The Japan Times, Jan. 26, 2006
Tokyo Gallery: Liu Zheng shows 'Gaudy Art' embroidery
By MONTY DiPIETRO
Several of my recent columns have dealt with new art spaces and centers
in Tokyo. Today I want to wrap that up with a look at a gallery that has
shunned the relocation trend by remaining in the city's original
contemporary art district -- Ginza.
[image] Liu Zheng with his "RMB 50 Yuan"
Twelve years ago, Ginza was the start and finish point for any Tokyo
gallery tour -- almost all the best spaces were there. But back then the
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and the Mori Art Museum didn't exist.
Now, galleries in Kiyosumi and Roppongi cluster round those big spaces.
It makes sense, as they can harvest the bling of a major exhibition by
showing and selling a participating artist.
But Ginza is still very much on the art map. It has some of the only
worthwhile rental spaces for exhibitions, such as Gallery K, a respected
corporate gallery in Shiseido, and everal smallish but excellent
commercial spaces, such as the Koyanagi and the Nakamura -- and the one
with the name that makes it clear it was there first: the Tokyo Gallery.
Established in 1950, the Tokyo combines a family-run atmosphere and a
proud history of avant-garde activities. This is exemplified in their
interest in performance art, their support of groups such as Mono-ha,
and their presention of emerging Korean artists at a time when Pan-Asian
had yet to become trendy. Last year, the gallery moved down the street
to a new space that is almost exactly the same size, at about 50 sq. meters.
Says the gallery's Yukihito Tabata, "For us, Ginza is an area in which
new and old can cross over, a place that can combine the trends and
traditions. We believe philosophy and action correspond here; Ginza just
feels like home."
The current show at the Tokyo features new and recent selections from
Liu Zheng, a 33-year-old Beijing-based artist best known for a series,
spanning almost a decade now, of images built by stringing together
acrylic beads. This is his first solo show in Japan.
The theme is money -- eight of the 10 works are large representations of
currency notes. Some are fairly accurate replicas of Chinese and
American bills, except for the subtle substitution of the artist's name
for the treasurer's and the changing of serial numbers to the date of
the work. Other bills are outright fabrications, the design made up by
the artist. One has been rather cleverly treated -- an American $100
bill features a portrait of Mao Zedong in place of Benjamin Franklin,
and, under the seal of the Federal Reserve, the words "Made in China."
[image] Liu Zheng's "Imitation Calendar"
The works show a brash and bold use of color, composition and materials
-- appropriate for Zheng's so-called "Gaudy Art" movement. The beads are
stitched onto traditional Chinese fabric, and while these are obviously
not the product of a master embroiderer, the whole is greater than the
sum of the parts. As far as capitalism-lampooning contemporary Chinese
art is concerned, Zheng is top of the class with a playful style that
The appeal of the works is best evidenced in the prices -- the pieces
here (all one-offs) are set at $8,000 to $30,000.
The Tokyo Gallery says that some 70 percent of its sales are
international, and the gallery has intensified its activities in Asia
with its Beijing Tokyo Art Project (BTAP), a 300-sq.-meter space that
opened two years ago in central Beijing. Business has been good -- most
buyers are Westerners, while most artists shown are Chinese or Korean.
The gallery has had no problems with censorship and has become a
favorite drop-in spot for art students.
And so, even as the Tokyo Gallery sticks with a small space in Ginza, it
is expanding internationally in ways that few Japanese galleries would
However, with an eye on completing the circle between artists,
gallerists and collectors, Tokyo Gallery is currently looking into
opening a space in New York to promote Chinese artists. It's ambitious,
especially as some critics have suggested that interest in Chinese
contemporary may have played out. But the Tokyo remains upbeat.
"Without the influence of China and Korea, Japanese culture would never
have developed as it did, and we initially went into China to connect
with our origins," says Tabata. "History is very important, but so is
the future. Soon, Beijing will be the center of Asia, both culturally
and economically. We are also there because we have a desire to find,
develop and introduce quality artists."
Liu Zheng is showing till Feb. 10 at the Tokyo Gallery, 7F, 8-10-5
Ginza; open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (till 5 p.m. on Saturday, closed Sunday); for
more information, call (03) 3571-1808.
with kind regards,
Matthias Arnold (Art-Eastasia list)
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