For the countless number of budding visual artists in Japan, 3331 Arts Chiyoda’s “Independents” exhibitions, which are held in the event space’s main gallery, offer the chance to publicly show works and get feedback from some of the most prominent artists, critics and curators in the country.

Based on the independent artist exhibitions that were held in Paris during the 19th century, “3331 Independents” allows anyone to present their work for a nominal fee. And if an artist’s piece impresses the guest judges, he or she wins the chance to display more works in a future exhibition.

“3331 Independents Scholarship vol. 2” is now showcasing the winners of the second “Independents” exhibition, which was held in September last year and attracted nearly 300 artists, whose submissions ranged from painting and photography to sculpture and installation.

Eight guest judges — including 3331 general director Masato Nakamura and media artist Kazuhiko Hachiya — each selected an artist or art group that they felt had the most potential for awards. Visitors were also able to vote for an extra Audience Prize.

Unfortunately, one artist pulled out, but the remaining eight of September’s nine award winners reflect the artistic diversity of the unrestricted “Independents” events — a diversity that, though commendable, also left many judges wavering over their decisions.

“In actual fact, I changed my original decision about the winning work. At first, I chose a work that I thought would be ‘interesting from the eyes of the audience,’ but after a night of thinking, I changed it to ‘the artist I would like see in next year’s exhibition’ (and an artist capable of achieving it),” Hachiya comments in the exhibition leaflet. “I actually wanted to give awards to many artists. I found judging the ‘Independents’ exhibition difficult.”

“All the judges said they found it challenging to select the award winners,” said 3331 program manager Tomomi Ohzone, who also noted that, of the eight winners on show, only one — Nanae Mitobe — is currently making a living as an artist. Five of them have separate day jobs and two are art college students.

“The judges’ choices can literally affect the future career of the artists,” Ohzone continued. “So they said they felt a great sense of responsibility.”

Hachiya’s final choice was a painting by Hiroaki Ito. Ito’s “untitled — The blunder of the superior authorities” depicts a suited salaryman in a dogeza position (kneeling down on the ground in a dramatic display of apology). For the scholarship exhibition, Ito created a series of seven works, all featuring the same character (modeled on himself) caught at various spontaneous moments that could be a part of any salaryman’s everyday life.

In these humorous but convincing portrayals, the man’s face runs a gamut of emotional expressions, while subtle details, such as the wrinkles on his suit or the white knuckles of his clenched fists are enhanced by unusual angles and tight framing.

Another artist to keep an eye on is Haruka Yamada, whose provocative “Helter Skelter” won her architecture critic Taro Igarashi’s award. Comprising nine daring self-portraits, Yamada’s series of photographs was inspired by manga artist Kyoko Okazaki’s “Helter Skelter” women’s comics, published in 2003.

Wearing gaudy makeup, Yamada morphs into Ririko, the protagonist of the comics who rises to model stardom after going under the knife for risky, full-body cosmetic surgery. Yamada’s use of her own body with masks and costumes depict a creepy degradation as Ririko starts losing her senses as her new body begins to fail her.

This exhibition, in line with 3331 Chiyoda’s goal of making art open to and accessible to all, is free of charge.

“Because we have a gallery, many people see us as a museum, but we are not,” Ohzone explained. “We want more people to walk in — people with little knowledge of art or the art scene.”

The “3331 Independents Scholarship vol. 2” exhibition runs until Jan. 29. For more information, visit www.3331.jp/schedule/en/001338.html.

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