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Pride in art: A district of lofty standards, yet open to all

Tomoe Sumiyoshi


Whenever my family mentioned the department store in my childhood, it always meant Ginza Matsuzakaya. Back in the 80s, Ginza was where my mother opened a little store in 8-chome and ran it herself for 27 years. Since I took a job in the art world in the 90s, Ginza has been my workplace, with galleries scattered here and there. For me, Ginza is a special place, a place where a bustling main street and intimate places I’ve known very well stand side by side.

GINZA SIX distills the essence of Ginza. Peering into the atrium, you see stores stand side by side, like a bazaar. The atmosphere is lively. The surrounding floors evoke the balconies of an opera house. The public art displays and little gallery spaces installed throughout the facility provide opportunities to stop for a moment and contemplate.

This autumn and winter, Nicolas Buffe, the Japan-based French artist, has mounted an atrium installation and various other artworks throughout the facility. The title of the exhibit is “Fantastic Gift: The Story of the Kingdom of Winter and the Kingdom of Summer.” A balloon measuring three meters high and four meters long, in the shape of an elephant, is lofted along by drone, steered by little angels called the Putti, away from the scorching heat of the Kingdom of Summer to the icy reaches of the Kingdom of Winter.

Born in Paris in 1978, Nicolas Buffe draws on traditional European decorative art and literature from the medieval, the Renaissance, and the Baroque periods. He also blends the childhood influences of Japanese anime and American subcultures to create story worlds. His in-depth knowledge of classical art and his skill at modeling, acquired through hands-on experiences, lend persuasiveness to his works. As the motif for this piece, in a spirit of serio ludere (serious play), he chose global climate change.

“I came up with the story layers during a really hot spell this summer,” he says. “The prince of the Kingdom of Summer is hot-tempered and selfish. The princess of the Kingdom of Winter is reclusive and cold-hearted. What possible gifts could resolve their problems? The idea of an elephant carrying an obelisk, a symbol of knowledge, came to me partly from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (The Dream of Poliphilus), an illustrated book published during the Renaissance in Italy. In the background we see the history of diplomatic relations linking Europe and Asia and a caricature of modern international society.”

The approach, a fantasy format accessible to anyone, also functions as a critique of a civilization that illustrates how the world is linked and put together and gives this installation multiple layers.

You can see his works at the main entrance (two photographs at the beginning of this column) facing Ginza Street and in the B2F show window. They make a stroll around the facility worthwhile for any visitor.

Did you know a number of public artworks are on permanent display inside GINZA SIX?
In the South Elevator Hall, for example, there’s a sculpture by Shinji Ohmaki, who’s drawing attention for dynamic efforts both in Japan and overseas. In the Edo Period, the government issued an edict banning extravagance. Craftsmen responded by competing to refine their skills in producing sophisticated patterns known as Edo Komon. This forms the basis for the flowers and butterflies comprising the sculpture. Flowers and butterflies represent the spirit of the Ginza craftsman culture. They also symbolize the history of modern attire in Ginza.

In the North Elevator Hall, you’ll find a work by Misa Funai comprised of mirrors, whose theme is the Paradise/Boundary. Stand before the piece and you’ll see your own image reflected in the mirror fragments. This can inspire the sense that you stand in a world behind the mirrors, as the primary figure in a paradise of shifting interacting ideals and realities one after another.

In the spirit of Ginza, the facility also houses several galleries, each with their own exhibition. Of these, I’m interested in the THE CLUB, a young gallery located inside the Ginza Tsutaya Books. The space is managed by Director Yukako Yamashita, who gathered her expertise at Sotheby’s in London. Her curation painstakingly highlights the talents of contemporary artists, both old and new, whose work has yet to be exhibited in Japan. Between December 1, 2018 and January 31, the gallery will host Naoya Inose’s first solo exhibition, titled “Blue.” He is a young artist based in London who’s attracted considerable attention. His work has been selected for the 20th DOMANI Tomorrow Exhibition and displayed at the National Art Center, Tokyo.

The name THE CLUB conjures up visions of a private members’ club. Its mysterious milky white glass doors create a sense of a space closed off to outsiders. This is on top of the sense of anxiety Ginza art galleries typically inspire in those who dare enter. The name THE CLUB comes from the 8th Street Club (often simply referred to as “The Club”), which opened in New York in 1949, soon after the war. During those days, the word club came to denote a hip location where artists and others in the cultural vanguard gathered. I hope the version resurrected here in Ginza will prove as groundbreaking a source of an Asian perspective on the context of modern art, something with foundations in the West.

Ginza has long had a reputation for places that seem somewhat intimidating or closed to outsiders, and I hope an aspect of this will remain in place. I believe Japan (Tokyo) today needs places, dedicated to the loftiest standards, that still invite anyone to tackle the implicit challenge, places that naturally inspire a sense of responsibility to hone one’s intelligence and aesthetic sense.

People may very well look to Ginza precisely for this uncompromising advocacy of serious art.

Text:Chie Sumiyoshi Photos:Sai, Jun Koike (Naoya Inomata) Edit:Yuka Okadaz


Tomoe Sumiyoshi

Chie Sumiyoshi is an art producer and writer. Born in Tokyo. She obtained a degree in Aesthetics and Science of Arts from Keio University and began working as an art journalist in the 1990s. After presiding over the TRAUMARIS art space, she has gone on to organize exhibitions and performance art events at various locations. She also directs the RealTokyo, a bilingual cultural review website, and is a representative for the Dance Nursery School!! Steering Committee, a platform that supports artists and audiences of parenting age.


THE CLUB (Tsutaya Shoten)

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2018.12.03 UP