Style & Design | ON: DESIGN

Designart Tokyo 2019 takes art and design to a new level in Japan

by Mio Yamada

It’s the third year for Designart Tokyo, the city-wide series of art and design related exhibitions and events — and it began with quite the fanfare. This time it drew the attention of Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who officially opened the festivities at the event’s hub, the World Kita-Aoyama Bldg. on Aoyama-dori.

Now showcasing an impressive 300 designers and brands in over 100 locations, it has also branched out to include two new areas to it venues list — Shinjuku and Ginza.

“Designart is not only showcasing more of the incredible design talent in Japan,” said co-founder Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture, “but it is also becoming more international at the highest level with participants like Ivy Ross, vice president of Hardware Design at Google, arriving fresh from the launch event of the latest Google products on Oct. 16.”

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike joins Designart Tokyo 2019 at the World Kita-Aoyama Bldg with (from top row, left to right) Shun Kawakami, Mark Dytham, Akio Aoki, Okisato Nagata, Hiroshi Koike, Arieh Rosen, Zsofia Ilosvai, Ivy Ross, Yaffa Ben-Ari and Astrid Klein. | ©? BRIAN SCOTT PETERSON
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike joins Designart Tokyo 2019 at the World Kita-Aoyama Bldg with (from top row, left to right) Shun Kawakami, Mark Dytham, Akio Aoki, Okisato Nagata, Hiroshi Koike, Arieh Rosen, Zsofia Ilosvai, Ivy Ross, Yaffa Ben-Ari and Astrid Klein. | © BRIAN SCOTT PETERSON

For Akio Aoki of Miru Design, the co-founder and overall director of Designart, Koike’s appearance was a milestone. “It really is the best endorsement possible for everyone’s hard work over the last three years,” he says. “And it allows us to start building toward an even more creative Designart in 2020.”

Before we get ahead of ourselves, On: Design looks at a few picks from the vast 2019 list for a mini tour of the festival’s main areas of Omotesando and Jingumae, plus a few recommendations in other districts worth a visit.

Omotesando, Jingumae

World Kita-Aoyama Bldg.: “1% for Art Exhibition”

A work by Shigeki Yamamoto, whose pieces are on display at the World Kita-Aoyama Bldg '1% for Art Exhibition.'
A work by Shigeki Yamamoto, whose pieces are on display at the World Kita-Aoyama Bldg. ‘1% for Art Exhibition.’

This year’s main Designart event at its hub in the World Kita-Aoyama Bldg. joins the 1% for Art program, an initiative that encourages governments across the world to put aside 1 percent of the nation’s construction budget toward public art projects. Curated by Hong Kong-based exhibition organizers Design Pier, the showcase looks at changes in international design with a focus on Asia, bringing together 18 exhibitors for a range of furniture, including some created by Western and Asian designer collaborations.

There are truly inspirational pieces featured here, such as Apiwat Chitapanya’s Rakk side table, with tree-like roots for legs; Nissa Kinzhalina’s lamps that appear like asymmetric containers of fluorescent liquid; and a cupboard and sideboard by Shigeki Yamamoto, whose unconventional use of wooden bars, bamboo and pegs create playfully odd but functional works.

Spiral Building: Anrealage x Molp by Mitsui Chemicals and Jerusalem Design Week

'Garden of Eden' at Spiral in Omotesando.
‘Garden of Eden’ at Spiral in Omotesando.

A five-minute walk from World Kita-Aoyama, along Aoyama-dori toward Omotesando, the Spiral building’s window-side esplanade is the show space for Japan’s high-tech fashion designers Anrealage’s Photochromic Garment exhibit. Anrealage, renowned for integrating technology into clothing, presented the pieces as a finalist of the 2019 LVMH Prize. Here, a garment, which utilizes Mitsui Chemicals’ photochromic lens SunSensors technology in its textile to change color in sunlight, is accompanied by a UV lamp, so visitors who can’t wait for the natural light to do its thing can get a sneak peek of its changing hues.

The Spiral Garden main exhibition area is hosting the Jerusalem Design Week (JDW) show. Presented in a space devised by Japan’s YSLA architects, “Garden of Eden” guides visitors through a series of works that explore the complicated relationships between nature, culture, technology and myth. Thirteen Israeli design units and artists are contributing, each commenting on social and cultural issues.

