Tokyo Opera City Gallery has one of the best art spaces in the city, and a program that ranks it with The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo near Kiyosumi in eastern Tokyo and the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi.
At TOCG in Shinjuku, curators are able to play creatively with the gallery, as they have done with exhibitions of photography by the Turner Prize-winning Wolfgang Tillmans (2004); architecture shows such as Toyo Ito’s “The New Real” (Fall 2006), for which a new, curved floor was installed; and broader collections like DaimlerChrysler’s (Winter 2006).
For “Melting Point,” the exhibition running there till Oct. 14, the entire gallery has been used to display works by three artists known for creating immersive experiences. Jim Lambie, Kiyomichi Shibuya and Ernesto Neto all produce mind-bending installations at the TOCG that are not so much deeply ponderous as lightly contemplative.
Jim Lambie, a finalist for the 2005 Turner Prize in England, transforms spaces by covering their floors with vibrantly colored vinyl tape. At TOCG he has the first room, a cavernous rectangular box that is united by his silver, gold, black and white patterns. His first piece, “The Byrds (Right On)” (2007) with its bright drips of paint on an oversize plastic cast of a bird, best captures what Lambie is after. “Byrds” visually tickles the eye and makes the actual object less important than the sensation of viewing it. Once you stop trying to decipher the drips on the bird’s head and lose them in the background, then the work’s colors vibrate against the lines on the floor.
“Undisco Me” (2007), a chair covered in shards of broken mirrors that’s hung on the wall, fragments the room’s colors explosively, while “Bodyrox” (2007), a large silver silhouette of a keyhole, playfully changes the apparent course of the straight lines of tape. A small branch covered in bright string, “Psychedelic Soul Stick,” echoes the confusion of “Byrds” but is also a quieter piece of the U.K. artist’s world.
Lambie, who cites music (he DJ’d at his own opening party at Aoyama’s Le Baron de Paris nightclub), found objects and the immediate environment as his inspirations, also has much of the neo-Color Field artist in him. The Color Field movement, best represented by Mark Rothko, specialized in abstract canvases of solid colors. Many young artists, such as Chris Duncan, who showed at the Nakaochiai Gallery last October, seem to be similarly besotted with color. Their takes, though, tend to be more chaotic and feature mashed-up cornucopias of colors that are appropriate for an age in which the prevalent canvases are digital — whether your TV, PC monitor or cell-phone screen.
Kiyomichi Shibuya goes the opposite direction. His section of TOCG is all white, and its main shapes are flat spirographs and flourishes. After Lambie’s overwhelming space, Shibuya’s calm is perhaps too much — whereas Lambie dazzles the eye, the Japanese artist tries to appeal to a quiet contemplation of all the senses. The white is pleasant but weak in comparison. And, unfortunately, his most powerful room, “Mystery Circle: The 6th Princess of the Sea,” in which large spirographs float in layers over an open ceiling, loses its full effect as the gallery’s roof can be seen above it all. A more opaque sheet covering up the structural fixtures would have solved the problem.
Walking into Ernesto Neto’s room brings you back to wonderland. Stretched out across the large space are two broad sheets of fabric with occasional holes or tubes interrupting the planes. Ducking underneath, you become immersed in the translucent fabric before popping your head through a hole so that you are between the top and the bottom. Looking from the inside is like being in an illustration from one of Dr. Suess’ children’s books, as other visitors pop in and out of view through other holes.
Neto, a Brazilian, is commonly said to be influenced by that country’s Neo-Concrete movement, a more human response to Concretism, one of the most rigid refinements of 20th-century Abstract art. And it is easy to see the humanism in the Brazilian artist’s works — their forms echo organic structures, and experiencing them can be both embracing and claustrophobic. But at TOCG, his installation titled “It Happens in the Horizon of Events” is just fun.
And that’s about it for the three artists’ installations. There are a few 2-dimensional works, but they are less dessert than a mere after-dinner mint.
TOCG’s space is excellent, and the curators are forward-looking, so it would be great to take one of these artists alone and give him the run of the rooms. The three together are a great taster, but each disappears too quickly.
Luckily, TOCG has a second floor to fill out the visit. One gallery there shows works from TOCG’s collection, currently mostly landscapes and animals, that will probably not strongly appeal to you if you are a fan of the kind of work in the main rooms. The second gallery is saved for “Project N,” which introduces emerging artists.
Soju Tao, who is showing in the second space now, produces the kind of naive drawings that are reminiscent of a high-school student’s room — and are way too common in galleries today. Usually such works mean nothing to me, but the volume and quality on display — reminiscent of collagist Shinro Ohtake — makes an argument for Tao as a painter. Individually they feel slight, but together something else appears.
At first the continuous line of images — about 80 in two rows across just one of the walls — look like posters, until it becomes clear that they are each hand done. They riff innocently, and sometimes darkly, on music, love and death, and their subjects have an expressiveness that shows promise. When Tao abandons his illustrator’s instincts, it’s obvious that he could produce some truly moving works.
“Melting Point” and “Project N: Tao Soju” are showing till Oct. 14 at Tokyo Opera City Gallery, 3-20-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, a 2-min. walk from the East Exit of Hatsudai Station on the Keio New Line; entrance ¥900; open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (till 8 p.m. Fri. & Sat.; closed Mon.). For more information, call (03) 5353-0756 or visit www.operacity.jp
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