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Sagacho 2000 closes Tokyo's best art space

by Monty DiPietro

Some five weeks from today, a few artists and friends will gather in the Sagacho Exhibit Space. There won't be any art on the walls, in fact, the walls themselves be gone, removed by gallery staff to return what they term their "magic space" to a "neutral" state. The assembled will no doubt do a bit of reminiscing, and they will most certainly raise their glasses to a remarkable woman, Kazuko Koike. And at the stroke of midnight on December 31, the art space that Koike presided over for 17 years will be disappear into history, a victim of Japan's continuing economic stagnation. It is both sad and appropriate that the last chapter of the Sagacho saga will be written on the on the last day of the millennium – appropriate because the dramatic timing befits Japan's leading contemporary art space; sad because the slow demise of the Sagacho should never have been allowed to happen.

Around the world, from Adelaide to Zurich, municipal and national governments recognize the importance of supporting contemporary art spaces. Governments in Japan do not. And so it is that cities with a fraction of Tokyo's population in countries with a fraction of Japan's economic wealth enjoy far more vibrant art communities than Tokyo does. When Japan does spend money on the arts, it does so in ways that can only be described as backwards, giving huge sums to the already rich and famous. For example - just one of the corporate-sponsored Japan Art Association’s annual Premium Imperiale Awards might have kept the Sagacho open to continue developing young local talent. Instead, this year the JAA presented 15 million yen to 77 year-old color field painter Ellsworth Kelly. The fact that Kelly's "Falcon" (1959) recently sold for US$1,078,500 at Christie's begs the question: Why on earth would Japan give art money to multi-millionaires while a struggling space such the Sagacho is being neglected to death?

Enough. At least the Sagacho is going out in style, with a three part exhibition, "Sagacho 2000," that will in turn look forward, backward, and finally, within. The first installment is "Gleam of Hope." The show is now on and features sculpture, painting, video and photography from six emerging artists.

Noteworthy here is Taiyo Kimura's installation, "Dreams You Shouldn't Awake From / Dreams You Can't Awake From," which finds scores of fabric pigeons scattered across the floor, castor wheels where their heads should be. Visitors are invited to push a steel trolley through the flock. Work we've seen before from Tatsuo Majima pictures the artist in old schoolboy garb, wielding a sword. The black and white photographs have a right wing homoerotic feel, while the attendant video presents the photo shoot for what it was – costume play. Very effective.

Daisuke Nakayama is in with "Grip," six suspended, pencil-shaped chiseled wood objects. The interplay is intense without being menacing, the shadows the more-than-meter-long objects throw against the walls are fascinating. The exhibition is rounded out with color field paintings from Ryosuke Ogino, and a video booth by Takehito Koganezawa, and don't forget to visit the roof, where Kotaro Miyanaga's weighty contribution is a series of distressed-brick walls.

In early December, a second show will open featuring 300 photographs by Masayuki Hayashi. "Document Sagacho (fixed point observation 1983-2000)" will present installation views of more than 100 Sagacho shows.

Finally, in late December, the walls will come down for a quiet week-long event titled simply, "Sagacho Exhibit Space." Here, Koike says, visitors will he invited to stretch their imaginations into the wonderful space.

And it is a wonderful space, housed what used to be a rice market, the building erected in the 1920s. Koike says that in the future, gallerists Shugo Satani (ex-Satani Gallery) and Atsuko Koyanagi of the Gallery Koyanagi in Ginza are expected to occasionally use the 300 square meter room for their own events. Koike, meanwhile, will be moving on, working with AMP (Art Meeting Point), a new non-profit arts project that will be further defining its focus and activities early in the new year.

"I'm both happy to be free from the agony of maintaining this place," says Koike, "and hopeful about my new activities."

Good luck, Ms. Koike, and thank you.

Notes: The exhibition "Sagacho 2000" runs in three parts to Dec 31. Call the gallery (03-3630-3243) for the complete schedule and details on special events planned for the next five weeks.
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