japanese art, design and culture

Posts from — May 2008


The Japanese restaurant Oku in Kyoto places just as much emphasis on their ceramic wares as they do their food. My friend recently went there and informed me of how badly I need to go.

oku-style.JPG oku-style3.JPG
(images courtesy of Oku)

May 30, 2008   Comments Off

Paolo Roversi: Guinevere

“Guinevere with a Cigarette”
(image courtesy of Pace/MacGill)

A stunning image of the model Guinevere Van Seenus, from a series of photos taken over a 12 year time span. Paolo Roversi’s show is on display at Pace/MacGill through June 14th.

May 29, 2008   Comments Off

He Took a Polaroid Every Day, Until the Day He Died


The pictures start abruptly in 1979 (I’m guessing the author was in his 30s?). They cover an 18-year time span, all the way up until the day before he dies from cancer.

via c-monster

May 28, 2008   Comments Off

Bitter & Zart

(image courtesy of P van b)

This is what a chocolate shop should look like. Interior of Bitter & Zart in Franfurt, Germany. The wallpaper?By none other than the fabulous P van b.

May 27, 2008   Comments Off

P van b

I’m going crazy over this wallpaper from Berlin based company P van b. Who doesn’t need some subliminal erotic imagery in their dining room?




(images courtesy of P van b)

May 27, 2008   Comments Off

Makoto Azuma

I’m starting my memorial day weekend early, but I have a very special post for you before I end my weekend. Makoto Azuma is an artist who I have been following for some time now. I love his work and I am very excited to announce his upcoming exhibition at NRW Forum. Granted it’s in Germany and I won’t be able to attend, it’s still very exciting.
Take a look at some of his past work for a taste of what’s to come!

Shiki Formula (2005) click to enlarge

shiki-formula-landscape-2005.JPG shiki-formula-2005.JPG

Damned Ikebana (2006) click to enlarge

danmed-ikebana2.JPG danmed-ikebana1.JPG danmed-ikebana3.JPG

(all images courtesy of stemandcookie.com)

I first found out about Azuma when I did a translation gig for this article (which provides some good background for those unfamiliar with the artist). I can’t wait to see images from this show!

All right, hope everyone has a memorable memorial day weekend!

May 22, 2008   2 Comments

Oslo Opera House


How would you like to take a dip and then take in an Opera?
Opera House in Oslo, Norway by Snohetta.

click images to enlarge

The Oslo Opera House (Norwegian: Operahuset) is home to The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, and the national opera theatre in Norway. The building lies in Bjørvika, in the center of Oslo. It was built by Statsbygg, a government-run property owner. The architects were the Norwegian firm Snohetta who were also the architects of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (the Library of Alexandria) in Egypt.

The theatre designers were Theatre Projects Consultants based in London, the acoustic designers were BrekkeStrandArup, a joint venture between local consultant Brekke Strand Akustikk and international acousticians Arup Acoustics.

Norwegian construction company Veidekke was awarded one of the largest building contracts of the project. The structure provides a total area of 38,500 m² and includes 1,100 rooms, one of which has 1,350 seats and another has up to 400 seats. The project broke ground in 2004 with a budget of 4.4 billion NOK, but finished ahead of schedule in 2007, and 300 million NOK under budget. At the 1-year anniversary the opera house had logged 1.3 million visitors.

And though the new Oslo Opera House was inspired by the image of two glaciers colliding, the architects at Snøhetta didn’t call on glaciologists to help fine-tune the details. They enlisted real experts in twisted planes: skateboarders. “We spoke to them about surface textures and the areas they prefer,” architect Simon Ewings says. His firm followed up the conversation with a statement in stone.

the following text is from the architects:

“The wave wall”
Opera and ballet are young art forms in Norway. These art forms evolve in an international setting . The Bjørvika peninsula is part of a harbor city, which is historically the meeting point with the rest of the world.. The dividing line between the ground ‘here’ and the water ‘there’ is both a real and a symbolic threshold. This threshold is realized as a large wall on the line of the meeting between land and sea, Norway and the world, art and everyday life. This is the threshold where the public meet the art.

“The Factory”
A detailed brief was developed as a basis for the competition. Snøhetta proposed that the production facilities of the opera house should be realized as a self contained, rationally planned ‘factory’. This factory should be both functional and flexible during the planning phase as well as in later use. This flexibility has proved to be very important during the planning phase: a number of rooms and room groups have been adjusted in collaboration with the end user. These changes have improved the buildings functionality without affecting the architecture.

“The Carpet”
The competition brief stated that the opera house should be of high architectural quality and should be monumental in it’s expression. One idea stood out as a legitimation of this monumentality: The concept of togetherness, joint ownership, easy and open access for all. To achieve a monumentality based on these notions we wished to make the opera accessible in the widest possible sense, by laying out a ‘carpet’ of horizontal and sloping surfaces on top of the building. This carpet has been given an articulated form, related to the cityscape. Monumentality is achieved through horizontal extension and not verticality.

