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チェックと日本の現代美術界についての感想

What are museums of contemporary art in Japan really for?

2009年7月14日


Kanazawa, somewhere in the 21st century. On my way to the famous historical city, I get caught in a mad scramble for train seats by day tripping Japanese pensioners at Echigo Yuzawa station. Nothing is going to stop this lot getting their entitlement, so its only after surviving a barrage of very un-J-like barging and elbowing, that I settle to enjoy the passing north coast countryside. I bet none of these anxious pensioners are headed where I am going—to Kanazawa’s showpiece contemporary art museum, which says something about the importance of contemporary art in everyday life, as well as its cultural priorities, in contemporary Japan.

Still, Kanazawa’s quite breathtaking art space is a people’s museum if nothing else. The radical flat low rise circular design, with semi-public boulevards running through the museum, and see through glass or white rooms divided up by patio gardens, open spaces and glimpses of office space, transcends a series of typical architectural lines between inside/outline, nature/artifice, public/private, etc. A piece of truly cutting edge architecture, it is deservedly famous and celebrated internationally. Kanazawa’s problem as a museum, not to say its potential as a showcase for contemporary art in Japan, is the single blunt fact that the architecture by SANAA is so much better and more worth seeing than any of the art inside.

It’s a common problem in Japan, which is stuffed with stunning museums designed by recognised Japanese architects, worth paying astronomic shinkansen fares to go see, whereas there is only a slim roster of contemporary artists who share the same kind of public recognition. Museums like Chichu or Towada exacerbate this by their curatorial policies: architectural jems used to display the trophy acquisitions of foreign artists, and usually second tier pieces at that. Towada is particularly depressing once you get inside: I can’t remember any of it apart from the Yoko Ono peace tree. Nothing is more certain to cement Japanese contemporary art in the global second (or third) division, than the unwillingness of these museums to take some chances and say that there are some Japanese artists (or artists from Japan, if you prefer) worth paying attention to. Maybe these museums only get a few foreign visitors a year, but those that do go are likely to be there with a purpose, and should see some Japanese contemporary works alongside the beginner’s guides to world art elsewhere else. Other museums like Hara, often opt for commercial shows by hip foreign names, but they have also profiled rising J-stars (Tabaimo and Yanagi, for instance) and the museum does contain spectacular installations – that are a quick sampler “best of” Japanese contemporary – in this case, brilliant pieces by Nara, Morimura, Miyajima and Suda. (It’s a pity the next one they’ve commissioned is an Eliasson—the Turrell/Lin problem below...)

Kanazawa has struggled over this issue since its opening, and tussles over its policy and mission between curators and the city government have scarred its history. For the main part, under the influence of its prominent first director, Yuko Hasegawa, it tended towards the first version of internationalisation: i.e., showcasing foreign art for Japanese in Japan. Hasegawa used her formidable influence and connections to bring high profile artists to work with the construction of the building, and a series of high profile shows, most famously the Matthew Barney collaboration on one of his Drawing Restraint works (the one where he gets to cut up whales and Björk). It’s nice to know that Kanazawa’s curators are up to date with the latest in world curatorial trends. But I’m not so sure it has worked to make this a truly “world class” museum. For sure, the Japanese public needs to be exposed to some great world art, and the Japanese art world probably needs to feel it is part of some great world art networks and curatorial debates. But did all the effort with Barney get much further than securing a footnote in one of his elaborate productions? Do more shows of second or third hand conceptual Brit art, that was vapid first time round, really advance global art curation, especially when they are being shown several years after those who follow these things first read about it in Frieze or Art Forum? Mori’s Turner Prize show last year was surely a nadir in this tendency: where the astronomical price of insuring some of Hirst’s rotting carcasses on the 52nd floor, ensured there was practically nothing else of interest on show to hipsters in Tokyo getting their first live glimpse of YBAs. Or the latest round of Martin Creeds or whoever... And, really. how many more museums do we need in Japan with Michael Lin wallpaper, or a hole in the roof by James Turrell?? (OK, OK, I agree Turrell is probably one of the few greats of the last fifty years, I’ve just seen too many by now; Lin’s wallpaper, however, will always just be wallpaper).

Senior curator, Hiromi Kurasawa, kindly shows me around the museum, and explains some of the history and current direction of the museum. It is making more effort now to work with Japanese artists, connect locally and regionally, and to acquire more contemporary Japanese works for posterity—as is Hasegawa now at MOT. They are also aiming to do more combined Japanese/international themed shows that showcase major new Japanese works at the forefront (rather than rearguard) of ideas in art, as Hasegawa also did in her 2007 Space for Your Future show. The current show at Kanazawa, One Hundred Stories About Love does this, and is a breezy eclectic mix, perfect for random wandering around these lovely rooms. It’s a fairly empty curatorial frame, unless the many single performances and events you can’t see on a day visit are factored in. Some of these – by Chelfitsch, or Ono’s old New York partner Toshi Ichiyanagi – looked good. In the galleries I see a handful of interesting new names: Hiraku Suzuki’s earth paintings and graffiti motifs take over one huge hall; Taiyo Kimura’s amusing installations would have looked good at Micropop. The highlights – the Shiota, the Shimabuka, the Morimura — I’ve seen before.

The best two rooms are the public art installations, works in progress by locally based, established artists. The public can join in the making of the big colourful knitting installation by Mitsuhara Hirose and Minako Nishiyama, that looks like a cheesy, soft wedding chapel; Motoi Yamamoto’s enormous, intricate white salt maze is another exceptionally original work by this very interesting artist. How nice to see something spectacular in a big room that didn’t involve ten tons of plastic or toxic junk (I dread to think how much was used in Towada). Besides these, though, it’s the building and the architecture that dominates everything else. This museum, like others, will have to come up with some money for some big domestic acquisitions and some visions of where Japanese contemporary fits in to global trends, before we start remembering the art before the architecture. Or before any of those pensioners wander in for a look.

ADRIAN FAVELL
http://www.adrianfavell.com

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