Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Exhibition: Art of the Samurai

October 20, 2009

Art of the Samurai:  Japanese Art and Armor, 1156-1868, opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday has been described as the most significant exhibition of Samurai objects in the world. It includes Samurai swords, armor, elaborate saddles, textiles and a range of other related items drawn from both museum and private collections across Japan.  The opening of this exhibition represents the culmination of 10 years of work by the exhibition’s primary curator.

Art of the Samurai can be viewed in two ways.  First, in the context of a historic cultural tradition of Japan, to reveal the meaning of Samurai, and to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of the objects.  On the other hand, as a whole, the exhibition might also be viewed in terms of the influence that the stories and objects of the Samurai have had upon American culture, to consider whether these ideas are consistent with the original perspective, and to consider what this adoption may signify to Americans.

That said, for many visitors, the focus will likely be upon the armor, and especially, the variety of headpieces.  Upon viewing some of the elaborate kabuto, or helmets, in the exhibition, it is not difficult to see how these objects have influenced American media and pop culture, from the well-known inspiration for the Darth Vader character, to the recent proliferation of Samurai theme cartoon programs.  (Not to mention the media imported from Japan itself). The most elaborate of the kabuto are fascinating for their meticulous crafting, and aesthetic expression, as well as their underlying concept.  In form they range from the huge crescent shaped horns of a black lacquer “vader” style helmet, to those adorned with enormous metal insects.  Considering a clamshell-eared helmet one viewer surmised that it was “the original batman.”  Maybe.  In any case, for many American viewers, the kabuto are likely to be the stars of the show.

Not to be overlooked, however, are the blades.  Most are displayed as a pure aesthetic form, floating on plexi-glass supports and unattached to any mountings.  To the untutored, as a group they seem at first to be somewhat indistinguishable, austere objects.  However, their distinct characteristics and the fine aspects of the sword maker’s art can be appreciated with a little effort. By following the storyline of the exhibition layout, an evolution of form is revealed–details such as the variations of a curve and subtle wave patterns on the edge of a blade become points of interest.  Each blade reveals a distinct personality.

Aside from the kabuto and blades, the central galleries contain several full suits of Samurai armor.  The detailed construction of the pieces are quite interesting, and I encourage visitors to look at the back as well as the front.  There on the reverse side one can examine the elaborate knots and fastenings that held the armor onto the body, as well as the delicate metal hardware elements.

Most of the objects in the exhibition are denoted as significant cultural properties or national treasures and have never been seen together as a group, even in Japan.  As such, the opportunity to see this art of the Samurai should not be missed.  Also, note that some of the more fragile pieces will be rotated out and replaced with alternate objects in early December.

Art of the Samurai:  Japanese Art and Armor, 1156-1868

October 21 – January 10, 2010

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Update:  Since the exhibition rotation occurred, it appears that none of the objects pictured above remain at the Met.  Quite a few others have also been replaced with alternatives, including the crescent-horned kabuto mentioned above.

Concept Lost: Tokyo Capsule Building to Be Demolished

July 7, 2009

The landmark Nakagin Capsule Tower is on the block for destruction. The iconic Tokyo structure, perhaps the first building designed with “green” in mind, has been slated to be torn down for some years and the date for demolition is apparently nearing.


The building, despite is relatively recent construction, marks an important point in the course of modern culture and architectural theory. It can also be considered as a physical commentary on the function (and size of) Tokyo living spaces.

The building was constructed in the early 1970s by Kisho Kurokawa and consists of two core structures with pre-fab living modules that were intended to be replaced over time, updating the structure and allow for reconfiguration. Kurokawa said that his intent was to design the building as “an example of sustainable architecture” and intended for it to last 200 years.  However, no reconfiguration or replacement was ever accomplished.

Over the past decades the building has fallen into disrepair and concerns about asbestos have been raised by residents.  Kurokawa linked the maintenance problem to the ownership of the building and the fact that the 140 people presently living there are not the original residents.  He postulated that the newer residents, perhaps, have less attachment to the original concept of the building and so, do not have such a desire to preserve it. Prior to Kurokawa’s death in 2007, he had hoped to gain personal ownership of the building.

In the NY Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff describes the apparently imminent loss of the Nakagin Towers as based in a kind of bureauocratic apathy which places property rights above cultural and historic importance.  And, he says, with such destructions as this, “the cultural loss will be tremendous.”

Future Vision Banished to the Past/Nicolai Ouroussoff

2007 interview with architect Kisho Kurokawa / Tokyo Art Beat

Companion video of interview/youtube

Kurokawa’s Capsule Tower to Be Razed/Architectural Record(2007)

International blog watch: Tokyo Source

February 17, 2009

Tokyo Source is a Japanese web magazine that features interviews, reports on event happenings, creative projects and an evolving cultural perspective.  It can be  described as more than an emerging online presence, but rather, it presents the focus of a social movement; a network to change the world–with a refreshing and sustainable perspective.  Tokyo Source introduces evocative artists/creators from artistic and social fields in the form of its trademark extended interviews, exhibitions, projects, and talk media.   The blog  feature is a distinctive resource for information on the art and creative scene in Japan and for a contrasting perspective on topical social/cultural issues.  It is well worth a visit by anyone with an interest in the Japanese art scene and local contemporary culture.  

The Tokyo Source group published a first book of interviews, これからを面白くしそうな31人に行った (31 were to be interesting to see the future) by Pie Books last summer and is available on Amazon JP

The Tokyo Source website and blog are written in Japanese, with a rough English translation available via the Google search/translator (just cut and paste page url into the Google search box).