• SHARE

With August just a few weeks away, the new Roppongi Complex group of galleries is running its last shows before the O-bon break and the October debut of their raison d’etre (location-wise) — the Mori Art Museum, which will be Japan’s largest contemporary art space.

The good news is that it appears the Complex galleries have now settled into their new digs quite well. There is even a sort of street scene developing around the twin five-story buildings that house the dozen or so Complex galleries, offices and ateliers. Not a terribly big scene, but when I visited last week for an Ota Fine Arts vernissage, people were popping in and out of the different spaces and milling around outside. That’s something Tokyo has lacked since the demise of the Sagacho Building in November last year.

Currently, the Taro Nasu is showing gallery-regular Peter Pommerer; Rontgenwerke has a group show titled “Landschaft”; and storefront space Ota is looking good with a tidy exhibition of recent and new works by three artists in their late 30s and early 40s — Korean Choi Jeong Hwa; Surasi Kusolwong of Thailand; and Tsuyoshi Ozawa of Japan.

The first of Choi’s works on show is “Late Bloomer” (2003), a twisted-wire and light sculpture. “Late Bloomer” looks saleable compared with Choi’s other contribution, a chaotic mountain of chipped and painted magnets he calls “Up to You” (2003). The title is appropriate, as gallery visitors are invited to push, squeeze, flatten or even kick at the mass of candy-sized magnets, modeling it into different forms. The lateral spread of the piece is limited by a steel sheet below the magnets, but otherwise the shape of the sculpture is wholly determined by the person who got to it last.

Choi’s previous installations have featured everything from rows of illuminated plastic pig’s heads and painted garbage to intricately sculpted neoclassical busts and statues. Bright colors and repetition are central to his usually playful works, and it’s too bad he didn’t have a little more room to stretch out here — it would be nice to see what he could do with more space.

Like his compatriots Navin Rawanchaikul and Manit Sriwanichpoom, Surasi Kusolwong shows us that in contemporary Thai art, social relevance and a sense of humor need not be mutually exclusive. Two years ago, Kusolwong’s audience-participation raffle contest, complete with an over-the-top master of ceremonies and prizes ranging from trinkets to televisions, was the center of attention at the Tokyo Opera City’s “My Home Is Yours/Your Home Is Mine” exhibition in 2001. The performance piece proved that even a suave crowd in Comme des Garcons gear could be made to sit on the floor and sweat for the chance at a free digital camera.

This time around, Kusolwong has stuck dozens of plush toy animals to a 2.2-meter-wide picture-postcard view of Mount Fuji, in “Small is Beautiful — Mount Fuji” (2001). In a second piece he has done the same with a large reproduction of one of Gerhard Richter’s “Capital Realism” works. I found these pieces somewhat disappointing — the Mount Fuji piece comes off as little more than the superimposition of cuteness on the traditional view of Japanese beauty. Maybe I’m wrong about the artist’s intent, but I was hoping for something with more teeth from Kusolwong.

The third artist here, Tsuyoshi Ozawa, also showed at the “My Home Is Yours/Your Home Is Mine” exhibition and has the very same large photographs on display here, selections from his “Vegetable Weapon” series. (These prints are doing a lot of traveling — after this show they will head out to the Istanbul Biennale, which opens Sept. 20.)

The process for “Vegetable Weapon” is as follows: Ozawa recruits a subject and asks for his or her favorite vegetable (or sometimes fish) recipe. He then fashions a “gun” from the ingredients and photographs the subject aiming it. Afterward, the vegetables are cooked up according to the recipe, and there is a feast, drink and conversation.

Explains the artist’s statement: “The fact that the same ingredients can be transformed from a gesture of conflict into an opportunity for discussion involving a large number of people surrounding a single dish raises the idea that enmity and friendship represent two sides of the coin, and that either can be generated by a simple difference in interpretation.”

For all the disappointments noted, this is a well-balanced show by three talented artists entering the mid-points of their careers. Overall, the works are conceptual without being tedious, fun without being childish. They’re definitely worth giving a look. Once you have, head off to check out the other shows in the Complex — but don’t forget to stomp on Choi’s “Up to You” before you go.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

PHOTO GALLERY (CLICK TO ENLARGE)