Ask anybody off the street to name cities in Japan. Kyoto and Tokyo obviously, followed by Osaka and maybe Fukuoka…But Nagoya? Where’s that? Sandwiched between Osaka and Tokyo, Nagoya is most often bypassed by everybody from Japanese salary men to foreign bands on tour. However, this little town of a city should not be so easily ignored.
Dating back to the 1960s, Nagoya has had a bustling art scene, a breeding ground for artists such as On Kawara, Yoshitomo Nara, and Shusaku Arakawa. It blossomed during the bubble economy as the Japanese Mecca for contemporary art, zealous galleries promoting cutting-edge works collected from all over the globe. Once the bubble economy fizzled the city dimmed, it’s past radiance largely forgotten — but that’s not how the story ends. Twenty years passed and now the galleries are in their second generation, ready to rekindle the sparks and start a new flame.
A mere two-hour bullet-train ride away, Nagoya galleries often visit Tokyo, the upcoming “Art Fair Tokyo” in April entertaining several. Nichido and Nagoya Garou are some big-name participants, but there are others worthy of mention.
Standing Pine — Cube
This clean little venue atop a furniture store opened in 2009 with a focus on new and upcoming artists. With good reviews from the “Kyoto Art Fair” behind their back, they will participate in the “PROJECTS” section at “Art Fair Tokyo 2011”, a space dedicated to art world newbies. Their white walls were lined with cool blue photographs of pools until February 6, a contemplative series by Yuko Obata that equate water to time as an engulfing, healing entity. Unfortunately, the gallery is closed until February 25 because their building is under renovation.
Another is Gallery APA, located a little ways from the city center. Their trademark feature is an ancient well they keep in the center of the room. This gallery specializes in works by “Aichi-ists” (artists from Aichi) and it is the owner Ms. Watanabe’s aim to change the common notion of art to something difficult so people feel comfortable swinging by galleries.
Their show that ran till February 13 was a good mix: the first floor was dedicated to a well-seasoned illustrator Yoko Matsumoto and her picturesque chairs and coffee tables perfect on the living room wall. But five graduate art students dominated the second floor under the title “UN-UNISON”, each with their own style and ideas far from domesticity.
The exhibition was predominantly monochrome, Kiko Uemura being the only one providing color to the room; still, there was enough energy to compensate for the lack of color. Etched animals floated blissfully naked underwater in Kachikawa’s works, while Rika Mizuno depicted meaty female legs in high heels with sexual innuendo. On the other hand, Yurika Ono’s flowing composition of flowers and food had none of the gravity embodied by Noriyuki Kadota’s grainy aeroplanes reminiscent of war. As first year graduate students, they are still on the road towards further development but so far their future looks promising.
Tokyo aside, there are movements brewing within Nagoya headed by gallerists in their thirties and forties. Predominantly women, these second generation galleries have spunk, a hunger for more.
Ms. Takematsu, the owner of Gallery IDF, collaborated with others during the Aichi Triennale last year and created an art map detailing sixteen contemporary art galleries sprinkled around the city. Not only did the map help visitors find the galleries located far apart from each other, but the project also brought together and unified the separate galleries. An art fair seems to be an idea entertained in many mind but “First we have to nurture the friendly network,” Ms. Takematsu commented. “Everything starts from there.”
Gallery IDF is also currently exhibiting four artists sparkling with talent under the title “New Artists Preview!” Their names are also known in Tokyo and two of them, Aiko Konomi and Mamiko Kashiwara, participated in “ULTRA 003” last year.
We have yet to see what comes but there is no question something is happening here in this no man’s land. Bookmark it.