Tatzu Nishi on the role of public art

If you haven’t been to Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus, I suggest you do so now. It’s not everyday that a pre-eminent symbol of our new world is encased in a pent-house apartment with grand views of central park. And it’s not everyday we are allowed to enter that apartment to ponder the 120-year old sculpture by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo and enjoy an intimacy reserved only for pigeons.

Our contributing editor Masako caught up with Tatzu Nishi earlier this week in New York to talk to him ahead of the closing of his exhibition, which was extended until December 2. Here, we bring you, in English and Japanese, his reflections on public art and its role in contemporary society.


15年前にパブリックアートでアーティスト活動を始めたんだけど,アートシーンの内輪だけのゲームに嫌気がさしたからなんだ。95%以上の普段は現代アートに興味がない人々を無視して、狭い世界で活動しているのがね。だから作品を作るときは,その95%の人が作品に興味を持つように仕掛けも考える。今回の Discovering Columbus の仕掛けは、建造されてから120年たつコロンブス像に始めて近づくことが出来るということなんだ。これだけを目当てに部屋に入る人も多いと思うけど,部屋に入った瞬間その異質な空間に気づかないわけにはいかない。そこがアートへの入り口というわけ。日常からはなれ,常識が壊れ,想像力が活発になり,何かから解放され自由な気分を味わうことが出来るんだ。

(English follows below….)

Photo: Tom Powel Imaging, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY | click to enlarge

Photo: Tom Powel Imaging, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY | click to enlarge

Photo: Tom Powel Imaging, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY | click to enlarge

An important role of art is to take ordinary objects, or point of views, and turn them upside down on their heads. By doing so, things are suddenly not what they first appeared to be. So that’s how art continues to stimulate and broaden our imagination. Perhaps that’s how art teaches us to be free.

Because art reveals another aspect, or perspective, it inevitably becomes something “different” from the norm. The reason NY is able to remain the epicenter of contemporary art is because they have a culture of accepting these differences. It’s a melting pot of different races, customs and religions, all coexisting together. Which then begins to explain why contemporary art isn’t fully accepted in Japan.

When I started creating public art 15 years ago, it was because I was tired of the art scene being a game played only by people in the know. It was made for the art world insiders, and ignored the 95% or so who have no interest in contemporary art. That’s why I try to make art that triggers the interest of that 95%. For Discovering Columbus, the trigger is the fact that this is your only chance to see a statue up-close – something no one’s been able to do since it was built 120 years ago. There must be a whole lot of people who come to this room for that reason alone. But once they come, they’ve already stepped into that anomaly, and they’re forced to confront it. That’s the entrance into art. That’s how we step away from the ordinary, shattering our common sense, and inspiring us to feel free by breaking away from boundaries.

Photo: Liz Ligon, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Photo: Liz Ligon, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

1 Comment

  1. This installation placed right smack in the heart of NY by Tatzu is symbolic of the current phenomenon of major art institutions such as the Whitney, MoMA and the Guggenheim’s upcoming show featuring Contemporary Japanese Art. This significant fact that Japanese Contemporary Art is all the craze in NY should be known to everyone in Japan – they can use a new perspective.

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