Highlights include Guy Mishaly and Nati Tunkelrot’s “Goren” mobile-like installation of Japanese wheat, which warns of the possible extinction of wheat varieties due to genetic modification and ethereally hangs above Michal Evyatar and Carmel Bar’s immersive salt installation; creations from “The Matchmaker” project, a JDW initiative that brought together contemporary designers with traditional Israeli craftspeople for new products; and the pink, organic-looking ceramic vessels of Avi Ben Shoshan.

Masashi Hira's bonsai at Kolor Minamiaoyama.
Masashi Hira’s bonsai at Kolor Minamiaoyama.

If you want to see more nature-related works before moving on, head behind the Spiral building to menswear store Kolor Minamiaoyama, where bonsai master Masashi Hirao is presenting a selection of his beautifully pruned and arranged tiny trees.

Gum Omotesando: “Raison d’etre,” Wakabayashi Butsugu Mfg.

Opposite Spiral, on the other side of Aoyama-dori and a couple of minutes’ walk toward the area’s boutiques and galleries, Gum Omotesando is hosting “Raison d’etre,” a unique exhibition of butsudan (home Buddhist altars). Traditional altars and furnishings maker Wakabayashi Butsugu recently garnered design-media attention for its striking range of modern butsudan made in collaboration with contemporary product designers. This presentation of re-imaginings of a very traditional piece of furniture presents designs by Kohei Nawa, Jin Kuramoto,  Shigeo Mashiro, Yukio Hashimoto, Satoshi Itasaka and Yuko Nagayama.

In a truly unexpected showcase, you’ll find unusual forms, colorful urushi and shimmering makie lacquer, stunning use of ginpaku gold leaf and both minimalist and ornate designs. Respectful to traditional artisanship and religion, all are stunningly modern yet functional, with a few also paying homage to traditional Japanese Buddhist architecture. It’s an absolute must-see show.

Tiers Gallery: “Existence of Line,” Jun Murakoshi x Arakawa Grip

Jun Murakoshi's fruit bowls and vases, part of his first solo show at Tiers Gallery in Omotesando.
Jun Murakoshi’s fruit bowls and vases, part of his first solo show at Tiers Gallery in Omotesando.

Less than five minutes from Gum and behind Tokyo Union Church on Omotesando-dori, you’ll find product designer Jun Murakoshi’s first solo exhibition, “Existence of Line,” at Tiers Gallery. Murakoshi clearly pushes the envelope with his materials: He has created glass fruit bowls that utilize colorful nets of thread to gently secure its contents, manipulated 3D printing techniques to produce unusual textured vases, and used high-precision CT scans of flexible fabrics to re-create them in solid forms.

“Existence of Line” includes “Equilibrium,” his latest conceptual experiments to turn a line into a product, which debuted at Milan Design Week 2019. Here, Murakoshi uses Arakawa’s wire grippers with wooden “line” rods for sprawling installations that appearto defy gravity.

Artek Tokyo Store: “Landscape of Design,” Koichi Futatsumata

Koichi Futatsumata's Kiulu Bench is on show at Artek Tokyo Store in Omotesando.
Koichi Futatsumata’s Kiulu Bench is on show at Artek Tokyo Store in Omotesando.

On the same street as Tiers Gallery, the new Finnish Artek Tokyo Store is launching the Kiulu Bench, conceived by architect and product designer Koichi Futatsumata. Inspired by Japan and Finland’s love of hot-spring bathing, the Kiulu Bench is named after the Finnish word for a bath pail and is being presented alongside an atmospheric Finnish landscape photograph by Nao Tsuda. It’s a small exhibit, but provides a nice excuse to check out Artek’s first store outside of Europe, which just opened this summer.

Class: TGDA CRITIBA Nakaniwa Design Office, “Beyond the Simplicity”

'Beyond Simplicity' at Class in Omotesando. | MIO YAMADA
‘Beyond Simplicity’ at Class in Omotesando. | MIO YAMADA

If you’re visiting exhibitions early, “Beyond Simplicity” at Class (a two-minute walk from Artek Tokyo), runs through Oct. 22 and presents furniture that focuses on the simplest of designs and forms. Don’t let this fool you into thinking this means boring, though. These works do, indeed, go “beyond” simplicity.

Three creators — Gaku Takasu, Kazunaga Sakashita and Hidemi Nakaniwa — have joined forces to offer furniture that takes into account our relationship with space, materials and time.

