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International House of Japan
Closes in 39 days

Tokyo may not be Paris but in its own way it is the city of light. By night the endless gray is forgotten as giant billboards and innumerable vertical signs transform the landscape. Kyoto might have its geisha and gardens — the traditional Japan that so many people pine for — but Tokyo, with its Blade Runner neon, is the country’s truer face.

For a land of contradictions, Adam Frelin’s installation “White Line for Tokyo,” now showing at the International House of Japan (www.i-house.or.jp), is extremely apt. Meant to be viewed at night, the piece consists of a row of white fluorescent lights hung in a gentle arc over a traditional Japanese garden. Elegantly mixing the old and new, the man-made and the natural, the result is a meditative experiential work which gains much from its outdoor setting.

As befitting as it is, however, one can’t help but wish to encounter this piece in a truly darkened landscape such as Naoshima, the art complex designed by Tadao Ando in the Inland Seto Sea. Though the gentle hill one climbs to enter the installation creates a sense of exploration, it also turns the surrounding landscape of ugly apartment blocks and Roppongi Hills into — as Japanese gardeners would say — a “borrowed landscape.” In good garden design such a back drop would add to the viewing experience, but in this case it distracts. In a city where you are constantly bombarded with everything, a little less would have allowed the brilliance of this meditative piece to silently glow through.

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