Goths, terra and tears


The Complex Building in Roppongi opened with five major contemporary art galleries a couple of years back, around the same time as the nearby Mori Art Museum. It has, however, been somewhat overlooked as new and larger spaces have debuted out east in Kiyosumi-Shirakawa.

But things are looking up in Roppongi, which boasts several of the city’s best current gallery shows. So, let’s have a look.

Hiromi Yoshii is arguably the Tokyo contemporary art scene’s hottest player of late. When the dashing gallerist dashed over to Kiyosumi there was much uncertainty regarding the fate of his storefront gallery at the Complex.

The premium space has now been reopened as Magical ArtRoom, and I’m told that Yoshii is still involved as a consultant — playing both sides of the city, so to speak, and why not?

Currently at Magical ArtRoom is the first solo show for 25-year-old Shizuoka artist Daisuke Ohba. The exhibition includes five small acrylic paintings based on stills from horror films, which seem to have been a recurring theme for artists this past year.

The main event, though, is a walk-in installation built round a 2-meter-high structure that is half-gothic and half-tree. A tangle of branches, each whittled to a jagged point, stands atop a two-level, four-column plinth, the whole shebang dipped in thick silvery-black paint, hung with crystals and topped by forms resembling gargoyles.

Projected through the object so as to silhouette it on the rear wall is a black-and-white video leading the viewer through a labyrinth of brick walls. On an adjacent wall is a bird’s-eye view of the labyrinth which, it turns out, is computer generated.

The sound of slowly dripping water adds another note of suspense, as if anything more was required to communicate the eeriness. Granted, “Labyrinth” is art-school-level conceptualism, but as someone who pretty much rejects the possibility of being “original” in art, I find myself satisfied with “surprising.” This is surprising, so I liked it.

The exhibition also includes a couple of large photos of the looming black centerpiece, which are not at all bad. I previewed the show last weekend, but “Labyrinth” actually opens tomorrow, Friday evening, at 6 p.m. Put on a black beret and a little attitude and you can easily crash the opening party — free wine!

While you are there, be sure and check out Taiji Matsue’s show upstairs at the Taro Nasu Gallery. Matsue made a strong start a few years back with monochrome photographs of cityscapes. These were shot from high vantage points and very effectively illustrated urban density. But we all knew Tokyo was impacted, didn’t we?

Matsue’s new work, in color this time, takes us up in helicopters to look dispassionately down upon the territorial dynamic of roads, airports and storage sites dovetailing with nature. The works’ macroenvironmental perspective is both richly beautiful — Matsue has a great eye for color, and many of the prints here have the supersaturated look of a Yann Arthus-Bertrand — and a chilling indictment of modern mankind’s cold process of expansion and encroachment.

Also upstairs at the Complex is new work by Sakan Kanno at the Weissfeld Gallery. The jazz painter has found a few new licks, as his bone-based abstracts look better than ever with improved backgrounds and coloring in this “Synchro” show.

Finally, back to master Hiromi Yoshii, who is also said to be one of the main forces behind the T&G Gallery, a new space located roughly across the street from the Complex.

Scarcely six months old, the T&G is easily among Tokyo’s best viewing spots for contemporary art, with its high ceilings, big windows and several hundred square meters of display space over two floors. (It also has a bar, open till midnight, from Tuesday through Saturday.)

The storefront gallery is now showing 27 selections from British artist Sam Taylor-Wood’s popular photographic series, “Crying Men.” The large, highly stylized pictures — posed and directed by Taylor-Wood — are of male movie stars in tears (featured are Kris Kristofferson, Robert Downey Jr., Sam Shepard and others).

Driven by its star power, the “Crying Men” photo book was quite a success when it was released a couple of years back. Even if you don’t long after looking at Hollywood actors flexing their Strasberg-method techniques, these studies form a compelling study of trust and vulnerability.