Walking Down Up-Town – Span/Maruzen

In Haruki Murakami’s novel South of the Border, West of the Sun, we find the protagonist caught in a space of liminal reality, entertaining notions of an alternative present – or future – dictated by idealized memories of the past.  A random sighting of a possible childhood friend on the streets of Ginza triggers a maelstrom of introspection, a contemplation of the fabric of reality.

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Though on most days, Ginza seems only a juxtaposition of princes and paupers, at certain glances the abundance of modern excess framed with stylized antique trappings would seem to mark the portal to a different world.  Whether it be a simulacrum of capitalist spectacle, or somewhere else betwixt and between, all depends on your perspective (and your wallet).

There are of course, excellent doll shops in Ginza, excellent sweet shops in Ginza, and occasional excellent art exhibits in Ginza. On those rare occasions, batsu carefully maps out where to step as to avoid losing her way, to navigate through the void and into that other world.  As of late, however, there have been many great gallery showings in Ginza, and perhaps it is these more than anything have me feel both lost and found in a new reality…  Or, perhaps just vertigo from the autumnal equinox.

Span Art Gallery – Declaration of the New Japanese Aesthetic

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The concept of this gallery showcasing finds itself buried in a 2-page hand-written declaration/manifesto of the same name, penciled on grid-like Japanese school paper, framed right beside the art in modest Plexiglas, mounted to the wall. Outlined briefly, the essay seems to rant about the loss of Japanese cultural identity and the burden of the artist to recreate a semblance of unifying aesthetic sense to redefine a Japanese world pillaged by globalization and the subsequent invasion of other cultural influence – something like that.  As most modern institutions of “traditional Japanese culture” are rather exclusive and prohibitively expensive (kimono, ikebana, tea ceremony, etc.) and incidentally abundant in Ginza, it’s difficult to bow in sympathy to this “plight.”  However, I still liked about half of the art on display, whether it seemed to coherently adhere to the agenda or otherwise.

Span Art Gallery is a relatively small, well-lit space with white walls and glass front, giving the impression that it is actually the patrons that are on display – particularly after dusk.  The first exhibit was from Oct. 5-17, and the latter from Oct. 18-31.  However, even if you are far from Tokyo’s clutches, you can still view the art from both showings at the exhibit page, randomly clicking on links to the right (artists’ names) even if you can’t read Japanese.

I particularly liked the pieces by Keita Tatsuguchi (龍口経太), Trevor Brown (トレヴァー・ブラウン), Yuji Moriguchi (森口裕二), and Takato Yamamoto (山本タカト).  There were many others, and indeed many beautiful works.

It’s difficult to choose an absolute favorite, though I will say that Mr. Brown’s first painting seemed to garner the most attention from other patrons.  Quite large and visually striking, with a stark palette of predominant reds and whites, it incorporates a beautiful arrangement of the difinitive “Japan-esque,” making it patriotic in an almost parodic way – perhaps even a caustic embodiment of the exhibit’s mission statement.

Maruzen – 4th Annual Hitogata Doll Exhibit

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Maruzen is about one station away from Ginza, so instead of paying to ride the train during rush-hour, I decided to hoof the 15 minute walk.  It’s a fancy-pants bookshop in the fancy-pants Oazo building in Marunouchi, near the Imperial Palace; the exhibit space is on the 4th floor.

I like it, as it’s connected to Tokyo Station via underground tunnel in the event of incliment weather, and literally across the street from the north exit, just in case you decide not to brave the underground labyrinth.  Aside from that, it’s in a bookshop, with decent magazine, manga, and even English book selections, complete with reading tables in case you want to sit around and kill some time.  There are also a variety of interesting toys and knickknacks lying about if the exhibit turns out to be a dud.

Though the photography for most doll events at Maruzen is often dissuading, I’m just as often thankful I made the trip – in this sense, Hitogata was no different.  It featured a diverse representation, showcasing a few international submissions, though Japanese artists were the most prominent.

My favorites were Ryo Arai (荒井良), Seihachi Nakajima (中嶋清八), Rika Imma (因間りか), Akemi Kai (伽井丹彌), and 西織銀.  I don’t know how to read the last name, but the dolls were absolutely beautiful, tiny perfection.

Photos can be seen from the Maruzen blog.

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