The Japan Times: May 18, 2005

Roppongi's art gallery boom

Roppongi, which used to be chiefly known as a pick-up party pit for Tokyo's ex-pat population, has recently begun to emerge as a contemporary art center. Spurred by the Mori Art Museum's opening in 2003, the neighborhood now presents the possibility of a short walking tour of new and interesting art spaces.

From the Roppongi Crossing exit of Roppongi Station head down the small street that slices off just to the left of the Almond Cafe as you are facing it, several hundred meters down on the right side (across from Striped House, which has a good selection of art books and a gallery upstairs) you come across a pair of old white buildings that have been dubbed "Complex." Things are going well for the quintet of gallerists who occupy Complex.

The Gallery Min Min show of new oil paintings by Faris McReynolds are figurative paintings that use a crude style to suggest ambiguous relationships -- frequently in domestic environments -- which are reaching a decisive moment. A man in a business suit lies unconscious, surrounded by a crowd in "Office Party," while a fat youngster is
blurred as he jumps up and down in his grandparents' sitting room in "Junior" (both 2005).
Also at Complex, I very much liked the exhibition of photographer Ryuji Miyamoto's work at the Taro Nasu Gallery. The photographs here were taken last year inside the disused Palast der Republik building in Berlin. What makes this show work is the eight shots the artist snapped through the building's grimy, cracked and sometimes graffiti-scrawled windows, which find the city of Berlin looking distant and gray, shivering in its apartness.

Continuing down the road right from the Complex, at the next major intersection one finds Tsutaya Roppongi, and inside, two installations by Spanish artist Pedro Sanchez. This is Tsutaya's debut as a gallery, and this is possibly the most surprising of the work now in Roppongi. First off, the title of the show -- "I have bombs/I wonder if I will be bombed?" is totally out of synch with what one would expect from a family video rental shop.

Sanchez is onsite almost daily, talking with and painting on people's faces, hands andclothing,
occasionally reaching into a refrigerator to distribute ice blocks shaped to spell words such as "Power," "Belief," "Poverty." The words are Hollywood cliches," explains Sanchez. "Like God, I want to give the people what they want, but in ice, which is supposed to melt. They can't keep it, they can only hold onto the essence, the idea."

Like his words, Sanchez' installations here are also rather large -- one features a desk and a chair in a wading pool half-filled with water. On top of the desk is a monitor showing a video of ice clanking ice cubes dropping into and bobbing in a Japanese bath, the other has a second pool along with the fridge.

"Ice represents a waste of energy," explains the artist, "a waste of energy that is like the waste of energy of throwing bombs. I left New York City and moved to Tokyo three years ago, so as not to share the place as America is heading. In this installation, I want to discuss bombs, and offer the possibility that the citizens of the world have opinions, and can affect change through ideas, which are the most powerful bombs of all."

A couple of plastic pools and a fridge and some ideas in a shop add up to the sort of unpolished interventionist art that Japan has not seen a great deal of. Sanchez will do a special onsite performance on May 22 at 4:30 p.m.

Heading up Keyakizaka Dori you get to the Mori Museum itself where the exhibitions that have been covered here -- "The Elegance of Silence: Contemporary Art from East Asia" and "The World is a Stage: Stories Behind Pictures" -- are still running. The Mori also has a program of special events. The third of their "MAM Projects" series opened last Friday. This features ROR (Revolutions on Request) -- a scraggly band of young Helsinki artists and designers. ROR has brought a large mixed-media "tsunami" sculpture by founding member Jiri Geller (a piece conceived and executed before the Christmas tsumani disaster), along with a series of eclectic limited edition products ranging from Bob Marley embroidery to '70s style lightening patches and police cruiser cushions. Many different approaches and styles converge in ROR, providing a good opportunity to sample the sensibilities of avant-garde Scandinavian youth culture. Member Klaus Nyqvist sums up the ROR philosophy thus: "There has to be a taste of danger. For example if you have a big motorcycle, when you drive slow and steady it is boring, but when you go where you are almost out of control, that is better. This is where our work is."

Ryuji Miyamoto runs till June 4 at the Taro Nasu Gallery, 6-8-14 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo,
(03) 5411-7510; at the same address, Faris McReynolds is at Gallery Min Min, (03) 5414-2360,
till May 21. Pedro Sanchez is showing till June 11 at Tsutaya Roppongi, 6-11-1 Roppongi,
Minato-ku, (03) 5775-1515. ROR (Revolutions on Request) runs till July 18 at the Tokyo City
View, Mori Building, (03) 6406-6100;

The Japan Times: May 18, 2005
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