The conceptual basis of the competition, and the final building, is a combination of these three elements – The wave wall, the factory and the carpet.

The Materials: stone, oak timber, metal, glass

The main auditorium
The main auditorium is a classic horseshoe theater built for opera and ballet. It houses approx. 1370 visitors divided between stalls, perterre, and three balconies. Technical spaces occupies the area above balcony 3. The orchestra pit is highly flexible and can be adjusted in height and area with the use of three separate lifts.

The stage curtain
The stage curtain is also an important element in the auditorium. Together with the chandelier and seat fabric it is a contrast to the dark timber. It has been made by the American artist Pae White, following an international competition. She has worked with digital images of aluminum foil which reflects and adopts the colors of the auditorium. These images are then transferred to a computer driven loom.

The exterior of the opera house becomes diffuse as night falls. The large timber ‘wave wall’ in the foyer is illuminated and the building takes on a completely different character. The interior becomes the façade. It shows how interdependent the interior and exterior of the building are.

all images © Snohetta, Nina Reistad, Statsbygg, Erik Berg & Nicolas Buisson

May 22, 2008   7 Comments

Rooftop Gardens @ MOT

There is a very interesting show going on right now at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (through July 6) titled “Rooftop Gardens.” The concept is based around 10 works by 10 artists that deal with the garden as a symbol of how humans and nature interact with each other. One of the unique characteristics of this show is that it features contemporary artists who are currently active, as well as pieces from the Taisho (1912-1926) and Showa (1926-1989) periods that are housed in the Museums archives, rarely coming out into public. Here are some highlights:
(all images are courtesy of MOT unless otherwise noted)

(image courtesy of nicolasbuffe.com)

I “the grotesque garden”
As you come off the escalator on the 3rd floor the show opens with a work by Nicolas Buffe, a French artist currently based out of Tokyo. The word “grotesque” originates from the Italian word grotta, or cave, and refers to the designs that were unearthed by the Romans during the 15th century. You can read more about it HERE, but the chalk drawings essentially illustrate a dark mythical garden, much like the one that the Romans discovered.


II “looking at a garden”
The next piece you encounter as you make your way out of the cave is a Taisho era piece (1916) by Michisei Kawano. This was one of my favorite pieces of the entire show. Michisei was known for his detailed sketches of shrubs and flowers around his home. Starring at the pieces, which, all except for the paper they were drawn on, appear frozen in time, I was reminded of the importance of observation, and how the act of looking helps us establish our place in the surrounding environment.


VII “the recorded garden”
More than halfway through the exhibition I found myself mesmerized by the etchings of Tadayoshi Nakabayashi. For the majority of his career, Nakabayashi has focused on the theme of “decomposition.” Looking at his several “Transposition” print series, I began to think about the ephemeral qualities of nature, and how a garden (nature cultivated by human hands) would not retain its form for very long without us. In that sense, the garden truly is a “record” of our existence.


X “garden in the sky”
The culminating piece of the show is by a relatively young painter named Satoshi Uchiumi (31 yrs old). To simply describe the piece, on one large canvas Uchiumi has attached a myriad of smaller canvases, each possessing its own colors and, from close up, each standing alone as a separate piece of artwork. Entitled “3 thousand worlds,” the work refers to the Buddhist concept of “A great World System of a Billion Worlds.”

A thousand world-systems of four great continents comprise a “small world-system.” A thousand small world-systems comprise a middle-sized world system, and a thousand middle-sized world-systems comprise a great world-system of a billion worlds, or literally a thousand times an thousand times a thousand worlds (Sanskrit: trisahasramahasahasralokadhatu).

All in all I thought it was a very strong show. And very spiritual.
My family was not religious but it must be my western influence, because I often associate a “garden” with the Garden of Eden. To me, the Garden of Eden represents a transition in which Adam and Eve become aware of self-knowledge, and for that they are banished from the sanctuary. What I took away from the show was that we, along with our knowledge and human skill-sets, are responsible for cultivating our own garden.

May 21, 2008   Comments Off

what all language wants to be when it grows up.

Pickle, gloomy, portly, curmudgeon–sounds that loop back on themselves to close the circle of meaning. They’re perfect, in their way. They’re what all language wants to be when it grows up.”

Cute article by Joseph Bottum from the weekly standard

May 20, 2008   Comments Off

Taku Anekawa at Nanzuka Underground

Some nice work by Japanese artist and artistic director Taku Anekawa incorporating painting and embroidery in his usual quirky/bizarre style.
His show at Nanzuka Underground just closed last week.
(image courtesy of Nanzuka Underground)

May 20, 2008   3 Comments