Jun 30 2017

June Roundup: Notes From Nippon

by Peter Augustus Owen

While summer is generally known for being a slow time in the world art calendar, June in Tokyo proved to be one of the busiest months of the year, with the opening of the first Japan outpost of Galerie Perrotin, a large retrospective of a beloved Swiss sculptor and notable exhibitions showcasing established contemporary Japanese artists. Here are some highlights from openings and events around town this month.

Bonito Sculpture

Jun 3–28

Koki Arts, Tokyo, Japan

HIDEO TAKASHIMA, Bonito Sculpture, 2017, dried bonito, 18.5 × 6 × 4 cm. Photo by Peter Augustus Owen for ArtAsiaPacific. Courtesy the artist.

Koki Arts, an emerging gallery in Tokyo’s sleepy Higashi-Kanda district, presented the second solo show of Japanese artist Hideo Takashima. The works resemble simple pieces of driftwood, but closer inspection reveals their true material: dried bonito, or katsuobushi, a preserved fermented fish that, when shaved, creates wispy, paper-thin fermented flakes that are served over traditional foods as a garnish. Here, the artist hand-carved the bonito into half-man, half-fish creatures. These works marked a rare departure for Takashima, who favors the medium of ceramic for his large-scale works, yet is still keeping in line with his updated contemporary take on traditional Japanese artistic methods.

Pierre Soulages

Jun 7–Aug 19

Galerie Perrotin, Tokyo, Japan

Installation view of “Pierre Soulage” at Galerie Perrotin, Tokyo, 2017. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

Emmanuel Perrotin’s eponymous gallery opened in Tokyo in early June, cementing the gallerist’s commitment to the Asian market. (Galerie Perrotin also has locations in Hong Kong and Seoul.) Perrotin chose French abstract artist Pierre Soulages’ textured black resin paintings to inaugurate the white walls, which drew crowds on the opening night on June 7. Soulages has enjoyed a special relationship with Japan throughout his career—in 1992, he won the prestigious Praemium Imperiale Prize for painting, awarded by members of the imperial family on behalf of the Japan Art Association, and in 2017, he released a book documenting his ties to the country, Soulages in Japan.

Alberto Giacometti: Collection Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght

Jun 14–Sep 4

National Art Center Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan

Installation view of ALBERTO GIACOMETTI’s “Collection Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght“ at The National Art Center, Tokyo, 2017. Photo by Peter Augustus Owen for ArtAsiaPacific

Over 130 works by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, organized by the National Art Center Tokyo (NACT) in cooperation with the Fondation Maeght, are currently on display in one of the most extensive retrospectives of the artist ever exhibited. Along with the artist’s famously elongated bronze figures brimming with energy, the NACT showcases an impressive collection of paintings, photographs and prints by Giacometti that offer a rare glimpse into the artist’s creative evolution at different stages during his career. The show finishes with a dramatic display of sculptures bathed in low lighting designed to bring the viewer extra close—as to mimic the intense study Giacometti imposed on his own subjects.

Traces of the Future: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia

Jun 21–Jul 15

Mizuma Art Gallery, Tokyo, Japan

HERI DONO, The Culture of Knives that Transform into Flowers, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 150 × 200 cm. Copyright Heri Dono. Photo by Peter Augustus Owen for ArtAsiaPacific.

Continuing a strong exhibition schedule for 2017, and tapping into this year marking the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Mizuma Art Gallery presents a group show of six artists from Southeast Asia. Curated by Hermanto Soerjanto, the exhibition brings together Singaporean artist Robert Zhao Renhui, Filipino artist Mark Justiniani, and Indonesian artists Heri Dono, Angki Purbandono, Agan Harahap and indieguerillas (Santi Ariestyowanti and Miko Bawono). The highlight of the exhibition is two large paintings by Heri Dono that depicts his signature Javanese characters tackling local and international sociopolitical subject matters.

Fantasy Land

Jun 23–Jul 22

Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo, Japan

MASAHIKO KUWAHARA, heavy metal, 1999, oil on canvas, 97 × 130.3 cm. Copyright the artist. Courtesy Tomio Koyama Gallery.

Masahiko Kuwahara’s solo exhibition “Fantasy Land” at Tomio Koyama Gallery features a mix of 30 works created from the 90s to present day. Although the paintings show a somewhat empty, anonymous landscape, they are strangely comforting and familiar, as if Kuwahara has tapped into a phantom childhood memory or fantastical dream long forgotten. This would not be achieved without his use of a pale color palette and simple brushstrokes to translate the emotions of the blurred half-drawn critters and creatures that are the subjects of the paintings, which the artist further alludes to with the following poetic remarks on the exhibition:

When we were kids,

our grandfather took my brother and me goby fishing.

I wonder how old we were.

A small beach, surrounded by concrete.

On the sea surface oil glittered in rainbow colours.


Dark, pungent river.

Petrochemical products filling our house.

Ever more houses made with new building materials.

Problematic processed food.


The scenery I was in.

A part of myself.




New packages.

Endless development and new products.

Gradually, the scenery becomes whiter and brighter,

Little by little, the apparent dirt gets clearer,

melting into dreams.


An unknown country,

Grandparents, father, mother, dogs and cats have already left this world.


The area where I live has changed over the past ten years or so.

A former factory site, its soil was decontaminated, and now it is a small town.

New streets and housing complexes, commercial facilities, hospitals and parks….


A clean town.

A white, bright town.


Products with cleansed origins,

And me, like them.

Walking in a quiet stage setting.

People, animals, food,

All seem very far.

I have forgotten where I am.

Amulet of the Tapir

Jun 24–Aug 5

Nanzuka, Tokyo, Japan

KEIICHI TANAAMI, Realm of the Afterlife / Realm of the Living, 2017, pigmented ink, acrylic silkscreen medium, crashed glass, glitter acrylic paint, acrylic paint on canvas, triptych, 217 × 300 cm. Photo by Peter Augustus Owen for ArtAsiaPacific.

Nanzuka is hosting its first exhibition in its new Shibuya location, presenting a collection of work by Japanese artist, Keiichi Tanaami. Entering street level into a nondescript building and descending down several flights of stairs, the subterranean experience sets the tone for Tanaami’s dramatic phantasmagoric work featuring US war planes, multi-eyed monsters and colorful skeletons which the 80-year-old artist says are born from his vivid dreams and childhood memories growing up in Japan. The exhibition showcases several new paintings of various sizes in addition to a recent not-so-family-friendly animated film, The Laughing Spider, which was previously screened in the United States at the Sundance International Film Festival. The opening of the exhibition also marked the publication of two books: Amulet of the Tapir and Psychedelic Death Pop.

Hideo Takashima’s “Bonito Sculpture” was on view at Koki Arts from from June 3 to June 28; Pierre Soulages’ solo show is on view at Galerie Perrotin, Tokyo, until August 19, 2017; “Alberto Giacometti: Collection Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght” is on view at National Art Center Tokyo until September 4, 2017; “Traces of the Future: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia” is on view at Mizuma Art Gallery until July 15, 2017; Masahiko Kuwahara’s “Fantasy Land” is on view at Tomio Koyama Gallery until July 22, 2017; Keiichi Tanaami’s “Amulet of the Tapir” is on view at Nanzuka until August 5, 2017.

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

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