Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tokyo Art 2

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We spent a day checking out a little of the Tokyo art scene. First we headed out to one of the old warehouse districts where several floors of a warehouse building (The Maruhachi Warehouse) have been converted into gallery spaces. If the Hong Kong government really wants to help develop the arts in Hong Kong it would be much better off allowing more of the creative re-zoning that would facilitate this kind of thing (and yes, we do have some similar projects in To Kwa Wan and Fotan already) rather than building a multi-billion dollar arts development in West Kowloon.

What young, upcoming Hong Kong artists lack is cheap, accessible performance and exhibition space, not huge white elephants. Cost: a few tins of white paint and some plaster. Of course, there’s no money in this for their mates in the property sector so it’s unlikely to happen. The West Kowloon development is, as we all know, mainly a property development with an arts theme, in much the same way that Cyberport is primarily a residential property development to line the pockets of the Li’s rather than any kind of genuine IT hub.

Next we wandered over to the Museum of Contemporary Art. This is the 'official' contemporary art museum and contained examples of all the main schools of contemporary (as opposed to modern) art. The five main categories of contemporary art being, of course:

1 - Conceptual Shite
For the conceptual artist the concept itself is the important thing, the mere representation of that concept in a visually engaging way is left to lesser mortals. Of course, we already have a medium for presenting concepts without the need for visual representation; it's called writing. However writing has three main drawbacks for the conceptual artist. Firstly, it's hard work. Secondly, it's not as cool as being an artist. Thirdly, you actually have to have a proper concept and something interesting to say about it. Conceptual art therefore, with one or two notable exceptions, tends to attract artists who have a particular combination of abilities, namely they aren't very good at art and they don't really have much of a concept.

This school of contemporary art was represented in the museum by a series of very badly taken photographs, each of which had a white object in it (a mattress, a white car, etc). The concept presumably being "Look! There are many white things in the world!" a concept that I feel was more comprehensively explored in that masterpiece of contemporary art "Spot's Big Book of Colours, Shapes and Numbers" where Spot discovers that not only are there many white things in the world but also many green, blue, yellow, round and square things. The visuals are better too.

2 - Self-indulgent Tosh
This was by far the most widely represented genre in the museum and included such gems as a photo of someone shaving off one eyebrow at the start of a train journey. The stunning insight gained being, in the words of the artist, "Some people looked at me strangely but I did make some new friends". Thanks for sharing.

Another example was a badly shot video of a man buying a squid at the market and taking it to the sea to release it.

All in all, the kind of stuff that if some kids do it and post it on You Tube it's just some kids messing about but if it's projected onto the wall of the Contemporary Art Museum it's a thought-provoking exploration of the nature of alienation. Or not.

3 - Experimental Leftovers
You know, just taking some stuff, messing around with it and seeing if something interesting comes out the process. Nothing wrong with that of course, but it's the kind of thing that artists should do in their studios and exhibit if something interesting does come out of it. Many artists didn't seem to bother with the "did anything interesting come out of the process?" question and just display it all anyway.

4 - Kitsch Cack
The kind of stuff that Jeff Koons does. Moving on...

5 - The Good Stuff
This was represented by an excellent retrospective of Kosho Ito. Ito worked in ceramics and spent his whole life working with clay and other similar substances and his work is really about the material itself and about our relationship with the natural world. Nothing more nor less than that really, he works with very simply worked or even unworked clay and yet the presentation of those works is so visually striking that it makes you look anew at something that you would normally take for granted.

The building itself is perfect for displaying work like Ito's with lots of natural light and opportunities different viewpoints and perspective of the work.


ulaca said...

My word verification says it all: "bided". Those who make the greatest impact in the arts, as i anything else, are those who work darn hard and serve their apprenticeship. "No short cuts", as I intone to my daughter!

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