Museum

Andreas Gursky Exhibition in Osaka

The first day in Osaka I went to the National Museum of Art, Osaka to catch an Andreas Gursky exhibition, a German photographer known for his hyper-realistic photographs. His work is usually large scale, capturing large areas and scenes with minute detail. It was a rare opportunity to see such a huge amount (51 photographs from 1980 to 2012!) of one artist’s career, and particuarily exciting since Gursky himself was part of the selection process.

NationalMuseumofArtOsaka

National Museum of Art, Osaka

The exhibition pamphlet

The exhibition pamphlet

Throughout the exhibition, there are a few ideas from Gursky’s work that seem to stick out: consumerism, crowded and empty spaces, reality; and visual characteristics like saturated colours, minute details, as well as unique composition.

Gurksy focuses a lot on “modern” life, creating images of large housing complexes, office buildings, and many images of various stock exchanges around the world. One of his earlier images Tokyo, Stock Exchange, 1990, captures a frenzied environment. I liked looking at all the different people in the scene- some moving so fast they are complete blurs of white, others still and quiet. It’s a photograph that makes you think about photography as a mechanism- and how this environment is transformed into a still image.

tokyostockexchange_main

Tokyo, Stock Exchange, 1990

With the development of digital processing, Gursky began creating images that used a wider field of view and with minute detail. Hong Kong, Shanghai Bank, 1994 shows an office building from a high angle, giving a glimpse into the actions of those inside while still keeping them separated.

107311c

Hong Kong, Shanghai Bank, 1994

What I find interesting about Gurksy’s work is the composition of his images. It seems he uses photography to create images- not photography to capture an image that exists. In this sense he acknowledges that there really is no reality in the visual world- only what we see and perceive.

In Frankfurt, 2007, the scene is one that we can accept as real- technically everything looks correct, yet the glossiness of the surfaces and the stillness of the environment makes this look entirely false. It’s almost too perfect.

1

Frankfurt, 2007

One of my most fascinating photographs was the photograph taken of Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm, 1950. This was a) the only image of another artist’s work and b) the only image of grainy quality- practically pixelated. My mind just churned trying to process the image of a painting I have seen in person in a grainy photograph surrounded by the hyper-realistic images.

Andreas-Gursky

Untitled VI, 1997

Then, some of his works are truly visually stunning leaving me in awe, like this image of a massive water tank in Gifu Prefecture.

22440-6657dfbc39dfee58767c4d7a126ac446

Kamiokande, 2007

When I was leaving there were books on sale with images of every photograph featured in the exhibition. Flipping through, I noticed that while the photographs were beautiful on paper, there was something very important about seeing them in person. Their full size lets you see tiny details, and their large size swallows you up letting you get lost on the photograph.

The exhibition ends on May 11. National Museum of Art, Osaka: website

Advertisements

Hokusai at the Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Art

I had the pleasure of seeing the Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Art’s touring show of Hokusai prints in Nagoya. The exhibition features many early works as well as his most well-recognized The Great Wave off Kanagawa, 1832, and Red Fuji, 1832.

800px-Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa2 800px-Red_Fuji_southern_wind_clear_morning

It was really interested in the use of dimensions in the prints. Art History education (at least in my experience in Canada) tends to emphasize (and praise) the use of light and dark, like the flickering light of French Impressionist paintings or the deep contrasts of Italian Renaissance chiaroscuro. It’s a shame that this emphasis results in overlooking a lot of really important art, like Hokusai’s, as my classes barely touched on anything outside of Europe. Print makers like Hokusai use light and dark in an entirely different way: creating shapes, areas, and outlines of different shades. I was really intrigued by his portrayal of clouds: flat white space with almost rigid black outlines. Not necessarily the image that comes to mind when thinking of fluffy clouds. Yet these images don’t leave any confusion as to what they are and, to me at least, offer a strong sense of cloudiness.

The museum itself as a partnership between Nagoya and the Boston Museum of Art- which sends pieces from its collection for two exhibitions a year. This was actually the first time I’ve been to a museum of this nature, where a permanent collection was not he focus of the museum, but rather dedicated to traveling exhibitions. It seems like a great way to give people the opportunity to see art they might not otherwise have. Although, I can’t imagine the stress these curators experience transporting so many works halfway across the world.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Some recreations of "Great Wave".

Some recreations of “Great Wave”.

The exhibition will continue to travel to Kobe, Kitakyushu, and Tokyo. The official website can be found here.

