Innocence, Worship & Prestige by Satoru Nagoya
In the last column I mentioned Tokyo art promotersí "expensive"
overseas tours that, in return, often usher in too generous work
opportunities in Japan for foreign artists or curators. The results of
the latest bout of such tours are now seen in town.
At the Watari-um museum in Jingumae, French artist Fabrice Hybert, whose
work in the French pavilion won the Country Prize in last yearís 47th
Venice Biennial, is exhibiting in a group show titled "To the Living
Room." Also included is Christine Hill, an American artist who took part
in the Documenta X exhibition in Kassel, Germany last year to
considerable attention. Watari-umís news release for the show underlines
the presence of both artists in major European art events, which is a
typical pattern of this museum how it illuminates its exhibitions. As
this column is not intended for reviews, I wonít discuss the works here.
(I just point out that Hybert and Hill use video as part of their
respective works.) But I wonder if, in this case, Watari-umís nice
single-ticket-for-multiple-entry system can encourage the viewer to come
back and see the works again, despite the showy billboard featuring the
Meanwhile, at the Spiral Garden in Minami Aoyama, video works by South
African artist William Kentridge, Swiss Pipilotti Rist and others are on
display in a group show called "Shoot at the Chaos - Age of Electronic
Image." Here again, Kentridge and Rist are artists who gained renown
already at last yearís Documenta and Venice exhibitions, where curators
of Watari-um and Spiral were seen at the opening. Apparently they were
simple enough to believe what they experienced in Europe was of the
latest fashion in world art. Of course, the latest fashion is not always
significant. Nor does it mean that Tokyo art fans can see work by the
worldís rising artists immediately. Kentridge was already a much-touted
artist at the 1996 Sydney Biennial, and Rist was an artist representing
Switzerland at the 1994 Sao Paulo Biennial. But thatís no drawback since
many curious and docile Japanese art fans will anyhow hail big-name
foreign artists from big Western art events.
It wonít be fair to blame the Japanese curators (and fans) only, for
their innocent worship of prestige. Western curators too, when they are
to select Japanese artists for their exhibitions, seem to rely on a
handful of art consultants in Japan who are taken prestigious. At least
the works of Kentridge and Rist are captivating in some way. If Tokyo
exhibition-goers are careful not to get hypnotized in front of the video
monitors at Watari-um or Spiral, they might even discover, that they
have more critical eyes than the curators.
Satoru Nagoya is a free-lance art journalist living in Tokyo.