Tachikawa '99

by Monty DiPietro

It is arts festival season in Japan, and fun as these can be, it should be noted that in Tokyo the organizers of cultural showcases have a tendency to do the affairs up rather a little too officiously. For those who would prefer a less-regimented look at new art, one of Japan’s best curators, Toshio Shimizu, has rounded-up some 40 artists (aged 22 to 80 and hailing from 11 countries) and plunked their photography, video, paintings and performance art down into the streets, parks, art galleries, rail stations, office buildings, and shopping centers of Tachikawa, a hot little art town out on Tokyo’s west flank.

Tachikawa ’99 looks like the most exciting destination by far on this fall’s festival map, a survey that includes the on-again, off-again Nippon International Contemporary Art Fair (NICAF, the Tokyo international Forum), and corporate-sponsored platforms like ICC’s Biennial and Saison’s ART-ING, among others. There are two reasons to expect success from the inaugural Tachikawa International Art Festival: A keen interest among the people of the region toward contemporary art, and the smarts and determination of the man behind the event.

Toshio Shimizu, 46, was born in Tokyo. A rapid ascent in the Japanese art hierarchy was interrupted several years ago when Shimizu suddenly left his post at one of the country’s most progressive art centers, the Art Tower Mito. While serving as the Ibaragi Prefecture cultural center’s artistic director, Shimizu had improbably brought some of the world’s most exciting contemporary artists up to Ibaragi. When word of his departure came down, the official story was that Shimizu had resigned. But those in the know tell a different story – they whispered that what had really happened was a certain conservative administrative head honcho had deemed Shimizu’s curatorial methods and artistic vision too unconventional, and shown him the door. Whatever the case may be, Shimizu has redoubled his efforts to bring avant-garde culture to Japan – and in the process appears to have become a better team player. In Tachikawa, he has found his perfect venue.

"I think what characterizes this art festival," says Shimizu, "is that it was organized by the people of Tachikawa, not the government." One reason the ad hoc citizens’ committee were willing – eager even – to host an international art fair may be the positive response received by Faret Tachikawa, an ambitious public art project first developed in the early 1990s that has since brought scores of large street sculptures and installations to the area. That one of Japan’s only artist’s loft communities (Studio Shokudo) is also located in Tachikawa further bolsters the city’s emerging identity as this country’s contemporary art capital.

The innovative Studio Shokudo artists will be complimented at Tachikawa ’99 by lubricious lensman Nobuyoshi Araki, Breadman performance artist Tatsumi Orimoto, and a 17-artist Chinese contingent that Shimizu says "fell out of the sky."

"When I went to Shanghai five years ago, there were no good video artists there," says Shimizu. "But last time I went I found that the medium had caught on, and many interesting and inspired artists had sprung up very quickly." So they were tossed into the mix, in a manner that bespeaks the spontaneous and immediate qualities of Shimizu’s welcome approach, as well as the flexibility of festival volunteers and venues.

The Tachikawa International Art Festival ’99 theme is "Love," and it will be romping through Tachikawa for more than three weeks.

notes: Contact the Tachikawa ’99 office for further information (042-523-0477), or click here for a schedule of events.
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