Rediscover the Joy of Japanese Art in London


For Tokyo-based gallery A Lighthouse Called Kanata, simplicity can be profound and nuanced, and it is, in essence, what defines Japanese art. It can also be reinterpreted, as the simplicity is clean and welcoming.

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

Seven years later, the success of this exhibition, which attracted more than 5,000 people each day during its run in Tokyo, inspired the idea of ​​presenting Japanese artists exclusively in a reimagining for Masterpiece London. The search for simple forms, which has always been a defining element of Japanese art, is in many ways an open canvas for new works and new audiences, the gallery said.

“Many of our artists were in the original show, and now we’re trying to revisit those simple themes and try to blend them with the aesthetics of the gallery,” said Wahei Aoyama, owner and curator of a lighthouse called Kanata. “This show had many international performers, but we thought it would be more vital to portray this show in a contemporary Japanese light.”

Twenty-six pieces by 24 Japanese artists in the fields of sculpture and painting will be presented, including big names such as Sueharu Fukami (porcelain), Niyoko Ikuta (glass), Satoru Ozaki (stainless steel) and Kiyo Hasegawa ( Japanese painting Nihonga). ). While the 2014-2015 exhibitions featured dozens of artists from around the world working in a variety of mediums, Aoyama, 42, sees this new approach as a way to celebrate the way several Japanese artists blend old and new. new to minimalism.

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

Mr. Aoyama, who founded the gallery and curates all of its exhibitions, drew inspiration from the previous exhibition, but also from what he said was a current lack of appreciation for beauty and elegance in the most basic forms. For him, it was a chance to celebrate a kind of calm amidst all the noise.

“Contemporary art these days is conceptual, so there’s no need for beauty, in a sense,” Mr. Aoyama said. “We want to represent a return to the innocence of what art used to encapsulate. 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 might once have seemed like a passing fad. He graduated from New York University in 2001 and earned a law degree from Oxford University in 2003, but a phone call from his father, whom he hadn’t seen since his parents’ divorce. parents 12 years earlier, changed his life.

His father had opened a gallery in Tokyo in 1993 and asked Mr. Aoyama to come and work for him. Mr. Aoyama agreed, but left the post after 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 over 80 museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum.

The gallery’s name also has deep roots in Japanese culture. Kanata means “beyond” or “far” in Japanese, and the lighthouse symbolizes guidance and enlightenment in troubled times, which ties in with the idea of ​​reinterpretation, Aoyama said. It seemed like the perfect approach for her gallery’s return to Masterpiece London for the first time since 2019: a return and a reinvention.

A beacon called Kanata’s Masterpiece London presentation “shows how the culture is constantly changing,” Lucie Kitchener, the fair’s general manager, wrote in an email. “Art is continually rediscovered and reinvented, and the fair offers an opportunity to explore this across time, discipline and cultures.”

Two of the artists whose work A Lighthouse Called Kanata will be featured embody in many ways the Japanese approach to timelessness and elegance. Ms. Hasegawa, 38, is known for her contemporary take on the ancient Japanese art of Nihonga painting. She works with traditional Iwa-enogu materials, which are mineral pigments, and washi, Japanese handmade paper.

“I represent images that come to my mind, and when I face a Buddhist temple or see a landscape, they are abstract in my mind,” she explained in a phone interview from Tokyo. “These materials can produce subtle texture and add depth to a painting, but they are difficult to handle and preparation requires a great deal of thought and concentration.”

For Ms. Ikuta, 68, a former jazz pianist, creating glass sculptures is reminiscent of musical creation, especially the spontaneity of jazz. It plays into the idea of ​​minimalism, she said, because every note should be open to interpretation or a quick riff.

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

She creates her geometric sculptures by laminating tiny strings of glass with adhesives that expose where the lines overlap and intersect. Its shapes can resemble a nautilus, an eyeball, lungs, or a black hole, with delicate lines swirling around.

Their facades resemble cotton candy in their delicacy. The light shines from different angles.

His glass works have been described as ethereal by more than one critic, a sentiment Mr. Aoyama echoed. Simplicity is what defines them as universal and timeless, reminiscent of the approach of celebrating simple forms in a timeless way.

“She performs her musical rhythms in glass and light because she manipulates light with 60 different layers of glass,” he said. “The way she does it is really fascinating. You could show this to an Eskimo 200 years ago without saying a single word, and the work would strike his heart.

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