements in languages other than Japanese.

(From left) Twenty-first Biennale of Sydney artists AKITA TAKAYAMA and YUKINORI YANAGI; Jo-Anne Birnie-Danzker, director and CEO of the Biennale of Sydney; Mami Kataoka, artistic director of the 21st Biennale of Sydney; Jo Court with her husband, Richard Court, the Australian Ambassador to Japan; 21st Biennale of Sydney artists RIKA NOGUCHI, AMI INOUE and JUN YANG. Photo by Peter Augustus Owen for ArtAsiaPacific.

Biennale of Sydney Reception

Jul 19

Embassy of Australia in Tokyo

A media reception was hosted by the Australian Ambassador to Japan, Richard Court, and director and CEO of the Biennale of Sydney, Jo-Anne Birnie-Danzker, at the Embassy of Australia in Toyko. That day, Mami Kataoka, the artistic director of the 21st Biennale of Sydney announced the title of next year’s exhibition—“Superposition: Art of Equilibrium and Engagement.” Also released was the latest round of invited artists (the full list will be released in October). Joining Ai Weiwei and NS Harsha, the 16 new participants, all with strong ties to the Asia Pacific region, include Hong Kong’s Samson Young, Luxemburg’s Su-Mei Tse and the late Japanese artist Tomie Ohtake, among others. Speaking at the event, Kataoka noted her desire to keep the roster smaller than in recent years, as she hopes to offer support by spending more time with each artist so that they can develop strong work for the exhibition.

The Biennale, set to open to the public on March 16, 2018, and run through June 11 of the same year, will be hosted at several venues throughout Sydney and does not charge for admittance.

Installation view of NOBUYOSHI ARAKI’s “2 the Sky, My Ender” series (2009). Photo by Peter Augustus Owen for ArtAsiaPacific.

Araki Nobuyoshi: Sentimental Journey 1971–2017

Jul 25 – Sept 24

Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

Nobuyoshi Araki, who celebrated his 77th birthday this year, has had a very busy 2017 so far. In July alone, he had four active exhibitions in Tokyo, including “Photographoary: Photo-Mad Old Man A Turning 77 on 5.25.17” at Taka Ishii Gallery Photography / Film, “Tombeau Tokyo: Nobuyoshi Araki × Guimet Museum” at Chanel Nexus Hall, “Nobuyoshi Araki: Photo-Crazy A” at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, and finally “Sentimental Journey 1971–2017” at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum. The latter exhibition is a moving exhibition honoring his late wife Yoko, who lost a battle with ovarian cancer in 1990, and includes a tribute to his pet cat Chiro, which died in 2010. The work includes Araki’s documentation of the couple as newlyweds on their honeymoon and images from his first self-published photobook. In this presentation, the photographer takes viewers on a journey through his life with Yoko, ending with a touching display of a series of images involving the sky, which the artist became preoccupied with following his wife’s passing. Fans of his more erotic images will note how this body of early work shaped the development Araki’s signature aesthetic, while appreciating a softer look at the man (and woman) behind a provocative photography practice. 

Notes from Nippon is a monthly blog, featuring a roundup of news and exhibition openings from Japan.

Peter Augustus Owen is the Tokyo-based associate publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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