Rediscovering the joy of Japanese art in London

For Tokyo’s A Lighthouse gallery, called Kanata, simplicity can be deep and nuanced, and that’s essentially what defines Japanese art. It can also be interpreted as simplicity is unburdened and attractive.

This is the inspiration of the gallery behind “Simple Forms Revisited”, its presentation at Masterpiece London, which takes place from Thursday to July 6. This is both a tribute and a reinterpretation of a similarly titled exhibition “Simple Forms” from 2014-15 at the Pompidou-Metz Center in northeastern France, and later in 2015 at the Mori Museum of Art in Tokyo.

Seven years later, the success of this exhibition, which is visited by more than 5,000 people every day during its holding in Tokyo, inspired the idea to present Japanese artists exclusively in a rethinking of Masterpiece London. The pursuit of simple forms, which has always been a defining element of Japanese art, is in many ways an open canvas for fresh work and a new audience, according to the gallery.

“Several of our artists were in the original exhibition, and now we are trying to reconsider these simple themes and try to mix them with the aesthetics of the gallery,” said Wahei Aoyama, owner and curator of a lighthouse called Kanata. “This show had a lot of international artists, but we thought it would be more important to present this show in a contemporary Japanese light.

There will be 26 works by 24 Japanese artists in the media of sculpture and painting, including big names such as Sueharu Fukami (porcelain), Niyoko Ikuta (glass), Satoru Ozaki (stainless steel) and Kiyo Hasegawa (Japanese painting Nihonga). ). While the 2014-15 exhibitions featured dozens of artists from around the world working in different backgrounds, Mr. Ayoama, 42, sees this new approach as a way to celebrate how several Japanese artists mix the old and the new when it comes to minimalism.

“For example, Kiyo Hasegawa interprets the technique of Nihonga’s ancient painting in a modern minimalist style,” he said. “She paints only in abstract and minimal ways. This is very unusual. Many contemporary artists use old techniques, but almost always figuratively, which is its origin. ”

Mr. Ayoama, who founded the gallery and is the curator of all its exhibitions, draws inspiration from the previous exhibition, but also from what he said he does not currently appreciate beauty and elegance in its most basic forms. For him, it was a chance to celebrate some silence in the midst of all the noise.

“Contemporary art today is conceptual, so in a sense there is no need for beauty,” said Mr. Aoyama. “We want to present a return to the innocence of what art has encapsulated. This art can stand the test of time. It’s not just a trend or a fad. “

Mr. Aoyama’s own journey into the art world may once have seemed like a transitional fashion. He graduated from New York University in 2001 and graduated from law school at Oxford University in 2003, but a phone call from his father, whom he had not seen since his parents divorced 12 years earlier, changed his life.

His father opened a gallery in Tokyo in 1993 and asked Mr. Aoyama to come and work for him. Mr. Aoyama accepted, but left the job in less than a year. After a brief stint in the corporate world, he opened a lighthouse called Kanata in 2007, then moved it to Tokyo’s affluent Nishi-Azabu neighborhood in 2020. The gallery has sold works to more than 80 museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. , The Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum.

The name of the gallery also has deep roots in Japanese culture. The jug means “beyond” or “far” in Japanese, and the lighthouse symbolizes guidance and illumination in troubled times, which is intertwined with the idea of ​​reinterpretation, Mr Aoyama said. This seemed like the perfect approach for the return of his gallery to Masterpiece London for the first time since 2019: a comeback and rethink.

The presentation of the lighthouse, called Kanata’s Masterpiece London, “talks about how culture is constantly evolving,” Lucy Kitchener, the fair’s chief executive, wrote in an email. “Art is constantly being rediscovered and rethought, and the fair offers an opportunity to explore this in time, discipline and cultures.”

Two of the artists whose work, Far, called Kanata, will show in many ways the Japanese approach to timelessness and elegance. Ms. Hasegawa, 38, is known for her contemporary twist on the ancient Japanese art of painting Nihonga. It works with traditional Iwa-enogu materials, which are mineral pigments, and washi, handmade Japanese paper.

“I depict images that come to mind, and when I stand in front of a Buddhist temple or see a landscape, they are abstract in my mind,” she explained in a telephone interview from Tokyo. “These materials can create a fine texture and add depth to the picture, but they are difficult to process and the preparation requires a lot of contemplation and concentration.”

For Ms. Ikuta, 68, a former jazz pianist, creating glass sculptures is no different than creating music, especially the spontaneity of jazz. This plays into the idea of ​​minimalism, she said, as each note must be open to interpretation or a quick riff.

“In jazz, the improvisation of musicians performing together changes the music,” Ms. Ikuta said, “and although the music eventually ends, the emotions it leaves behind remain. In the same way, part of my inspiration as an artist is the desire to mix the same principles of lyricism and rhythm in my work. ”

She creates her geometric sculptures by laminating small glass strings with adhesives that reveal where the lines overlap and intersect. Its shapes can resemble a nautilus, an eyeball, a lung or a black hole, with delicate lines.

Their facades are similar to cotton candy in their delicacy. Light penetrates from different angles.

Her glass works have been described as ethereal by more than one critic, a feeling that Mr. Aoyama echoed. Simplicity is what defines them as universal and eternal, returning to the approach of celebrating simple forms in an eternal way.

“It performs its musical rhythms in glass and light because it manipulates light with 60 different layers of glass,” he said. “The way she does it is really mesmerizing. You could have shown this to an Eskimo 200 years ago without saying a word, and the work will hit his heart.

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