November 2007, The Japan Society celebrates its 100th Anniversary

November 2007, The Japan Society celebrates its 100th Anniversary
Studio Piece, by Satoru Eguchi, mixed media, 2007

The Japan Society celebrates its 100th Anniversary

The Japan Society is no stranger to recognizing the benefits of the bustling atmosphere and culture of New York City. Celebrating their 100th year, the exhibition Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York, is one of two going up this year to commemorate all that the Society has done to foster education and a relationship between Japanese and American culture. Founded on May 19th, 1907, the Society was a pioneer of Japanese art and refining the relationship many Americans had with Japanese culture. Trouble brewed in the 1920’s and 30’s when, on the brink of war, they chose neutrality and education over advocacy. Due to the war, the Society closed in 1941, and didn’t reopen until 1952 with the help of John D. Rockefeller III and Douglas Overton. The Japan House opened in 1971 to become the official headquarters for the Japan Society and has remained so until today.

Drawn to a cultural center carefully constructed and maintained by its inhabitants, New York has a lot to offer international adventurers and ambitious puddle jumpers. Filled with an intensity as well as solitude that are hard to overlook, it makes for a very interesting place to live. Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York delineates the components and challenges of creating a home environment in this wonderful, yet often intimidating, city.


The exhibition focuses on the themes associated with, and contained within a ‘home’ in New York City: “Building Environments,” “Intimacy and Identity,” “Coping with Loss,” “Meditative Space,” “The Process of Making,” and “Referencing the Landscape.” “Building Environments,” mostly situated within the lobby of the Japan Society building, consists of several large-scale installations that experiment with different concepts and interpretations of the environment in general, in both New York and around the world. “Intimacy and Identity,” often considered a driving creative force, accentuates private spaces and the relationships individuals form with their environment. Hiroyuki Nakamura’s Everybody Loves Remotes and Detachable Penises – And So Does a Cowboy- LANDMINE JUNKIE is Gonna Hit Another Head (2007) sheds light on the comfort of the home. An androgynous painted figure lounges on a sofa within the canvas. Its two legs are detached at the knee and placed to the side. The boots the figure must have been wearing are still firmly secure on the disconnected feet. Just as we take off our shoes upon arrival home, this alien decided the lower half of its legs would be sufficient as well. The nudity of the figure gives way, in this case, to an accentuated security and comfort that only a home could provide.

“Coping with Loss” makes direct reference to the tragedy of 9/11. Shocking New Yorkers and individuals the world over, the event had prolific effects on many artists. Stunned, disempowered, and upset, it was a perfect opportunity to reassess the value of human life. In Hiroshi Sunairi’s White Elephant (2007), a dismembered life-size adolescent elephant created in ceramic, occupies a solitary, black room with its parts scattered across the floor. Sunairi references the Buddhist idolatry of the elephant that personifies the strength of mind and inner piece of the Buddha. There is one of each part of the animal: leg, foot, trunk, tusk, head, belly, and rear end. Seeing this majestic symbol of peace so mechanically cut into pieces emphasizes the nature with which we can ruin the most fundamental yet difficult ideal to achieve – absolute peace and connectivity with internal strength. Upon further examination of this piece, Sunairi not only incites gloom by exposing us to this terribly disfigured symbol of magnificence but also sheds light on the situation at hand by leaving little room for reassembly. Six years later we are still affected. The defeated idol of serenity suggests the practical impossibility of restoring peace because even if we think we have all the correct pieces, this puzzle is not being put back together anytime soon.


Finding a tranquil headspace is always an important component when creating a home, especially in the midst of constant commotion in New York. Japanese culture has a thorough understanding of the need for contemplation. Satoru Eguchi’s STUDIO (2007) is literally that: a replica of his Brooklyn studio made out of cardboard, paper, wood, paint and glue. The stark contrast between the surreal nature of the room and the realism in comparison to his actual studio force us to ponder the differences between life and art. It looks as though he’d just left the room, complete with slippers under his desk and a banana peel gracing his desk. Complete with drawings, paintings and sculpture that would normally be found within his office, this piece also links his art with real time. We see the incorporation of his craft all around him, dolloped around his office for inspiration, decoration, and affirmation of his hard work. Although office drones in Midtown may not agree, Eguchi’s studio provides him with ample room to consider his work, his plan for the day, and whatever else he may have on his mind. He succeeds at encouraging us to decipher and recognize the potential for meditative spaces in our everyday lives.

We are the only ones who can create the spaces that serve as our haven. The “Process of Making” is vital, shedding light on the method rather than the end result of the domestic process. Boxing Painting (2007) by Ushio Shinohara depicts the artist punching a multi-paneled painting of violently vibrant faces, tumultuous strokes and swirls of color with black paint. The aggression and reaction we get out of Shinohara is powerful, although I wish I could see the object of his reaction by substituting the black paint for something transparent. “Referencing the Landscape,” the final component of the six-piece exhibition, illuminates the environment within which all these artists have flourished. Katsuhiro Saiki’s Study for Metropolis (2007) portrays the architectural textures that satiate our vision upon arrival to New York City. The photographic images of windowed buildings flow fluently between three-dimensional and two-dimensional space as they transition from reality to photographs to object when they are pasted on acrylic and paper board in their final form. Saiki capitalizes on his tricky exploitation of perspective to create a wild play on the stereotypically dull windowed buildings we see all over this city.

Thirty-three different individuals housed under six concepts and one exhibition. This tiny chunk of variety helps to furthermore expose the vitality to be found within New York City’s environment, boiling with individuals searching for a retreat that coincides with their ideals. The Japan Society has incorporated these artists into the contemporary scene and confirmed them as valuable ingredients of the New York City melting pot.

Jan Van Woensel, in collaboration with Lynn Maliszewski

Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York
Japan Society Gallery
333 East 47th Street
October 5th, 2007 – January 13th, 2007
whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

Jan Van Woensel

Jan Van Woensel is an independent curator, art critic and musician based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the curatorial advisor of Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer and curator of Studio Philippe Vandenberg. Van Woensel is professor at CCA, dept of Curatorial Practice in San Francisco; Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles; and NYU, dept of Art and Art Professions in New York. Office Jan Van Woensel, a team of assistant curators supervised by Van Woensel, works with international clients such as private collectors, art galleries and artists on exhibitions. Contact: 

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