Museum of Contemporary

Art Tokyo Closes Jan. 30

In the design world, if there is one nation that has the knack of being self-referentially humorous, it has to be the Dutch. Take a look at its entry to the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. Instead of designing a pavilion, the Netherlands opted to build an entire “Happy Street” — a figure-of-eight road of cute mini buildings held aloft on columns — which in total somewhat resembles a giant toddler’s toy town set.

“Catalysis for Life: New Language of Dutch Art and Design” brings such quirkiness to Tokyo, along with the other virtue that Dutch designers and artists have become known for — social awareness. Each of the creatives’ works comments on our relationship with mass-consumerism in an age when materialism is at odds with environmental and social concerns.

Ted Noten’s jewelry includes gold-plated brooches cast from chewed pieces of gum, and various objects — from gem- encrusted rings to guns — encased in plexiglass and acrylic. Some are wearable, others amusingly impractical. Maarten Baas uses second-hand furniture, which he burned and then preserved with an epoxy resin for his “Smoke” collection. His other pieces, all of which look like they could have been pulled off of a Tim Burton film set, vary from hand-modeled clay tables and chairs to a grandfather clock that involves a video of a man drawing the time with a magic marker.

On an interactive level, artist Martijin Engelbregt’s installations encourage viewers to touch, climb and make their own contributions. His “Neighbourhood shop” offers clever novelty items designed to help people to get to know their next-door neighbors, such as a pair of “listening glasses” for better eavesdropping.

Even homelessness is addressed by Tomoko Take, whose video features clips from her “Peace of home” project, for which homeless participants created fashionable clothing, some of which are also on display.

The exhibition ends with a direct reference to viewers’ own consumerist impulses. From a wall initially displaying hundreds of Noten’s “Miss Piggy” rings arranged in the shape of giant gun, visitors were invited to swap their own rings for the designer’s. Unsurprisingly, every single Miss Piggy has already gone.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo is open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., closed Mon.; admission ¥1,100 includes entry to “Transformation,” the main MOT exhibition. For more information, visit www.mot-art-museum.jp

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