On display are fun pieces in wood, leather, steel and foam, most of which also offer the user a secondary form of interaction — whether it’s constructing the work yourself or finding that it’s designed to subtly move when used.

Shibuya

Shibuya Hikarie Creative Space 8/: Kizuki Nakano/Aika Nishiyama

Works by Kizuki Nakano and Aika Nishiyama at Creative Space 8/ in Shibuya.
Works by Kizuki Nakano and Aika Nishiyama at Creative Space 8/ in Shibuya.

Two young Japanese creators — Kizuki Nakano and Aika Nishiyama — bring a playful attitude to product design at Creative Space 8/, on the eighth floor of the Shibuya Hikarie building, itself a hub of affordable design stores and gallery spaces.

Both recent graduates of Kyoto Institute of Technology, Nakano has just taken on a role in the Shiseido Creative Division, while Nishiyama has joined Tsuyoshi Kusano Design Office. This joint exhibition amusingly re-interprets familiar objects, with Nakano enlarging classic sticker motifs into interior goods and Nishiyama breathing new life into traditional Japanese folk-toy designs by turning them into lamps, bins and even doorstops.

Roppongi

Axis Building: Hamid Shahi/Hakuten Creative/DraadD/M&T

'Views of Nature' by DraadD on show at Axis Bldg. in Roppongi.
‘Views of Nature’ by DraadD on show at Axis Bldg. in Roppongi.

Axis Inc., a Japanese powerhouse of design planning and promotion, introduces three young experimental designers, each inspired by nature, light and material. Hamid Shahi presents “Pulse,” a dramatic lighting piece; three-piece unit DraadD has unveiled a new collection exploring materials titled “Views of Nature”; M&T presents a light that it designed for the Axis building’s JIDA Design Museum; and experience designers Hakuten Creative have taken over the Axis courtyard with an immersive light installation.

Also on show in the Axis Gallery is an exhibition of works previewing Axis magazine’s special Oct. 25 publication “Fujifilm Design: A Picture Book of Future Design.”

Ginza

Tokyu Plaza, Kiriko Lounge: “Bunkamura — Toraya, the Principles of Wagashi”

'Bunkamura — Toraya, the Principles of Wagashi' at Tokyu Plaza, Kiriko Lounge, Ginza.
‘Bunkamura — Toraya, the Principles of Wagashi’ at Tokyu Plaza, Kiriko Lounge, Ginza.

Established in the late 16th century, Toraya has long been a pioneer of wagashi — the traditional Japanese sweets that are often served at tea ceremonies. Its colorful creations are like tiny works of edible art, beautifully designed and often featuring innovations that respect the traditional nature of the confections. As part of a collaboration with Ginchakai — an annual event that offers tea ceremonies by six schools in various locations in Ginza — “Tokyu Plaza Ginza x Bunkamura — Toraya,” showcases a selection of Toraya’s seasonal wagashi, explaining their history and creation process. Visitors can also try the sweets in a cafe next door.

It’s the ideal show to complement other tea-ceremony exhibits and events in the Tokyu Plaza Ginza shopping mall.

Shinjuku

Odakyu Southern Tower: Noritake + Propellaheart

A floral work by Propellaheart, which is collaborating with illustrator Noritake for a work at Odakyu Southern Tower in Shinjuku.
A floral work by Propellaheart, which is collaborating with illustrator Noritake for a work at Odakyu Southern Tower in Shinjuku.

Noritake’s signature bold linear illustrations may be familiar to some. His minimalist black-and-white and gently humorous works have graced major magazine covers, including Brutus and Monocle’s The Forecast, as well as a slew of ad campaigns, book covers, branding, leaflets and original goods.

For Designart, one of Noritake’s best-known boy characters is manifested in a giant colorful form, thanks to the work of floral space designers Propellaheart. Wearing pants colored by an array of leaves, dotted with small pumpkins, and a fuzzy grass shirt, the character is large enough to walk under and can be found in the Odakyu Southern Tower, just five minutes walk from Shinjuku Station.

Designart Tokyo 2019 runs through Oct. 27 and has other exhibits in all areas mentioned as well as in Harajuku, Gaienmae, Ebisu, Daikanyama and Nakameguro. Some exhibitions have different running dates. For more information and links to maps, visit bit.ly/designart2019.

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