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A tale of two cities - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 08:27 am
A tale of two cities

My hopes for the Berlin Tokyo, Tokyo Berlin show at the Neue Nationalgalerie hadn't been high -- in early March Hisae wrote to me from Japan:

"I went to see Tokyo-Berlin exhibition at Roppongi Hills, but it was a bit disappointing. Too many works especially paintings which are not appealing much. I liked the flyer of the exhibition better. The rain made Tokyo view foggy and mysterious."



It may have helped that Berlin had a beautiful sunny day yesterday, and that Mies Van Der Rohe's Neue Nationalgalerie is an airy, elegant glass box (I find the Mori -- the world's highest museum, a windowless space atop a skyscraper that sways in earth tremors -- pretty claustrophobic). Anyway, I loved the show. Sure, there were rather too many boring paintings. But this is a vast, academically thorough and very ambitious show falling into three parts.



On the ground floor architect Toyo Ito has made a billowing, undulating carpented carpet of low hills into which contemporary Japanese artworks are sunk. This is where Shintaro Miyake's beehive can be found -- Shintaro himself was dressed as a bee, making bee drawings inside a honeycomb, but apparently he got too hot in his costume and gave up before I got there. Next to it, hidden in a higher rise, was a kind of burial mound, a linked structure of rooms visitors could crawl through "at their own risk", a mixture of capsule hotel, homeless shelter and rabbit warren. This work was by Tsuyoshi Ozawa, who of course had a big solo show at the Mori back in 2004.

In this light and airy upstairs part of the exhibition there was also an Atelier Bow Wow installation about Pet Architecture. All the usual suspects, right? (With the notable exception of Takashi Murakami, represented only by protegee Chiho Aoshima downstairs in the manga art section.) But it was nice to see them. The Pet Architecture "msueum" was a series of pages of text and pictures of cute, haphazard architectural improvisations in Tokyo's awkward corners, all hanging on gauze at an awkward height, like a series of tablecloths on washing lines, themselves forming irregular shapes, blind alleys, tiny clumsy spaces.

Atelier Bow Wow also began the downstairs section: I finally got to see the mediapod I blogged about back in October. Like the Ozawa work upstairs, and like Pet Architecture, this pod is all about turning a lack of space into an advantage. There's an elegance in economy here, but also a way of turning mere storage into a space, a room devoted to fantasy (the ultimate virtual space-enlarger).

As you leave contemporary stuff behind (and it's interesting how the exhibition doesn't really make clear distinctions between design, art, whimsical didactics, documentary, popular culture, and so on -- very much as Japanese culture doesn't), you get into the academic core of the show: a detailed documentation of links and influences between German and Japanese culture over the last century or so. It's almost too much to take in. After all, Germany has influenced so much in Japan, from school uniforms to the subway system to their word for sperm (sahmen).

You go from Fluxus events to a big architecture section (suddenly Tokyo station, love hotels and Gropius' weirdly Japanese villas all make sense), to a film room running Japanese silent Jujiro alongside The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. You get Japanese Dada in the form of a group called Mavo (I'd never heard of them), or you see how an influential photography and film show in Berlin in 1928 opened in Tokyo in 1929 and had a huge influence. You learn which of the German expressionists were merely influenced by Japonism from afar (Kirchner) and which actually made the trip to Japan in person (Nolde on his way to New Guinea). You see Berlin-Tokyo sailor-pierrot fashions -- the liberated styles of the moga, the "modern girl", in her "strandpajamas", flared trouser suits.

You also see how the devastation and destruction of World War II affected both cities (amazing to see how occupied Japan still looked in the 50s, with Ginza street signs all in English before they're in Japanese, presumably for the benefit of the American forces). One lacuna, though, is the show's omission of artistic links during the fascist period, seen, like the devastation by the Allies, as twinned misfortunes the Germans and Japanese had to deal with for a few years. (Actually, I think I prefer this "brief anomaly" approach to the essentialist "original sin" approach which says that there's something inherently fascist deep in Japanese and German souls.)

"Fruitful encounters within the avant garde came to an abrupt end," says the introduction, "with the closely-related totalitarian systems that took hold in Japan and Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. The result was war, suffering, and severe destruction in both cities, as well as the division of Berlin. These events set the themes for German and Japanese artists alike." Well, so we aren't going to see the links between fascist-friendly artists in the two cities during the 30s and 40s? I'd imagine something must have been going on, kitschy history painting or sub-porno celebration of muscled Spartan youths. Anyway, history is written by the avant garde, not by retro fascist losers.

