Tucked behind a gas station on a side street out near the Sumida River, a 12-minute walk from the nearest subway station, the Shinkawa Building is not the easiest place to find on Tokyo’s art map. But the nondescript two-story structure is a worthwhile visit for anyone interested in Japanese contemporary art. A trio of Tokyo’s leading gallery owners are based here.

After some 18 months of operation, all three Shinkawa galleries — Tomio Koyama, Taka Ishii and ShugoArts — opened solo shows last Saturday featuring Japanese artists, and the whole-building vernissage drew a good crowd of young people, art illuminati and collectors. The exhibitions work fairly well together, and so this month is a good time to trek out to Shinkawa for a look.

The first-floor Tomio Koyama Gallery has sculpture and paintings by a 35-year-old artist known simply as “Mr.” To say that Mr. is involved with Koyama stablemate and international Neo-Pop sensation Takashi Murakami would be an understatement. The garish otaku pomp that is Mr.’s work essentially mirrors Murakami’s early “Superflat” work, which is not surprising as Mr. is a member of the “Kaikai Kiki” team that works out of Murakami’s phantasmagoric Hiropon Factory up in Saitama.

Mr.’s exhibition, “Thank You for All Your Hard Work,” is a roomful of colorful anime dolls set against a three-panel Damien Hirst tribute/rip-off, and surrounded by a number of figurative paintings in acrylic, which were done with little skill but nonetheless are not half-bad to look at. This both adolescent and entertaining exhibition packs all the fun of a sugar high.

Next door at the Taka Ishii Gallery are a dozen photographs by Tomoki Imai, 30. The C-Type prints are big (64 x 80 cm), but quite sharp as they were done with a large-format (8 x 10) camera. The images, of forests and trees and tunnels and interior details, effectively speak to the alienation of modern environments — more than devoid of any human presence, the places Imai brings us seem unwelcoming, cold, haunted.

Imai said he finds the “nature” scenes near his home in industrial Kawasaki, and in some of his work one sees, for example, the tops of buildings barely protruding above a line of trees. He explained: “I want to photograph all I see, having imagined the avenue while shooting the forest, interiors and forest in mind while shooting the avenue. ‘An image of resonance’ is the phrase going through my mind all the time.”

Upstairs at ShugoArts, we have “Philosophical Toys II,” a selection of 14 objets by Yukio Fujimoto. Playfully conceptual in a manner reminiscent of the Fluxus group, the pieces were made from 1988 to the present and reflect the artist’s ongoing interest in sound and media in general and phonograph players in particular.

“I was interested in the record players since I was a child. I played with them, I was fascinated with the process that made sound come out of black vinyl disks!” explained the artist, who turned 54 this year.

In the center of the room is a tower of six brightly painted music boxes and visitors are invited to turn the different keys round to make them play; in doing so they must also wind their own way round the sculpture. Meanwhile, mounted on one wall are five records that have been “Deleted,” that is, had their grooves polished down to a flat surface. But there are still scratches on the records. The “cleanest” record in the show is a virgin disk. Obtained from a record manufacturer, it’s surface had never been pressed in the first place.

“Here, look how smooth the surface is,” laughed Fujimoto. “Although I call this an “Erased” disk, it is not that at all. Rather it represents the concept of an erased disk, which, as anyone can see, is much cleaner than an actual erased disk!”

Can a concept really be “more real” than reality? Hmm.

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