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Five Art Universities at NACT

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New Emissary

Five Art Universities at NACT

Works by over 400 artists from 5 Japanese art schools have come together at one Tokyo art museum.

There’s been no shortage of art events in Tokyo these past few weeks. Tokyo usually doesn’t have the great options you can find in New York or Hong Kong, but this month there are some very attractive choices for contemporary art lovers.

In the Akihabara district, famous for its electronics shops, there was the recently-concluded new art fair, Frontline Tokyo at 3331 Arts Chiyoda. (3331 Arts Chiyoda is a community-based multidisciplinary arts centre housed in a renovated old school. Frontline Tokyo is over, but there are still some exhibitions at private galleries there.)

Meanwhile, in the modern Roppongi district, there’s the upscale G-Tokyo Art Fair at the Mori Arts Center as well as the joint graduation exhibition of five Art Universities at the National Art Center Tokyo, known simply by its Japanese nickname, ‘Gobidai.’ (Both of these events continue this week.)

Last week, I wrote about my visits to the graduation shows of Musashino Art University and Zokei University. These universities are joined by Women’s Art University, Nihon University Art Programme and Tama Art University for the annual National Art Center Tokyo exhibit.

I was rewarded with some nice surprises when I visited recently. First of all, the show was beautifully displayed. Each university has its own large exhibition space, each artist showed one or two pieces, and there was ample space to appreciate each artist’s works.

I can only imagine what a nightmare it was to arrangea show with five universities, an untold number of faculty members and more than 400 artists. I congratulate the organizers for putting this together so beautifully. I may be wrong, but I imagine the decisions about the displays weren’t made by consensus or committee. These large events tend to work only when there’s a Czar-like person running the show. And this one does work. It’s definitely worth a visit.

The biggest surprise for me at this exhibition was the magnificent elephant sculpture. It was constructed out of very small pieces of metal that were soldered together. I couldn’t read the kanji characters of the artist’s name so I can’t mention it here, but you can’t miss this work—it’s the biggest piece in the show.

There are some areas missing in the construction of the elephant so you can see inside. Is it to show the destruction of the elephants? Are they bullet holes? Is it to call attention to poaching? I’m not sure, and there was no artist statement to illuminate me. But no matter, it’s a great piece, and if I had the space in my gallery or home, I’d adopt it.

I also noticed the works of a couple of Musashino artists whose works I don’t remember seeing when I visited the university last month. Most impressive was the work of one young woman, Mikiko Shimatani, who created a paper-cut work that measured approximately 1.5 metres square.

It wasn’t a bird or a rainbow like you may have made yourself, nor one of the intricate smaller paper-cut works that are well-known in China. This was a large piece of paper mounted on canvas, with multiple cut-outs of Japanese characters—a repetition of words and sentences describing the inner thoughts of the artist. It was a personal notebook displayed visually that created an abstract montage.

I’m not sure why I missed this work when I visited the university show on campus, but here in the beautiful environment of the National Art Center, it really stood out and I could find it easily.

Five Art Unversities at NACT

I’ll write more next week about this exhibition and the need for more promotion and support of Japan’s young artists, but in the meantime here are two ways you can help: First, spread the word about this exhibition and second, if you are in Tokyo this month, please visit. I encourage you to go and take a look. You may find something you love there, and the exhibiting students could really use your support.

Robert 'Bob' Tobin, is a writer, teacher, gallerist and art consultant. Each week on the New Emissary, he reports on the contemporary art scene in the Asia-Pacific, sharing his unique insights into some of the emerging trends and artists from around the region.