Innocence, Worship & Prestige

by Satoru Nagoya


In the last column I mentioned Tokyo art promotersí "expensive" overseas tours that, in return, often usher in too generous work opportunities in Japan for foreign artists or curators. The results of the latest bout of such tours are now seen in town.
At the Watari-um museum in Jingumae, French artist Fabrice Hybert, whose work in the French pavilion won the Country Prize in last yearís 47th Venice Biennial, is exhibiting in a group show titled "To the Living Room." Also included is Christine Hill, an American artist who took part in the Documenta X exhibition in Kassel, Germany last year to considerable attention. Watari-umís news release for the show underlines the presence of both artists in major European art events, which is a typical pattern of this museum how it illuminates its exhibitions. As this column is not intended for reviews, I wonít discuss the works here.
(I just point out that Hybert and Hill use video as part of their respective works.) But I wonder if, in this case, Watari-umís nice single-ticket-for-multiple-entry system can encourage the viewer to come back and see the works again, despite the showy billboard featuring the big names.

Meanwhile, at the Spiral Garden in Minami Aoyama, video works by South African artist William Kentridge, Swiss Pipilotti Rist and others are on display in a group show called "Shoot at the Chaos - Age of Electronic Image." Here again, Kentridge and Rist are artists who gained renown already at last yearís Documenta and Venice exhibitions, where curators of Watari-um and Spiral were seen at the opening. Apparently they were simple enough to believe what they experienced in Europe was of the latest fashion in world art. Of course, the latest fashion is not always significant. Nor does it mean that Tokyo art fans can see work by the worldís rising artists immediately. Kentridge was already a much-touted artist at the 1996 Sydney Biennial, and Rist was an artist representing Switzerland at the 1994 Sao Paulo Biennial. But thatís no drawback since many curious and docile Japanese art fans will anyhow hail big-name foreign artists from big Western art events.
It wonít be fair to blame the Japanese curators (and fans) only, for their innocent worship of prestige. Western curators too, when they are to select Japanese artists for their exhibitions, seem to rely on a handful of art consultants in Japan who are taken prestigious. At least the works of Kentridge and Rist are captivating in some way. If Tokyo exhibition-goers are careful not to get hypnotized in front of the video monitors at Watari-um or Spiral, they might even discover, that they have more critical eyes than the curators.


Satoru Nagoya is a free-lance art journalist living in Tokyo.