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チェックと日本の現代美術界についての感想

Komazawa or Tokorozawa

2009年10月5日


In my last blog, I wrote about the questionable idea of using contemporary art galleries as locations for “gokon” parties. But it was not the most depressing example of the current commercial scramble that I saw in my last visit to Tokyo. That honour has to go to the surreal art “show” put on in a number of “model houses” for sale in the upscale residential suburb of Komazawa. Several of Tokyo’s leading contemporary art galleries signed up for this commercial opportunity to have their best artists shown alongside the latest in kitchen gadgetry, interior design, and bedroom décor. It was a beating hot day, and by the time I’d found the subdivision of Komazawa somewhere behind the old 1960s Olympic village, I thought it must be a mirage when the first monster size fake Mediterranean mansion – the kind of thing that sprawls wantonly all over the landscape in suburban Southern California – loomed up over the hill. No, the eclectic bunch of fake European castles, oversized glass modernist boxes and horrible American retro style family homes were real enough, apparently the state-of-the-art lifestyle choice for rich Tokyoites fleeing their cramped apartments in the central city. Some friendly sales girls were giving out information about the “Kawakawa Museum” exhibition, in which one gallery and artist was allotted to each model. In every dream home an art ache, as Bryan Ferry might say.

Again, I’m sure someone thought it was a great idea to hang works of art for sale in these houses, in the hope that some of the buyers with such terrible architectural taste might also turn out to be equally discerning contemporary art lovers as well. The result however was mostly nothing short of disastrous for the artists on show, their work blending in like cheap IKEA accessories with the cream and pink carpeting, or glass and chrome decors of the houses. The prices looked ridiculous, the hanging was amateur, and the sales teams in each of the houses became completely indifferent once they had worked out you had no interest in buying a new home. The two artists I was most interested in seeing – Midori Mitamura and Shinro Ohtake – were both locked up in show homes where the staff had apparently just given up and gone home for the day. The whole site was deserted in terms of customers. Apparently, the show was organised by a former associate of Roentgen, one of the galleries on show, in two houses. What a long way from Omori 1992 we have come. The only feeling you were left with was horror at the thought anyone sane would want to live in such a creepy place – and the art sale just made it creepier. I headed back to the real Tokyo, salvaging a couple of tourist snaps of the Kenzo Tange monuments to an older dream of Japanese modernity in the nearby Olympic park.

Much closer in spirit to the old Roentgen, in fact, was the artist organised biennial going on way across the city in Tokorozawa.

http://www.tokorozawa-biennial.com/

I’d given up my plans to go there the day of the long trudge out to Komazawa, so I was very glad when I was able to find time to see this show before leaving Japan. The thirty minute Seibu ride out from Ikebukuro, north west into Saitama, is quite a different suburban experience to other trips out of Tokyo, in that instead of endless packed amorphous urban sprawl, you get the sense of space as Tokyo breaks up into old towns and villages. Tokorozawa is an old Seibu headquarters, and the biennial has taken over some massive but now empty train warehouses and workshop spaces, that give off a rusty atmosphere of former industrial glory gone rotten. The city centre is run down and scruffy, there is a cheap and nasty looking department store, and you are a thousand miles from the chic of Omotesando.

This is the face of real Japan today, dealing with urban decline with a brave face, and it was good to see the artists and art students using the spaces so creatively. Above all, I liked the atmosphere: the sense of hope, fun and renewal amidst the abandoned metal, concrete and wires. It wasn’t always immediately obvious what was an installation, and what just a pile of old industrial leftovers, and that suited the show. There were a surprising number of visitors making the trip there – and great enthusiasm from everyone involved. Back in the town, the main shopping strip was a depressing mix of cheap American trainer shops and burger chains, but it was my lucky day, and just off the beaten track there was a gem of a local ramen store: the only place around that was full of people coming and going.

Takashi Murakami apparently is also bringing his reformed upcoming GEISAI 13 – now billed as more of a alternative university rather than a talent show – to Tokorozawa. Coming home to Saitama. He has slashed participation prices, with Design Festa rather than Ginza Kaisha Garu style rates, in search of some credibility, perhaps, after the dreadfully exploitative prices of the past two GEISAIs. At those, penniless art students were paying up to 100,000 Yen a space to subsidise all the massive video screens, maid café fantasies, and TV show razzamatazz—as well as flying in a bunch of western curators to validate the whole thing. Instead, he is bringing in a lot of professors to give lectures, which I am sure will be a lot cheaper. Hopefully the Tokorozawa show has given him a few new sensible ideas about the future of art in Tokyo.

ADRIAN FAVELL
http://www.adrianfavell.com

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