Koji Kakinuma at Kanazawa21

Last weekend I was feeling a little restless and needing inspiration, prompting a day trip to Ishikawa Prefecture. I was lucky enough to catch Tokyo-based Koji Kakinuma‘s exhibition “Exploring Calligraphy” at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa. 

I say “lucky”, because this exhibition left me in awe. I hope to share why I found this exhibition so fascinating!

Kakinuma brings to Shodo a contemporary vision grounded in tradition. He probes the principle of calligraphy in an endeavor to see calligraphy as a contemporary art form. “Inhale, exhale—use the brush freely!” is the figure of calligraphy he aspires to.

– An excerpt from Kanazawa21

So let’s start at the beginning.

The writing system in Japan uses Kanji, characters used to symbolize or represent words and ideas. In order for Kanji to be functional it has to have rules and remain consistent. The size, shape, spacing, and stroke-order really matter.  It matters even more in Shodo, which is the artistic writing of Kanji (or Japanese calligraphy). There is great emphasis not only on the appearance, but on materials and the physical movement of the writer. Kakinuma’s background is in Shodo, and his work plays with the restrictions that surround the practice.

Kakinuma’s exhibition fills 7 rooms, throughout which he manipulates and distorts these Japanese characters and all the rules they entail. He often alters his arm movements which creates lines that are loose and distorted. In the image below you can see an example of varying strokes.

Koji Kakinuma, “Four Seasons in Manyo’s Ancient World”, 2005

Sometimes these characters become spontaneous and difficult to read. In this form they begin to look less like their practical selves and become more abstract.  This work was not included in the exhibition, but it is an excellent example.

Koji Kakinuma, “Wind/Forest/Fire/Mountain”, 2007

In the above image, you might have noticed a small red mark on the left. All of Kakinuma’s works are finished with his Hanko, a personal stamp used in Japan equal to the functon of signatures (I myself have one for bill payments and signing contracts!). The Hanko, with it’s defined image, looks static next to the Kakinuma’s fluid characters.

The exhibition included one work in English: The phrase “You bring the light in” repeated over and over again in loose writing.

Koji Kakinuma, “You Bring Light In”, 2013

The longer I stared, the more the images in front of me looked less like letters and words and more like orderless markings. It was definitely helpful for me to have one work in my own language. It helped me understand the feeling of something visually familiar being distorted.

Kakinuma’s  produces “big scale” works which are several meters in width and height. Big pools of ink collect together to form areas of progressively deepening shades, as well as ink bleeding into the paper. Droplets and drippings scattered around the overall clean strokes. The Hanko marking that I mentioned before was also present on the larger works, in an accordingly larger size.

Koji Kakinuma, “One”, 2011

During the few Shodo lessons I’ve taken the instructor explains: back straight, relax, move your arm not your wrist, feel the brush, breathe. The brush will move as you move. Kakinuma takes the physicality of Shodo to another level with hisIn a seated area outside of an exhibition room, visitors to the museum are able to watch a video of Kakinuma’s process.  Along with a bucket of ink, he uses a brush almost the same height as him (cue images of the “Borrowers”). His entire body’s strength is needed to move it across the paper on the floor. His feet, back, arms work together to produce the right strokes. 

This isn’t the same video shown at the museum, but it’s also really cool to watch.

These oversized characters speak to the inexhaustible power of Kanji as symbols. This character, 山, is tiny on paper, but represents the gargantuan presence of a mountain, and brings to mind images of Japan’s endless mountain ranges, of their sublime power, of the feeling of spirituality that can come from being in the presence of these untouchable ancient entities.

The way these large works are presented can be very powerful, for instance in an enormous room with a ceiling as high as a gym’s and blindingly white walls. Hanging on opposite eachother, a few meters from the top of the ceiling are “Go Go”, 2013, and “Pheonix”, 2013, each spanning over 77 squared metres. The sheer size, space, and visual impact of this presentation left me in awe. It’s the same feeling I get when I stand in a towering Cathedral or look across the mountains: Completely overwhelmed and yet reassured by the beauty of these environments. A beauty that feels innately familiar yet out of grasp.

Needless to say I really enjoyed the exhibition and I’m glad I was introduced to Kakinuma’s work at this time. Had I visited after only a month or so living in Japan, my response would have been different because I would have had no familiarity to Kanji. In the last 6 months, Kanji has become a confusing part of my daily life. Seeing it distorted and manipulated by Kakinuma was captivating and oddly cathartic.