The third and final section of the show is a series of dark rooms displaying video art. A "Tokyo Pop" documentary about students at the Avex Music Academy, some scenes of people walking backwards through busy Tokyo subway stations, a funny video of Japanese people trying to have conversations using the few phrases of Japanese a Westerner might know (Salaryman: "Kurosawa karaoke kamikaze!" His colleague: "Ah, kamikaze? Geisha!"). I found particularly fascinating a piece by Scandinavian artist Annika Eriksson, who simply went through all the staff at the Mori Museum asking them what their job was. Everyone, from director David Elliot (who talked about art as a combination of ethical and aesthetic value) to humble greeters, carpenters and security staff, got to deliver a few sentences to camera about their job. Eriksson left in a few seconds on either side of their speech, some dead time in which we could see them preparing what to say, and this turned out to be very revealing, a kind of pre- and post-mask vulnerability. What came through in a lot of the statements was typical Japanese self-effacement ("I am lucky that my boss overlooks the many mistakes I make!") and a touching concern that visitors should leave the museum happier.

I certainly did.

18CommentReply

akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 07:03 am (UTC)

it is a pretty loaded exhibition so i decided to buy the book (which i still havn't opened), rather than do a third round of the, as you say, quite claustrophobic mori space. the 'airy' berlin show does seem a lot more enjoyable than the one here. the selection of japanese work there also seems larger and richer than the one of berlin works here. the roppongi show seemed alltogether more crusty and oddly, although it took place first there was a feeling that it was a (typical, a la the Cartier fundation show now at the museum of contemp. art tokyo) re-creation of the berlin show - which hadn't even happened at the time. more self-effacement?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 07:19 am (UTC)

Aha, the original is a cover of the cover version!


ReplyThread Parent
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 08:41 am (UTC)

Ah, the media pod, one of the subject fathers to the neologism "failed design", remember?(How was it sitting in it for real anyway?)


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 02:16 pm (UTC)

It definitely looks like the show was much more open and interesting in Berlin. I found the lack of young Japanese artist really disappointing at the Mori show.

How did you feel about the sections covering the war years? I felt as though it was somewhat of a missed opportunity to create a conversation about that time-period in the Tokyo show. It seemed like they just censored themselves.

Curiously though I found all those old academic "boring" paintings more interesting in Tokyo. Just perhaps, they started to seem exotic in someway, as though they were revealing something from a dream I once had.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)

the sections covering the war years?

that would have to be a different show, a whole museum rather, in itself. This show is already crumbling under its own weigth. i personally felt there was (more than) enough war stuff and appreciated the way fascism was only, yet quite powerfuly, implied. arguably japan could do with some but who needs more display of german guilt in galleries - on my visit last year at the pinakothek der moderne in munchen yet another show of nazi stuff took about a third of the gallery.


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dignified_devil
A Dignified Devil
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 03:12 pm (UTC)
japanese facist art

Here are some posters the Japanese created to encourage Koreans to work more etc. during the colonial peroid:

http://japanfocus.org/article.asp?id=199

it looks like art art continued under facism
this page has wood prints from the 1930s and 1940s
https://www.artelino.com/articles/hanga.asp

I could find little of actual posters from that period in Japan
this exhibition seems to magically cut off coverage of japanese
posters at 1928:
http://oohara.mt.tama.hosei.ac.jp/senkyo01/enposb017.html

this one is nice and a little futurist too:
http://oohara.mt.tama.hosei.ac.jp/senkyo01/enposb021.html

Might add while I could find articles on communist and futurist arts very little on the actual nationalists/facist. I remember boing boing posting a link to japanse military posters from WWII awhile back.

-
A


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dignified_devil
A Dignified Devil
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 03:16 pm (UTC)
Re: japanese facist art

ahh found the olde boing boing links:

WWII disaster posters from Japan:

http://www.boingboing.net/2006/02/08/japanese_wwii_duckan.html

and American anti-japanese posters from WWII

http://www.boingboing.net/2005/06/30/antijapanese_wwii_pr.html


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC)
Re: japanese facist art

In Germany the Nazis put on the same shows the liberal avant garde had been mounting, but gave them derogatory titles like Entartete Kunst, "degenerate art".

