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Focus features two in-depth reviews each month of fine art, architecture and design exhibitions and events at art museums, galleries and alternative spaces around Japan. The contributors are non-Japanese art critics living in Japan.

Space for Your Future: Recombining the DNA of Art and Design
Dana Buntrock
2007 Flower House by SANAA.
Flower House by SANAA, 2007
Photo courtesy of SANAA

Curator Yuko Hasegawa is among the most powerful women in the Asian art world. She avoids tradition, encourages risk, inclines to new media, and argues for participation in art. At times it is difficult to call the contributors she curates "artists"; many are comfortable in applied arts. Take Kazuyo Sejima: an architect, she loves to design small objects like dishware, Japanese wrapping cloths, or furniture. Hasegawa is a huge fan and collaborated closely with SANAA, Sejima's partnership, on the Kanazawa Museum of the 21st Century, where Hasegawa was once chief curator.

In "Space for Your Future: Recombining The DNA of Art and Design" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, Hasegawa emphasizes work within the art world's most comfortably commercial territory, supposedly unified around the concept of space. Architects unsurprisingly offer two of the strongest pieces in the show. The 2007 "Flower House" by SANAA is an idealized expression on the scale of a child's playhouse. Sejima's rabbit-ear chairs and pots of airy plants within and without establish Alice-in-Wonderland shifts in scale; odd cast-offs (an ornate box, a hand mirror) accessorizing the minimalist architecture incongruously allude to a girly inhabitant. In contrast, Junya Ishigami's work, a titanic, mirror-finish boxy balloon, is a looming presence throughout the exhibition (it flanks the escalators), unsatisfying until seen from below, when reflections of others moving above animate the towering four-story surface.

Ishigami and Kiichiro Adachi explore gaze, reflection, and representation, also key to appreciating the many videos included in the exhibition. Adachi's 2004 "" is a remade phone booth; the solitary space inside isolates each individual and proffers people not simply as participants, but as one with the art, on stage, exhibited. More subtly, the sensual space of Carsten Nicolai's 2006 "fades" is at its best when the powerful spotlight, slicing smoke, is inhabited; in many publicity stills of this show, just such a juxtaposition is offered, solitary women standing before or within the works. Equally successful is "100 Erikas" by Noriyuki Tanaka, portraying actress Erika Sawajiri play-acting fashionable guises, each achieved with the help of stylists.

An unusual (and unstated) aspect of this exhibition is the way it alludes to the modern girl in contemporary consumer culture through furnishings, accessories, and clothes. Throughout the galleries are flowers (Michael Lin, SANAA), colorful feathers (AMID architecture), lovely laces (Elisabetta Di Maggio and DEMAKERSVAN), butterflies poised on books (Ryosuke Uehara and Yoshie Watanabe), bright photographs of goldfish (Mika Ninagawa), and perfumed air in oddly abstract cubes (Daikin air design project). Two satellite pieces are exhibited at stores, the H.P. France Window Galleries in Shinjuku and Marunouchi. At Shinjuku, a piece by the youngest contributor to the exhibition, Haruka Kojin's "reflectwo," is an abstracted mirror image in pressed flowers; at Marunouchi, Mikiko Minewaki offers braided fabric frames. Back at the museum, Minewaki's table of eye-catching "mineorites" are elegant accessories laser-cut from everyday cast-offs like soup bowls, car headlamps and obsolete laptop covers, enticing everyone to reach -- and be told not to touch. People are permitted to don Ernesto Nedo's popular "phitohumanoids," suggestively soft and shapeless pastel-colored bean-bag body armor (with belly buttons and butt holes) -- but whip out a camera and you are admonished.

Odd, isn't it? It is impossible to appropriate an artwork that is constantly altered by engagement. But these works, and Hasegawa's hope for participatory arts, are unfortunately at odds with the hide-bound institution offering this exhibition, which often undercuts the innovative curator's original intent.

air relation 3   reflectwo
air relation 3
by Daikin air design project,
reflectwo by Haruka Kojin, 2007
Space for Your Future
Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
27 October 2007 - 20 January 2008

Satellite pieces
H.P. France Shinjuku (Haruka Kojin)
28 September - 7 November 2007
H.P. France Marunouchi (Mikiko Minewaki)
28 September - 13 December 2007
Dana Buntrock
Dana Buntrock is an associate professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, even if an unusually long research leave in Tokyo leads many of her friends to wonder otherwise. Published as a photographer and author, her second book on Japanese contemporary architectural practices is due out in 2008 and features buildings by Terunobu Fujimori, Kengo Kuma, Fumihiko Maki, Ryoji Suzuki and Jun Aoki.
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