I spent my final weeks in Tokyo getting lost while seeking out galleries all over the city. One of the worst things about Tokyo is that street navigation makes absolutely no sense, armed with an address chances are you won't find the place you are looking for; however, being that it is Tokyo, you'll probably stumble upon something else equally interesting.
The insanity of Tokyo's streets was a conscientious decision from way up high. Before Japan's Imperial Palace was moved to Tokyo, it was located in Kyoto, where its street grid made invasions a little too easy. After moving to Tokyo, those in power laid out the neighborhoods in a giant maze to drive invading armies insane before they ever reach the palace. Unfortunately it worked so well, even long-time dwellers have issues walking their dogs at night without a navigation system in hand. For more detail on the streets of Tokyo, check out this great article over at CogMag.
Art Scene Resources
Art Space Tokyo, Tokyo Art Beat (which has a relatively new sister site in NY) and PingMag were my main sources of cool in Tokyo. All three of them are more or less loosely connected. PingMag was the first site I found (while researching Japanese construction uniforms) and from there I saw an advertisement for the Art Space Tokyo book. There was no way the book would have gotten to me on time shipped from the states so after emailing the publisher I found out that Craig and Ashley who coauthored the book were going to be presenting at Pecha Kucha Night #51 which I read about previously in Tokyo Art Beat.
So if you find yourself in Tokyo, do yourself a favor and check out Tokyo Art Beat. The platform it sits on is pretty robust. You can find events based on how many days until it closes, venue type, location and more importantly check out other events in the vicinity of the one you are reading about. If I could ape that for AutoDestination.com (something I've had in mind for a long time now) it would be totally awesome. And if you actually plan ahead, I would be more than happy to lend you my copy of Art Space Tokyo.
It's too bad that the majority of the galleries forbid photographing. It wouldn't be that bad except most of them never have decent photos of the work on their sites making it tough to forward cool stuff onto our peers. But anyway we have to make do with what we have so below are some highlights.
Ginza Graphic Gallery
I made it to the last day of the Tokyo Type Directors Club Exhibition 2008 at the ggg which showcases cutting-edge typographic works in an international competition. The only piece I remember had nothing to do with typography though... it was Jonathan Harris' Whale Hunt which I covered back in January. There's a list of other award winners at the TDC link above in case you want to track down the other pieces I saw. Walking out, I came across the courier logo on the cover of Street Graphics Tokyo. I was surprised I didn't come across it earlier.
Hibiki (Ginza Green), Tokyo Gallery + BTAP and Shiseido Gallery
Around the corner from the ggg on Chuo Dori, you'll find Ginza Green in the middle of the block, Hibiki is located on its top floor. Though it's a restaurant and not a gallery I thought it was worth mentioning, ¥1000 for a great buffet lunch and a fantastic view of Shigeru Ban's Nicolas G. Hayek Center.
Down the block is the Shiseido Gallery which at the time of our visit was showcasing the Sixth Tsubaki-kai. Not really my thing. But if you are into art using human hair and weird plastic figures then you may find it interesting.
Nearby on a side street, you'll find Tokyo Gallery + BTAP, founded in 1950, it is Japan's first commercial contemporary art gallery. Given its significance in Tokyo's art history, I wasn't really wowed by the space it occupied or the work it had on display (though to their credit, they were in between shows). I did get to see Song Dong's Water Diary which I covered in 2006 for Weblogsinc, but since the actual piece is a photograph, it wasn't much different from what I saw online.
Recruit: Creation Gallery G8 and Guardian Garden
Elsewhere in Ginza I came across two galleries produced by Recruit located a few blocks from each other. Creation Gallery G8 was my first stop and it turned out to be one of the best shows I saw in Japan. The 10th Yusaku Kamekura Design Award Exhibition there featured Taku Satoh's paper pieces. Think of our contour site models but on a whole other level. He also had a piece in a dark room where an animation was projected onto a model of a pack of gum. Since it was in its own enclosed space I managed to snap some photos while other viewers gave me the evil eye. Check out his firm / website here.
Down the street is Creation Gallery G8's sister gallery, Guardian Garden. At the time of my visit, their 30th Graphic Art Hitotsubo Exhibition was winding down. Though the ten artists they selected had some pretty good work, the real draw was the cases of entries that didn't make the cut. I must've spent a good afternoon there sifting through all the portfolios in those cases. Artists worth a mention: Akitaka Ito's painted animal portraits, Yuko Aoki's paper cuts and street drawings and Mai Miyazaki's caricature-like portraits. Those that didn't make the cut, but whose work I thought was interesting were Shimura Kazuo's plant mobile, Y. Shinagawa's design work, I loved his cute turtle drawings, Tetsuo Onaka's paintings of athletes, and Sakiko Kataoka's black and white bear. I tried taking some photos but one of the guys working there stopped me. Naturally I'm unable to find any of the portfolios online. They may actually be on the site, but my Japanese is non-existant.
Located only a few blocks from Roppongi's Art Triangle (and Kevin's place), the gallery was showcasing three pieces by Takashi Sugimoto of Super Potato (no, not the old school game shop in Akihabara). The first tearoom made of scrap metal welded together was a fine introduction to his work, but nowhere near as cool as the water tearoom on the second floor. Between the two of them was a large metal machinary piece topped off by a tree in the courtyard. Contrary to most of the other galleries, Gallery Ma allowed visitors to take photos of all the pieces and best of all, they have some great photos on their site! I also saw another application of his water tearoom a few blocks away near the entrance of Tokyo Midtown. I'm assuming Sugimoto was behind that one too since his firm did the interior design of the Muji store in there.
Though the exhibition they had at the time of my visit was underwhelming, Gallery éf might still be my favorite gallery in Tokyo. For anyone who visits Asakusa (which you will if you don't have time to see temples in other regions of Japan), you must pay a visit to this gallery which is located right outside of Asakusa Station on the Asakusa line and Ginza line.
Built in 1868, the converted warehouse has withstood earthquakes, fires, and bombings through the years. The fact that this small building has withstood the test of time is testament of the great craftsmanship and fine materials employed in constructing it. Walking through the cafe, you are greeted with large, thick metals doors attached to equally thick walls. Past those walls, a beautiful staircase leads you to the second floor.
After you are done admiring the space, plop yourself down on one of the tables in the cafe and browse through their catalog of past exhibitions. Of note was the Glasses of Ryo Yamashita exhibition and Adam Booth's Dr. Seuss /Asian fusion styled paintings.
There's a ton of galleries all over Tokyo, puts NYC to shame. So if you are ever in the area, make sure you check out Tokyo Art Beat and venture out there! This is just a small sampling of the excellent work out there.
Additional photos from this series