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New Year 2002

by Monty DiPietro

            Happy New Year to one and all. I'm just back in Tokyo after spending the holidays in Bangkok, where, you might be interested to know, Project 304, About Art Space, and the city's four or five other contemporary art players got together to celebrate the finale of a successful video and film program that ran through December. Good things are happening in Bangkok -- I saw a truly inspired set of performances by a trio of young Thai artists at About Art Space last spring, and if public interest and support continues to expand beyond the ex-pat community as it has been doing, it won't be long before we see even more of Thailand's emerging artists. Currently, Thailand's rising stars include installation artist Navin Rawanchaikul (who is married to a Japanese woman and spends much of his time in Fukuoka), conceptualist Rirkirt Tiravanija, and organizer of happenings Surasi Kusolwong, who held raffles for valuable prizes as part of last year's Opera City Gallery exhibition "My Home is Your Home, Your Home is Mine." So far, Tiravanija is booked for a show at the Opera City Gallery this May.

While most Tokyo galleries and museums are only reopening this week after the shogatsu holiday, a trio of eager spaces put up their first shows of 2002 last Saturday. First stop was the old Sagacho Building (although the Sagacho Exhibit Space last year metamorphosized into the Rice Gallery, everybody still calls the beautiful old warehouse, which is home to four good contemporary art spaces, the 'Sagacho Building'). Ambitious young Taro Nasu had new work from Jun Watanabe up in his gallery, and down the hall from the underattended party (even opening addict Johnnie Walker, who I would bump into later in the evening, didn't know about this reception) the gallerists' guru Tomio Koyama opened the doors of his space to give people a peek at the new Reiko Hidaka print show, which officially starts today.

            Hidaka has been painting trees since the mid 1990s -- she looks up and paints their branches, silhouetted against the sky. The resulting canvases are bleak, moody, effective in hovering around a mood the artist describes as "indiscernible, unfathomable." Although working in a single style can allow an artist to get deep, one wonders whether Hidaka might have dug herself into a hole.

Hasegawa's Neo-Pop paintings at the Taro Nasu provide some relief from the dreariness. The best of these are the large canvases, each several meters across and comprised of figures, usually young women, painted flat in muted shades of red and blue. Eerie trees rise from the surreal landscapes that serve as backgrounds. These are good enough to look at, as the artist brings a theme into large works such as "And, Now You Are," which uses uneasy symmetry in a study of twins. But Hasegawa's smaller, straight head and shoulder portraits disappoint as they eschew relationships yet give us virtually no insight into the subject. (All of Hasegawa's paintings are traced from pictures she appropriates from magazines and projects onto her canvases.)

The evening was saved by the almost throbbing photographic works of Tokyo-based Vincent Huang. These are are up at Amrta, an art-friendly night salon tucked away on a Nishi Azabu side street. Huang's work documents several incarnations of the incredible "Burning Man" event (www.burningman.com). The week-long art/love camp-in happens late summer in the middle of the Nevada desert and is described by organizers as an "experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance."

Huang, a favorite of Tokyo's avant-garde community, has some two dozen color photographs, photo collages, and oil on canvas works in the exhibition. If you thought Shibuya was the epicenter of weird fashion, you'll think again after seeing some of the characters that "Burning Man" attracts. The Amrta show celebrates the release of a wonderful big book Huang has just published on the "Burning Man" phenomenon, which is now in its 16th year. If you've never been to a "Burning Man" event, Huang's book and exhibition are about the next best thing.

Notes: Pictured is a selection from Vincent Huang's Burning Man series. Reiko Hidaka's "From the Space of Trees" runs to January 26 2002 at the Tomio Koyama Gallery (3630-2205), which is located at 1-8-13 Saga, Koto-ku. Jun Hasegawa's new paintings are at the Taro Nasu Gallery (3630-7759), which is in the same building as the Tomio Koyama, to February 2. Vincent Huang's "Burning Man 97-00" is at Amrta (3409-4652) Ohyama Bldg. B1, 2-13-15 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku, to January 31.
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