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exhibitions
 ARTIFACTS
Artist Mitsuhito Takeuchi is providing a bit of artistic excitement to the drab environment of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku. Takeuchi is best known in Japan for public art pieces, like decking out several trains in Kochi Prefecture, Shikoku, with wild colors and designs. As part of a new project, which is designed to stimulate energy and creativity within the hallowed government halls, the artist has created a large dynamic sculptural painting that delivers a colorful blow to the perfunctory lobby of one of Japan's largest office spaces. The piece is on display in Building 1 of the Metropolitan Government building until September 3. AC

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775: Twelve Travels
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551: Cool & Light: New Spirit in Craft Making
550: Angelo Mangiarotti: Un Percorso
549: Endo Akiko: Poetry of an Everlasting Life
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504: Ino Tadataka and Old Maps of Japan/Fusuma Paintings of Jukoin
503: Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum
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500: Taro Shinoda: Helicopter 1

Issues 499-
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By Andrew Conti

Cool & Light: New Spirit in Craft Making

The Museum of Modern Art surveys 11 cutting-edge artisans

Etsuko Tashima, Cornucopia 03-1, casted glass and clay, 2003

In the contemporary art world, artisans who focus on materials and objects are generally cast aside into the common but lesser-known world of craft. Here the impassioned theories and concepts that thrive in art are given second billing to a more fundamental love for materials and their inherent sensual possibilities. In the craft world, the object is always the subject.

Yet the craft maker exists in a state of uncertain struggle for artistic relevance. In an age where designers have become household names and modern production methods have put the ceramic cup just ¥100 away, the significance of the artisan has been cast into a mode of perpetual doubt.

As if in confirmation of crafts’ prevailing ambiguity, the 80-plus pieces on display in “Cool & Light: New Spirit in Craft Making” at the Museum of Modern Art’s Craft Gallery are connected in the Japanese exhibition title under the word obje. This is a designation for craft works that are no longer created for a specific purpose, but which don’t fulfill the established requisites of sculpture.

That being said, several of the works on display do lean toward familiar ideas of sculpture. Toshimi Imura’s Growing (2003-04) is a series of splendidly twisted obsidian burnt-tree-like masses resting gracefully on their bases as though musical instruments from another world. Etsuko Tashima’s Cornucopia (2002-04) series consists of pastel creatures of layered glass and ceramics merging flower and animal, petal and bone, in a manner reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings.

Mayumi Shimizu, Plates, porcelain, 2003-04

Other works exist in a more openly ambiguous state between the functional and simply formal, yet they’re overwhelming through their sheer material beauty. Mayumi Shimizu’s cups and plates, along with the large vases and vessels of Dante Marioni, are instantly recognizable items crafted with exquisite skill. Shimizu hand-paints light pastel patterns on small dishes seemingly carved from sugar or eggshells, while Marioni’s work recalls large-scale Greek vessels elongated and finished with an immaculately colored glass gleam. These artists are focused on the specific, and through their superb mastery of material they elevate traditional craft objects to a peak of highly sophisticated refinement.

A few skillfully crafted pieces are not immediately familiar, but they’re equally intriguing in their curious construction. Yoshihiko Takahashi’s Flower Like (2004) is a seductively colored collection of glass vessels protruding with a number of indeterminate forms. The occasional handle, spout, or lid emerges, but the item never becomes a whole one could easily identify.

Elsewhere, some objects flail in their ambiguity and tend toward an unfocused decadence. Hideko Takamizawa’s Glass Plants (2003-04) and Bodil Mantz’s Mondrian-esque Cylinder (2003) are somewhat uninspired reminders of this.
Despite these few anomalies, much of the show captivates through sheen, texture, and the materials’ innate power to charm the eye. “Cool & Light” is undoubtedly an exhibition of the highest order in the arts of craft making. One is only left to consider if such devotion to surfaces and materials over substantive thoughtfulness is any more powerful an experience than an afternoon of window-shopping in Ginza.

Until Dec 5, ¥650 (adults), ¥350 (students), children free. 3-1 Kitanomaru Park, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-5777-8600. Open Tue-Sun 10am-5pm. Nearest stn: Tozai line, Takebashi stn, exit 1B. www.momat.go.jp

Credits: Photos courtesy of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo