Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Going Dotty

At the time I graduated from college I couldn't imagine traveling somewhere without going to their art museum.  One of my first trips into Seoul during my first Korean sojourn was to see an exhibition of Marc Chagall at Seoul Museum of Art.  This hasn't been a constant, though...in spite of a lot of recent art posts, I think I only went to one art show when I lived in Shanghai, and none as far as I can recall in the Middle East.  Strangely enough, it wasn't until I started teaching high schoolers again that I started to prioritize getting to art galleries again.  But I'm back now, more or less, and have been halfway considering starting a second blog, which would focus on my art and the art I see here.  Since it hasn't happened yet, here we art.

My first day out, I came across Kanazawa's art museum.  I toyed with the idea of seeing it, and made it as far as the entrance hall, but there was a crazy long line.  I'm too lazy at the moment to look back and see if I've told you this before, but I definitely have some lingering culture shock about going to museums here.  There were times in the Zanabazar or UB's Modern Art Gallery that I was the only patron.  I feel like that would never happen here.  The times I've been to a major exhibition I've felt kind of like it's a contact sport.  When I looked at the long line at the museum in Kanazawa, I decided I would live to see another day, and walked away.

I mean, c'mon.  I live in Yokohama, and Tokyo's a short ride away.  What am I supposed to see out in the styx that I can't see here?

The answer to that is, of course, Kusama Yayoi.  Even if you don't know her name, there's a pretty good chance you've seen one of her iconic pumpkins (especially if you were reading my blog six months ago).  Kusama actually has a museum here, but I lack the patience, perseverance, and timing to get tickets.  So when I was looking for what else to see in Matsumoto besides the black castle, and I found out their Museum of Art was in the middle of a huge exhibition, I decided I had to go.

I have to admit in the last few years I've dialed down my phallic tourism (mostly because I've run out of places to go).  One of the reasons I was so keen to see an exhibition of Kusama's was because I knew she had created at least one of her "infinity room" installations filled with phallic soft sculptures, and given my weird niche in the travel blog market, I sort of had to see one, and this time luck was with me!

Another thing that I really admire about Kusama is that her work stands as a testimony of the power of art.  I'm not going to go too deep into her origin story, but she suffered abuse as a child as well as battling mental illness most of her life.  Art was the thing that gave her the power to be strong.
And what amazing art!  Usually I don't really dig abstract art, but there is something really playful and energetic about her paintings that just draws you in.  Like the Kanazawa museum, there was a line up for tickets, but rather than turning away I just wondered if the other patrons in line with me knew, if they understood what she'd been through, and how fantastic it was she has been able to
turn her suffering into such joyful artworks...or if they just wanted to see the show because she was famous.
The crowds were one of two things that marred the experience for me.  The other was that I would have liked to sit down and work in my sketchbook.  When I was a student teacher, I remember complaining to my mentor, Lulu, that the Nelson-Atkins only allowed you to use a soft-leaded, graphite pencil in the museum.  We both found this absurd - after all, the Louvre will go so far as to let you set up your easel and oil paint on the premises.  I found myself thinking about this after both of the art museums told me all I could use was a pencil.  I thought it was particularly ridiculous at the Glass Museum in Toyama, since the works technically couldn't be damaged by the pens or watercolors that I carry around when I'm out adventuring.
As it turns out, though, sometimes inspiration strikes you when you least expect it.  Lots of places had koinobori up in the weeks leading to Children's Day, but it wasn't until I saw them flying in rows over a stream in Matsumoto that I was able to see how cool a subject they could make as one of my gou-ashi collage paintings. 
And once I got back to Tokyo, that meant that I was going to have to visit the National Art Center.  On the train I'd seen the poster for Koinobori Now, their show that featured, I dunno, hundreds, maybe, of stylized windsocks, each made of a different fabric.  They were hanging from the ceiling of a huge room, and although they asked you not to touch them, you could walk between them, and even sit down on the bean bags clustered throughout the room.  After walking through the stream of carp to the back where they had a paper craft set up, I came back and sat down on one.  I looked up at the ceiling, where a sheer fabric was attached, rippling in the breeze from a fan, illuminated by lights that gave the impression of light dancing off the surface of the water.  As I watched I felt the most relaxed I'd been all week - a great way to finish my Golden Week.

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