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Show 2000 at the Canadian Embassy Gallery

by Monty DiPietro

"Show 2000," eh? Alright, the title is nondescript, there is no theme to unite the work, and some of the stuff honestly is not so great. Plus there is annoying ambient new age music droning in the background. That's the bad news.

The good news is that the Canadians have once again shown Japan just how much they care about their art and artists, with Show 2000, which is a hodgepodge of Canuck contemporary culture now on exhibition at the Canadian Embassy Gallery in Tokyo's Minato Ward.

The ambitious show features painting, photography, sculpture, and installation work from more than 25 Canadian artists living in Japan. This is the first expatriate show the embassy has mounted in its nine years history, and Show 2000 organizers Meridyth Bishop and Daniel E. Naumann hope the one-month exhibition will earn a regular spot on the embassy's cultural calendar. Judging by the positive public reaction on opening night, embassy culture boss Bruce Barnett would do well to make this an annual event.

Most of the artists here are either established or working commercially, while some are exhibiting their work for the first time. Among the highlights are David Atmanchuk's dramatically-hued ceramics, Jane Tingley's sexuality-toned black and white portrait photography, and my personal favorite, Niina Chebry's soft acrylic on paper painting of water buffalo. The piece was inspired both by Chebry's travels in India, and a childhood spent on an Alberta farm.

Long-time Tokyo fixture and photographer Benjamin Lee is here with three large portraits of the painter Francesco Clemente, while Andrew Owen has come up from his Kyoto studio to show the latest version of a work in progress, the engaging photography and object-based Obscure Tourism.

A real treat is Colwyn Griffith's luscious food-as-landscape color photography, which you really have to see to believe. Also, don't miss Johnny Wales' watercolors, tradition-style treatments of little Japanese shops.

About the only francophone in Show 2000 is bon vivant sculptor Claude Descoteaux, who has a hand in the show, that is, a hand sculpture, in bronze.

There is a bit of everything here, from hand-colored Sumo photographs to the conceptual to dadaesque busts to the decorative -- and that can be a little hard on the eyes, a little too "art fair." Next year organizers might want to bring a curator on board.

Unfortunately, you've missed the day of performance, which was called "Performance 2000." (Is this tendency to title things literally rooted in a uniquely Canadian humility?) Performance 2000 was held in the Embassy Theatre last week, and featured six hours of dance, poetry, video, music and storytelling. Again, the lack of French-language content was a disappointment.

Overall, Show 2000 can be considered a success and a good reason to drop in on one of the most hospitable embassies in Tokyo. (Another good reason is Zen priest Shunmyo Masuno's avant-garde rooftop rock garden.)

If the diversity of the work in Show and Performance 2000 is surprising considering that the artists were selected from a pool of fewer than 9,000 Canadians living in Japan, a look at the resumes of some of these talented individuals suggests an explanation for the their creative prowess. Again and again one comes across the words "bursary" and "grant." One also finds frequent references to government-funded art spaces. Canada has a long history of investing in its artists, a tradition that continues with this show.


Notes: The show runs to Oct 12 (5412-6200). Niina Chebry also has a show on to Oct 12 at the Tokyo Salon (3407-6863). Pictured is a detail from Obscure Tourism (2000), mixed media, by Andrew Owen