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Springtime on the Ginza

by Monty DiPietro

After visiting the Ginza galleries last Saturday afternoon, I found myself unable to decide which of a number of good shows to feature in my column this week. So, instead of zooming in on a particular exhibition, allow me to present an overview. There are several hundred art spaces on the Ginza Strip -- many of them non-curated, "kashi," or rental spaces -- and so ferreting out quality shows can be quite a challenge for the uninitiated. For a look at some of the best that's out there right now, you could check out these galleries, all of which are within walking distance of one another.

Since back in 1947, cosmetics giant Shiseido has been organizing a semi-regular series of exhibitions called the "Tsubaki-kai." The idea is to trace the development of a fixed group of artists through a set of annual showcase exhibitions scheduled over a number of years. The fifth "Tsubaki-kai" features the work of nine Japanese artists. They exhibited last year at this time in Shiseido's old Ginza gallery, are showing again now in the company's new and better space, and will do the same each spring until 2005.

Notable here are Yasue Kodama's softly-hued oil on canvas flower studies, a big steel sculpture by Noe Aoki, and Yuumi Domoto's abstract painting. Parisian-born Domoto has evolved her previous squeegee-swipe style, although her love of the color purple remains. The new work sees heavy black lines that seem to float over wide washes of purple.

More from Domoto is up in the artist's solo show at the Gallery Koyanagi. Some 30 new canvases (you can still smell the paint, now that's new), among them several large works similar to the Shiseido piece. Also here are a number of ethereal seascapes, the larger of these being quite moody; the smaller, looking more like studies, are not as effective and should have been left out. Domoto also has several pieces entitled "September 11, 2001" in at the Koyanagi, these are imagined views from the inside of the World Trade Center during the attacks that dropped the twin towers last year. This is eerie work, the skeleton of the WTC fašade looking like candles, or human forms.

At a time when the Japanese contemporary art market is struggling, it is encouraging to see Domoto's work selling rather well at the Koyanagi. Another success story on the Ginza right now can be found over at the Nishimura Gallery, where Takanobu Kobayashi's show "Dream, Dreaming of Us" all but sold out at the vernissage.

Kobayashi, a painter who has been living in Bangkok, has taken the low key pastel style he used to effect over the last few years with inanimate objects such as plates, stoves and pillows (a la Vija Celmins, circa 1964), and applied it to portraits of sleeping people. All but one of the paintings were already sold when I dropped by.

Also worthwhile is the Guardian Gallery show of the 10 finalists from their annual "Hitotsubo" photography competition (so named because the photographers are each given one 'tsubo,' or 3.3 square meters of space, in which to display their work. The "Hitotsubo" grand prize is one of the most coveted awards for young Japanese photographers, and this year work by Hiroko Momose's caught my eye, especially her pile of junked cars. Momose is a photographer whose sense of humor and irony informs her compositions. I also liked Hitomi Akashi's erotic snapshots.

Finally, Noe Aoki has a solo show in at the Gallery 21 + Yo which features a large steel sculpture similar to her piece at Shiseido's "Tsubaki-kai," along with a number of smaller pieces.

It's springtime, and the weather has been pleasant. This is the perfect time to take in Japanese contemporary art on the Ginza, and the galleries have done their part with some great shows. Plus, everything is free. Take a walk and discover.

Pictured are "September 11 2001" by Yuumi Domoto and "Small Death" by Takanobu Kobayashi.
(The most efficient walking tour of these galleries would be in the order they are listed below.) Takanobu Kobayashi is showing until April 27 at the Nishimura Gallery (4-3-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku; 03-3567-3906), open 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., closed Sundays, Mondays, and public holidays. The "Hitotsubo" exhibition is on to April 18 at Guardian Garden (7-3-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku; 03-5568-8818), open 12 p.m. to 7 p.m., closed Sundays and public holidays. The "Tsubaki-kai" exhibition is on to May 26 at the Shiseido Gallery (8-8-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku; 03-3572-3901), open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays and public holidays, closed Mondays. Yuumi Domoto is showing to May 11 at the Gallery Koyanagi (1-7-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku; 03-3561-1896), open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed Sundays and public holidays. Noe Aoki is showing to April 13 at Gallery 21 + Yo (1-5-2 Ginza, Chuo-ku; 03-3567-2816), open 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (to 5. p.m. on April 13), closed Sundays. A map to the Ginza galleries is available online at etc.'s website: http://www.h3.dion.ne.jp/~etc.e/pdf/etce0204.pdf.

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