As Japan modernized and aligned with the rest of the world during the Meiji period of Japan (1868-1912), not only science, politics, religion and technology changed, but also art. Japanese artists were eager to understand and to master the new modern art styles of Europe and wealthy patrons sent out scores of promising artists to study abroad. One of these was a young man from Nagano prefecture, Rokuzan Ogiwara (1879-1910) who studied modern sculpture in both the US and France where he received instruction from the famous Rodin himself. Rokuzan was also a christian convert from an early age and a member of the temperance movement. His rather short life was ended by tuberculosis.
Almost as interesting as the man and his work themselves are the museum put up in his name in Hotaka, Azumino City. The main structure is built like a church and was funded by donations from local school children and teachers who also took part in the construction itself, which took many decades to finish in 1958. There is another completely modern concrete construction as well, and an almost ancient looking logg house construction put up completely by local students and teachers. Junior high school kids were pretty crafty back then! Everything in the garden and tiny museum grounds is designed, from the concrete tables to the hidden spouts of the rain gutter. It is easy to tell that a lot of people put a lot of effort in this place.
You can read more about the museum here on their official website.
In January I visited the graduation show at the Tokyo University of the Arts. For most visitors, the first work of art they encountered was the “OYAJYO-JIN” A-Un sculptures by Kanagawa sculptress Momoha Harada (原田桃葉). The words A-Un (阿吽) comes from the Indian religions and has also been adapted by shintoism and buddhism here in Japan. A is the first and un is the last character in the sanskrit alphabet and they represent the beginning and the end of the of all things, very similar to αω (Alpha and Omega) in christianity or the emet in judaism. In front of most temples and shrines in Japan you will find two statues, sometimes lions, sometimes foxes, sometimes demon or even tengu, one with their mouth open (阿) and one with the mouth closed (吽).
The statues of Ms. Harade guarded the entrance to the university and were quite popular with visitors. The portly human figures in a their metal grey hue looked great next to the black wood of the gate.
If you are in Tokyo this week and remotely interested in modern art then you could worse than spending a day at the Tokyo University of the Arts Graduation Works Exhibition. Tokyo Geidai (for short) is one of Japan’s oldest art unis, dating back to 1887, and the campus looks the part of of an old well established art school. Today Geidai has over 2000 graduate students and half that again in post-grads. In a nation of 127 million you can imagine that being accepted as a students is pretty difficult. I consider myself a more than averagely experienced viewer of graduation works and I’d say that the Tokyo University of the Arts excel at sculpture with a quite a few exceptional works produced by grad students every year, although it is impossible to infer the actual studying experience in a school just from the graduation show. For westerners, the schools two most famous alumni might be the composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and the artist Takashi Murakami.
Even if you are not into art itself, attending the graduation show is a great opportunity to see the inside of a Japanese art university, the buildings, the labs and the grounds are quite unique with lots of history and that unique mix of Japanese high tech combined with grotty concrete studio rooms and the little fun details provided by generations of creative students. I took these photos in and around the campus, focusing more on the buildings than on the art. I think I could go back and spend another day or two just picking out details and odd architecture! The place has some fantastic views and rooms.
As it was the first day of the graduation show and also on a Sunday it was very very crowded. I sometimes had to wait quite a bit to get the relatively empty photos of this series. But it also meant that there were lots of interesting artists in place to explain and discuss their work and I spent a lot of time just listening to them describing their work. Artists, especially Japanese, have such a down to earth matter of fact way of talking about art, very different from the way media, critics and auction houses do.
The graduation show goes on until noon on the 31st of January and is located very close to Ueno Park. You can use the JR Ueno, Nippori and Uguisudani stations or the Nezu suway station. Official web site in Japanese is here.
One of Japan’s more famous artists, but still relatively unknown outside the country is Tokyo University professor Yoichiro Kawaguchi (河口洋一郎) whose pioneering work in computer graphics and almost organic CGI creations have been inspiring art students in Japan since the 1970’s. This man was doodling on his computer before I was even born! I saw this work, the Gross Tendril, at Tokyo Design Week last year. It is a good example of his funky pop-art influence sculpture that is clearly grounded in mathematics and algorithm. Maybe you remember the gun toting samurai warriors that I posted a few days ago? Mr. Kawaguchi is from the same little island as those guns – Tanegashima.