Yokohama vs Fukuoka Part II

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After Yokohama, I admit that I was dreading the thought of going to the Fukuoka Asian Triennale (FT5). I should not have doubted them, since they have a very successful track record. The first few held at the art museum in Ohori park were such a success that an entire museum was built to focus on Asian art all the time instead of just every three years. I was not sure if I would even have enough time to go there or not. Then I saw a Facebook post about an installation that was only going to be installed for one day because a typhoon was coming and I knew that I had to make some time to go, even if I only managed to see the one installation.

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Yes, the sculpture was another oversized object, but it was different than what you would expect. IMG_5404It was made of a lightweight, balloon-like material. It would have turned into an origami crane and flown with the wind if it was there when the typhoon came. IMG_5413And it moved! It opened and closed like an actual lotus flower; it glowed at dusk. A raised platform was available as a spot to take pictures from, and you can see people in the photo checking the images they took with their smart phones. Somebody from the museum was there to probably keep an eye on the sculpture but to also hand out flyers and discount coupons. Even a discount of 100 yen is music to my ears! In front of Hakata station near the lotus flower was also a reclining figure by Henry Moore. The Moore sculpture is always there but it was nice to see that it got some extra attention thanks to the triennale.

The Fukuoka Asian Museum (FAM) is unusual in the fact that it is in a shopping mall rather than a stand-alone building. Unlike the pale, reversed sign in Yokohama, the FAM sign was bold and dominant. To the left of one sign, a policeman stood. If you looked carefully, you could see that it was a dummy or somebody’s sculptural version of a policeman. Doesn’t it look like the photo I took of a dummy at a police station in Okinawa or the photo of the security guard on a construction site? No wishy-washy sculpture here. The information counter was draped in what looked like a large, orange caterpillar or snake, and one of the walls was covered with a photograph of Cambodian artist Anida Yoeu Ali as the face of the caterpillar. From that moment, you knew you had to be ready to see just about anything anywhere from in the main gallery to the lounge or restaurant. Even if you walked around the city, you might see a small gallery hosting an event or a visiting artist doing a performance or making an installation outside. Like Yokohama, the organizers also utilized the city and not just the gallery space.

IMG_5425I wandered through the museum and enjoyed almost everything. Giant horses, giant insects made of gloves. Illustrative paintings, photo collages. Some made me smile; some made me pause and think. The number of video pieces was surprising, since most people spend only a few seconds in front of any artwork. How would they get gallery visitors to sit down and invest their time in watching an art video? In a past show of Asian female artists, most of the videos were in viewing booths at the end of the show. People peeked in and walked on by. This time they tried different types of presentations. One video about tsunami victims in southeast Asia was shown on three super-sized panels on the wall of a darkened room that acted as a corridor. The beautiful shots of dark water made it seem like a large painting. Each video had its own room with lots of comfortable chairs. Videos were shown in neighbouring rooms to prevent visitors from skipping them. You had to walk through several large rooms with videos showing in them before you got to rooms with more traditional media. Even without intending to, you were lured in to watch. I have seen a lot of really bad videos, even by some of the best. It takes a lot to make me want to sit down and invest my time in an art video, and I repeatedly did that even though I had to budget my time. Cambodian-American performer Kosal Khiev had learned the art of speech as a performance tool while in an American prison and was spell-bounding in the video by Sugano Masahiro, a Japanese director. He became a performance artist after being deported to Cambodia, which was a foreign country to him since he had grown up in the States. The videos from Bhutan were heartwarming.

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IMG_5442Artwork was everywhere but yet widely spaced, so you didn’t feel crowded or tired from visual overload. IMG_5419Paintings were in the hallways with artist participation requested. The lounge was filled with a colourful sculpture made of colanders, and its large wall featured a new mural. Some of the “people” sitting at a table in the restaurant were not real at all but figures made by one of the artists, and the eating area was surrounded by painted dividers. A large bird served as a mail box, so you could send individual artist personalized messages. Blank postcards and markers were provided on a nearby table. A table near the exit asked for people to share their photographs in a project asking what the art museum means to you.

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FAM always makes an effort to get the public involved and to create educational programs for viewers of all ages. They realize that families need low-cost or free activities that they can do together and that young participants will continue to go to galleries in the future as viewers or artists. Like many museums and galleries, they run an artist-in-residence program, but I think they realize that the artists themselves enjoy interacting with the public in the creation of an artwork,in the display, and at events. FAM has made a lot of progress in getting the larger community of Fukuoka involved rather than limit it to a few people who regularly attend organized lectures or workshops.The curators include male and female artists from many countries; Japan just happens to be one of them. This show felt inclusive rather than exclusive; it did not try to be too intellectual or clever although many of the pieces were just that. FAM provided an enjoyable viewing experience.

What could Yokohama have done differently? Choose their artistic director more carefully and select someone who can work well with a curatorial team rather than depend on their celebrity for news. Consider the overall flow of traffic within the gallery and provide places to rest both visually and physically. LeeUfanWouldn’t it have been fabulous if the Lee Ufan had done an installation similar to the one that had been at the Kaikai Kiki gallery?  It was a long way to trek on a hot day for a minimalist show at the Kaikai Kiki, but such an installation would have been a calming way to use a large space in Yokohama. It would have also been a nice way to show that art could remain even after most familiar attributes were gone, and it would have been good to include a Korean-Japanese artist of such acclaim as a tribute to him, his generation of artists, the idea of immigration or internationalization of Japan through a port city,  and so on. Keep the theme simple and broad so the curators have some flexibility to choose but still keep it focused. A united vision is crucial. Remember to not exclude your viewing audience by being overly intellectual with inside jokes or by trying to be overly cool and hip. Nobody likes it when music geeks insist on playing obscure songs that only they know and love, partially because it makes them special to be in the minority that likes those songs. Yes, education of the general populace is important but art geeks have to remember not to turn away their audience as well.  Let them in the loop. Be generous about sharing insights and passions. When activities are scheduled, promote them before and during the event. Do not just dismiss the people who have gone out of their way to become involved. For example, if they had really wanted to use Landy’s Art Bin, they should have scheduled fewer times when artwork could be added and made a larger commotion at those times. They could have easily added more dates if necessary, but they could not easily subtract. Social media should have been welcomed, so viewers could share their favourites. Yokohama had some wonderful art on display, but those few pleasures were overwhelmed by the gloom and general sense that something was lacking.

Japan has many art  fairs every year. Every small town or region seems to have its own version as a way to increase tourism. Organizers have to be organized with a clear vision and a strong voice, so they do not get lost in the shuffle. For example, the Biwako Biennale is situated near Kyoto and tends to have a more traditional Japanese feel to it but still involves artists from other countries. If they want acclaim in the international art world, information and signage has to be available in English and in Chinese characters that can be understood in both domestic and international visitors.  If the signage and flow are good, visitors do not need volunteer translators who are well intentioned but poorly trained. Sorry, Yokohama! Fukuoka clearly outperformed you and proved that they really are an international city serving as Asia’s hub.

Care to come in from the outside for a nice chat?