Links:  Artist WebsiteKanazawa21 Website

Panda Mania: A day in Ueno Park

Leaving behind a snowy wonderland in Toyama, Tokyo greeted us with open arms of warm sun and crisp breezes. After a midnight bus ride through the Japanese mountain ranges we arrived, slightly groggy but with giddy excitement. Fearing the imminent death of my phone low on power, we braved the crowded basement of a McDonalds. Amidst the travellers asleep on their suitcases and the late night adventurers changing clothes in the bathroom for work, we stealthily snagged at a much coveted power outlet and recharged over orange juice and greasy hash browns.

After dropping off our bags at our hostel we took a leisurely walk to Ueno Park, marvelling out the stillness of the morning. Tokyo, despite it’s reputation as a city of epic energy was unexpectedly tranquil in the morning. Our path led us through the Taito district, which is home to countless industrial kitchen suppliers.

Before entering the park’s interior we stopped at C’s Cafe where we enjoyed some truly mouthwatering sandwiches, mine with herbed salmon and Ebany’s with copious amounts of gooey cheese.

Ueno Park was bustling (given that it was a long weekend) and we marvelled at the sheer size and quantity of museums in the park. If you so chose, I’m sure this sprawling cultural hub would provide several days of enjoyment, at least.

To our Ueno Zoo was currently home to two giant pandas, Ueno and Shinshin, who were being treated like the celebrities they are with a pretty sizeable crowd. Pandas are by far the strangest creatures I have ever seen, their plump bodies covered in fluffy white and black fur, casually munching on vegetation lain at their feet. In a way it really was like seeing a celebrity, in the sense that I was seeing something in the flesh that I had previously only seen in pictures or video. I half expected their furry arms to reach up and lift their heads of their bodies, revealing an animatronic interior or sweaty mascot worker. In the Panda (and Christmas) spirit, we snapped a quick picture with a pretty adorable backdrop. This led to a day of strolling through the zoo- enjoying the beautiful grounds.

_DSC0076

_DSC0079

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Intent on making the most of the day, we spent a leisurely afternoon enjoying Ueno Park, taking in the sculptures and Monet exhibit at the Western Art Museum. This was another reminder of how English-friendly Tokyo is, as there were explanations in English throughout the exhibits. Perhaps it was the break from my daily grind (oh, I’ve become so cliché) or the change in weather. Tokyo felt at once peaceful, with its quiet streets and sunlight filtering overhead, and ripe yet with opportunity for adventure from the density of people and events in your immediate surroundings.

_DSC0157_DSC0160

Day Trip to Kanazawa

Ah, the long weekend! A chance to wind down after a hectic week of teaching and seize the opportunity of extra time to take a quick trip to the neighbouring Prefecture of Ishikawa.

We left in the morning and arrived just in time for a lunch of (of course) Ramen.

The main attraction was the Kanazawa Castle park and Kenrokuen gardens, an enormous property full of winding paths and buildings. The castle itself was built in the 1500s and burnt down several times. Now what remains are the many utility buildings that have also been reconstructed, the largest of which is the Gojikken Nagaya warehouse reconstructed in 2001. It’s recent construction (although it uses traditional building techniques) makes the inside of the building feel more like the swanky interior of an upscale vacation home than a warehouse.

Then we walked through the massive and meticulously groomed Kenrokuen gardens, enjoying the lush trees and flowing water… an accompanying green tea ice cream cone making it all the more sweeter.

The final stop was the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa much to the delight of the Art History nerd in me. The circular building features high ceilings and glass walls that often allow views straight through to other parts of the museum. As its name suggests, the museum was filled with Contemporary art, mostly video and installation work. In many of my contemporary art classes we talked at length about the impact that a museum’s space has on its visitors. That the construction of the building, positioning of art work, the text on the walls and much more all inform, dictate, and facilitate an experience that extends far beyond visual perception. I certainly felt this as I walked from room to room, standing in the dark watching a film, or sitting in a glass room listening to a poem as those on the outside stared in at me.

An extremely captivating work was Leandro Erlich’s “The Swimming Pool” of 2001. At first glance it seems to be a typical swimming pool, save for its positioning in the middle of a museum. But standing on its edge, viewers can look down and see the shapes of other people underneath the water. The work is multi-level, and visitors can enter into a room underneath the pool and stand beneath the surface of the water. It’s an absolutely simple yet thrilling moment to re-experience the familiar setting of a backyard pool.