Hitler's favourite artists are usually said to be Adolph Ziegler and Franz von Stuck.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 03:26 pm (UTC)
Re: japanese facist art

Stuck is surprisingly similar, if you look at the imagery, to Saddam's art tastes.


ReplyThread Parent
dignified_devil
A Dignified Devil
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 03:39 pm (UTC)
Re: japanese facist art

Yeah I'm familar with Hitler's taste (and for that matter Stalin's and Mao's) in neo-realist paintings although I'd never seen the Stuck paintings before. It does make one wonder though, did Japan have the same pinache for neo-realism and co-option during WWI and WWII? The art movements seemed to have dried up, but I can find little evidence that they were opressed by law or government. Perhaps everyone was to busy being conscripted and colonizing south east asia to make art then.

BTW Saddam's art reminds me heavily of the covers of roleplaying games especially Dungeons and Dragons.
http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~dbi9m/fantasy/dreamverses/adnd/parkinson/01/


ReplyThread Parent
kaipfeiffer
kaipfeiffer
Kai Pfeiffer
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 03:42 pm (UTC)
"After all, Germany has influenced so much in Japan"

my favorite is this attribution a japanese friend told me:
being "zeni geva hitler" = being money greedy
(zeni = old japanese word for "money", geva = german "gewalt" (= force), and hitler = an austrian who loved "eintopf" (= "hot pot") and mickey mouse)


meanwhile, in the united kingdom hipster metrosexuals under the influence of compatriots momus and david beckham, show an unprecedented "twee" take on their soccer teams first world cup victory.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 06:41 pm (UTC)
Re: the fascist avant-garde in italy

Yes, it's different in Italy. Even around the first war, the Italian Futurists were fascist in outlook. Quite different from the spirit of the Bauhaus, which Hitler closed in 1933.


ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jun. 11th, 2006 09:47 pm (UTC)
Re: the fascist avant-garde in italy

Slight overstatement there by Steiner; Europe still has about 2.2 million Jews (if one includes the UK), compared to the 5.6 in the US. But Jewish populations worldwide are shrinking gradually.

By the way, I'm pretty sure Mori Museum director David Elliott is Jewish, although I haven't been able to verify that by googling.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 12th, 2006 02:04 am (UTC)

I would hardly call Mori claustrophobic, though it does have the tendency to go with quantity over quality. The Hiroshi Sugimoto exhibit was quite sparse and open though.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Mon, Jun. 12th, 2006 03:54 am (UTC)

quite true though i do think it also had to do with the fact that the work itself was more open and sparse. content-wise the sugimoto show , just like the berlin-tokyo, while not necessarily offering a pleasant experience, both fitted quite well in the stuffy, anachronisticly museum-like mori space.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Mon, Jun. 12th, 2006 06:53 am (UTC)

After all, Germany has influenced so much in Japan, from school uniforms to the subway system to their word for sperm (sahmen).

Germans influenced the Japanese sexual lexicon - with sahmen for semen - as much as Germans influenced English with dirndl being the word for "girl." Both are not exactly what you hear on the street.

Although between the gakuran and the 19th century school songs, Prussia may be more alive in Japan than in Germany.

Mori should not waste his precious real estate on all that worthless art. They should have just made the Louis Vuitton exhibit permanent. Then when they get sick of that and cycle through Gucci, Tiffany and Co., and Mercedes Benz, they can just put dollar bills in glass cases and we can all fawn over wealth in a less mediated way.

Marxy


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Jun. 12th, 2006 08:23 am (UTC)

Well, I guess you're being satirical / humorous with that statement, but it's a good example of how a world run by the cynical would be a lot worse than a world run by the rich. Money is not an end in itself, but a means to other ends, some of them cultural.

If you go to this page you'll see a statement by Minoru Mori and his wife about how they "very much hope that the new Museum will become a place for enjoyment, stimulation and discussion -a place where what is important in our culture and society is openly debated, not only through the exhibitions that are shown there but also through a wide range of Public Programs."

In David Elliott, they've appointed a serious-minded public intellectual to direct their museum. Elliott comes from MOMA Oxford and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, both excellent museums with stronger intellectual and moral interests than commercial ones. The shows I've seen so far at the Mori have been in this tradition: the Archilab show, for instance, and now this Berlin-Tokyo show (a show which actually teaches Berliners a lot about their own past). Sure, there have also been some fashion tie-in shows too, but to say that's all the Mori should do is just perverse.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jun. 30th, 2006 03:37 am (UTC)
hello

So interesting site, thanks!


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