Art | DIVERSITY FOR PEACE! x THE JAPAN TIMES

Artistic diversity thrives in the heart of Venice

by Chiho Iuchi

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Coinciding with the 58th Venice Biennale in Italy, the Karuizawa New Art Museum (KaNAM) Venice branch is holding an exhibition in a corner of the city’s Piazza San Marco through Nov. 24.

While the world’s oldest large-scale art festival sees 89 countries present their artists’ works at national pavilions around the main venue, a small outside group exhibition titled “Diversity for Peace!” brings together 10 international artists. The private Japanese museum’s exhibition has transformed part of the historic Procuratie Vecchie building on the square into a contemporary art space.

One of the participants, emerging Japanese artist Miwa Komatsu, is presenting her works in Italy for the first time. “I arrived in Venice in the evening. In the darkness, I felt an existence that has protected the city,” Komatsu said of her first visit to Venice in January. “Although it was a bit frightening, I was struck with awe.”

Reflecting this, she depicted it in her trademark komainu (guardian lion-dog) and developed a new work titled “Sky in Venice: Blue River,” one of a pair of komainu-like divine creatures, on a canvas covered with traditional Japanese Hakata-ori textile.

'Sky in Venice: Red Moment,' (left) and 'Sky in Venice: Blue River' painted by Miwa Komatsu in 2019 on Hakata-ori textile for an ongoing group exhibition in Venice. | TATSUYA AZUMA
‘Sky in Venice: Red Moment,’ (left) and ‘Sky in Venice: Blue River’ painted by Miwa Komatsu in 2019 on Hakata-ori textile for an ongoing group exhibition in Venice. | TATSUYA AZUMA

“It’s my pleasure to introduce a young artist like Komatsu to the audience in Venice,” said Koei Shiraishi, the head of the Whitestone Gallery that owns KaNAM. With his respect for Ambroise Vollard, a renowned French art dealer at the beginning of the 20th century, who provided exposure and support to many contemporary artists, including Picasso, Shiraishi expressed his ambition to identify and nurture emerging talents.

As the title indicates, the exhibition explores diverse expressions by internationally active artists selected from Asia and Europe.

“As Picasso’s works are recognizable wherever we find one, these 10 artists have their own styles,” Shiraishi said of his selections for the exhibition. “I really appreciate my encounters with each one of them,” he said. “I believe that art can transcend the differences in philosophy, religion, race and gender.”

Koei Shiraishi, CEO of the Whitestone Gallery, which owns the Karuizawa New Art Museum, at the entrance to the group exhibition 'Diversity for Peace!' on May 8. The exhibition is located in the Procuratie Vecchie building on Venice’s Piazza San Marco. | TATSUYA AZUMA
Koei Shiraishi, CEO of the Whitestone Gallery, which owns the Karuizawa New Art Museum, at the entrance to the group exhibition ‘Diversity for Peace!’ on May 8. The exhibition is located in the Procuratie Vecchie building on Venice’s Piazza San Marco. | TATSUYA AZUMA

Near the entrance, Chinese artist Yang Yongliang’s “Journey to the Dark,” a multichannel 4K video that resembles a traditional Song dynasty ink-brush painting intrigues viewers with its twinkling urban nightscape with cars moving on a highway. This is how the artist questions if urbanization is destroying the greatness of nature.

On the second floor, there are paintings by acclaimed artists such as Huang Yuxing from China and Ronald Ventura from the Philippines, as well as sculptures and installation art.

Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, known for his oddly oversized “toys” that have been displayed in public spaces around the world, presents miniatures of his iconic works, including rabbits, an octopus and his famous rubber duck.

“It’s a good sampling in the room, but what I really want to do is to present a bigger one from the window toward the square,” Hofman said with a smile.

In the next room, visitors may be surrounded by Germany’s Chris Succo’s eight untitled abstract paintings that are similar to one another, much like Zen riddles.

“Since there are many colorful works here, I made something calm,” Succo said. “People who love Beethoven may hate Bach. And it’s fine,” he added.

In another black and white room, Ahhi Choi, a third-generation Korean from Japan, presents his symbolic pieces titled “Yin,” “Yang” and “Taijitu” from Chinese philosophy. “As a skateboard lover, I just combine dots and lines spontaneously,” Choi said.

Among the artworks incorporating high technology, Japan’s Ryotaro Muramatsu, head of Naked Inc., which is known for large-scale projection mapping, showcases an interactive work “A Space Between” in which a water’s edge changes as the viewer moves.

In the darkest room, visitors will experience video projections and sounds of brain activity through the glass-layered installation titled “Shield III” by Iceland’s Aesa Bjork, in collaboration with compatriot musician Tinna Thorsteinsdottir. “This work reminds us of the fragile border between us as human beings,” Bjork explained.

The only local artist, Fabio Modica from Italy, presents his most celebrated close-in portraits of female faces, including a new work “Gnosis, Peace V.” Viewers will find countless faces in one piece and may feel directly affected by their gaze.

While the organizer and artists at the exhibition are mostly interested in human beings, Komatsu has consistently focused on otherworldly creatures. The “Lion of Venice,” a bronze winged lion sculpture in the square that came to symbolize the city of Venice, inspired her new series titled “Sea Lion.”

“I noticed the importance of the lions that I saw everywhere in the square,” Komatsu said. “The spirit of those lions wanted to take physical forms.”

“For me, painting is meditating. In a deep meditation, the energy that I feel at the place takes shape and becomes visible to me,” Komatsu said.

For the current exhibition, Komatsu presents her earlier copperplate “Forty-nine Days,” five pairs of komainu sculptures; and nine paintings, including a live-painted piece for Maison Christian Dior.

Painted <em>komainu</em> (guardian lion-dog) sculptures by Miwa Komatsu are on display at an ongoing group exhibition in Venice. | TATSUYA AZUMA
Painted komainu (guardian lion-dog) sculptures by Miwa Komatsu are on display at an ongoing group exhibition in Venice. | TATSUYA AZUMA

Komatsu believes that the roots of her komainu motif could be a cherub in the Old Testament that went on a long journey of cultural diffusion, evolving into sphinx, griffin and many more according to destinations, including Japan. Taking inspiration from the traces of ancient civilizations, she fuses images in depicting chimera-like creatures with bold deformation and vivid colors that strike viewers of all nationalities.

When the conversation turned to animals, Komatsu never stopped talking about dogs, rabbits, kites and even silkworms. Gifted with unlimited love and respect for all living things, she attracted a dove on the square that perched on her shoulder. “The world is not only for human beings that walk around like they own the world,” she said.

The exhibition will provide viewers with opportunities to rethink diversity from various points of view.

A dove sits on Japanese artist Miwa Komatsu’s shoulder at Piazza San Marco in Venice on May 8. | TATSUYA AZUMA
A dove sits on Japanese artist Miwa Komatsu’s shoulder at Piazza San Marco in Venice on May 8. | TATSUYA AZUMA

The Japan Times is supporting this event as a media partner.

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