Saturday, December 10, 2016

“Art vs. Retail”

The great thing about the SBS-268 Building is there are a mix of different things in the building’s many rooms.  But this is also the source of some serious friction and unpleasant exchanges.  There are different aspects to this (including offices that don’t appreciate strangers wandering around in the building), but the most serious conflicts are between art galleries and retail shops.

The retail shops are the main cause of the conflicts, as they set up shop in the building knowing full well that the building has more galleries than retail spaces, and that the galleries attract a lot of people who are just looking at art, and only infrequently buying it.  And yet, when people who are wandering around looking at art wander into their shops - which are not overly different (in appearance) from the art spaces - and look without buying, the owners of the retail shops get all bent out of shape.

Generally, what happens is an art seeker will wander into a new retail shop (that - remember - looks nearly identical to the neighboring art spaces) and start looking around.  The retail shop owner will be helpful and answer questions about the things for sale, etc., but if the person doesn’t shell out some cash for something in short order, the polite speech of the shop owner turns cold and an almost threatening atmosphere begins to develop in the room (these are all small shops within small rooms, incidentally).

So an art-seeker who is paying attention soon realizes: “Ah... this isn’t an art space, it’s a shell-out-some-cash-or-get-out space! - Best to avoid this place like the bubonic plague...”, and henceforth never set foot into that space again.

That’s the backdrop - I had one such experience with a new shop in the building, in Room-2060.  It started pleasantly enough.  I noticed a new... something (you never quite know what people are doing with their spaces in this building until you go in and talk with them) and so I walked in and began looking around.  The shop owner said hello and I began talking with him.  By his overuse of polite speech, I should have known sooner that he was evil, but (unfortunately) I didn’t pick up on that right away.  Still, I sensed it was a throw-some-cash-at-the-owner-or-stay-away kind of place, so I avoided it after that... until one day last week when a friendly acquaintance from an art gallery in another part of the building mentioned an interesting display in Room-2060.

I responded: “Room-2060?  That’s an emit-cash-now-now-now-or-disappear place!  I think it’s better not to go there...”, but my friend insisted we go there and kind of dragged me along.  I walked in with my friend and it started off pleasantly, but soon degenerated.  We didn’t throw cash at the guy within 60 seconds of entering the shop, and then the initially overly polite guy suddenly got rude and started ranting about a number of things....  He ranted about the gallery next to him: “They hammer on the wall!  And there’s a smell of alcohol!”

Now you might be thinking “’Hammer on the wall’?  Well of course the guy is angry!  I would be too!”, but it’s a *gallery* and they use small nails to hold pictures on the wall.  And galleries typically have opening parties where wine, etc. is provided....

Getting back to Mr. Evil though.  He continued talking in rude language and in a barely suppressed rage about someone who had come into the shop and stolen something.  I mean... all these things had nothing whatsoever to do with the two people he was suddenly ranting to, but I guess a Crazy and Evil person doesn’t need a *reason* to do something....

Anyway - it was a profoundly unpleasant experience.  Hopefully I’ll never see that evil man again.  Certainly I plan to never set foot in his shop again, and I will certainly never buy anything from that package of Evil hiding behind a thin veneer of overly polite language.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Discussion Tightrope - Room-2358"

This gallery is a friendly place where lonely individuals wander in and then tend to linger - striking up conversations with one of the gallery owners.  Conversations tend to go/get long, and perceptive visitors start to sense a rising tension in whichever owner they are talking with/to.  It's a difficult dance gallery owners (and visitors, for that matter) have - on the one hand you want to be friendly, but on the other, you need to not spend too much time with one person.

For the rental galleries in particular, it's difficult for the owner, since they're never sure which of the people they're talking to might be future customers - wanting to rent the space for a week-long exhibition.

On the dealer end of the spectrum (not this gallery!), they tend to be Very Blunt and even seem to enjoy being Very Rude - a snobbery thing I suppose - like a tip-hungry food server licking the shoes of customers they expect to pay them a large tip, and basically spitting on customers they judge to not be high tippers (Yeah, you got that right - I'm not a big fan of snobby galleries or restaurants - in fact, I think the tipping system in restaurants in most countries is downright evil).


"Hot Florescent Room-2062"

There have been many interesting exhibitions at this gallery - but it tends to be about 35C (in the winter) and has convenience store style over-lighting with banks of (too many) florescent lights.  As one of the artists exhibiting there explained to me once, the idea is that people's homes are similarly over-lit with florescent lighting, so it's best(?) to mimic that in the gallery so they're not surprised to see a picture they buy under one kind of lighting look different when it is later (after purchasing) put under different lighting in the customer's home.  Maybe the gallery owner will change their mind with the increasing number of people who are opting for yellow-tinted LED lighting (mimicking incandescent lighting) in their homes....


Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Sampling Sake in Room-2268"

Room-2268 has proven to be one of the most variable rooms, as in variability of experiences and exhibitions.  It comes with its own set of artists, as many of the galleries do, and the gallery owner seems to be well-networked, which is also not unusual, but within gallery artist networking, it seems the connections reach a little further than the other gallery owners I know.  So it's a bit hard to categorize, but here's one not untypical experience.

I walk into the gallery and see that it's a ceramics exhibition.  After looking around a little, the artist invites me to sit down and try some sake in one of his handmade (by him) sake cups, which I do, and before you know it, he's got me comparing the different taste of the same type of sake (from the same bottle) via differently shaped sake cups.  Either the shape of the cups really does have an effect (different degree of surface area interacting with the air?) and/or the artist's power of suggestion was strong, but in an A-B-A-B-A-B comparison (cone cup in each hand), there really did seem to be a difference.  Result?  I ended up buying one, and the artist gave me a differently-shaped one for free, saying the exhibition was almost over, so he wouldn't be needing the box of sample cups any longer.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Room-2260 and 2068"

All spaces have some kind of atmosphere - typically it's not readily apparent, but if you stop and take a good look/listen/feel to a room, usually you will perceive something - and sometimes a lot.  I must mention this, because the SBS-268 Building is more atmospheric than most, and has a great diversity of atmosphere's in its various rooms.

And so we come back to Room-2260 - a gallery whose owner runs it with a combination of professionalism and artistic sense.  Each week... well, *most* weeks, there's a different exhibition there, although the owner has been busy lately with other things, and has been taking more time away from the time demands of 2260.

Art exhibitions is in Tokyo usually last for six days, opening on Monday, and closing on Saturday.  A handful of galleries go from Thursday to Tuesday though, and the art world being the art world, there are nearly infinite variations on the exact timing of exhibitions as well as their length.  I've seen art exhibitions in Tokyo that were for from one day to thirty, and for various amounts of time (per day), although from 11:00 a.m. Until 7:00 p.m. Is the most common.

Hmm... so much general background!  Well, we'll get rolling with specific incidents as we go!  Until then, allow me to introduce another room - Room-2068, which requires some more general background information.

Group exhibitions.  Sooner or later, most galleries (not the art dealers masquerading as galleries, but the real art galleries) have a certain amount of group exhibitions, from once-in-a-blue-moon to nearly every single exhibition.  Room-2068 also has a mix of single-artist and group exhibitions, and during one of my early visits to the SBS-268 Building, I was invited into Room 2068 during a group exhibition, and while looking over the art, one of the artists and the gallery owner invited me to sit down and have a drink with them (in the gallery).  It was unexpected (newcomer to the gallery scene that I was), but welcome, so I accepted the offer, and we had a good time talking about various things, with - naturally - art being the central theme.

After having a good time in the gallery for... was it one hour? Two? Three?  Time is timeless in that building, making it hard to say how long it was, but after a while, the artist invited the owner and I to come with her to a club on the Shinbashi side of Ginza.  It sounded like fun, so off we went, and a good time was had by all - ho-ho!

Don't get your imagination too worked up though - we had a good time *talking*, just talking.  But the backdrop to an evening out with people is a vital part of the overall picture, and there's a kind of historical magic to the back streets of Ginza - under constant threat and constantly diminishing via the Godzilla construction monster (GCM), but still there, provided you know where to go.

It's a real concern though - atmospheric areas that get that way over decades and are much beloved by the inhabitants of the city, are falling to the GCI at an alarming/dismaying pace, typically replaced with sealed-box recirculating (read stale) air towers full of soulless "brand" items marketed at high prices.  Nothing - nothing is more important than short-term profits it seems.

But I digress... I suppose I'm over-stating my case a little.  Friends from Europe that I take around Tokyo are invariably not impressed with any old structure in Japan not made of wood, and typically say that they envy Tokyo's constant renewal - saying that buildings in the cities of Europe are overprotected.

But this isn't Europe, this is Tokyo, and it seems to many residents of this megacity that *some* post-Edo-era, pre-2014 buildings of interest should be preserved.  One reason being contrast.  An entire city of gleaming monotonous newness would be a boring, shallow place.  Digressing again...  Okay - enough for today then!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

"There's a Dark Side to Everything, Even Art"

I well remember the first time I came upon the SBS-268 Building.  The year was, if I'm not mistaken, 2006 (or possibly 2007, but I think 2006), and I had been out taking pictures - making use of the last light of a late June day - when I noticed a building that seemed a little different from its neighbors.  I stopped, put my camera down, and was pondering the building in a contemplative way, when a group of people walked by, and one of them said something to the effect of "Oh - there's that building that was on TV"....

That's not necessarily of much meaning, since a lot of what ends up on TV is basically just garbage, but still, it seemed to indicate a higher probability of *something* interesting being inside the building, so I crossed the street and took a closer look.  Noting that (among other things) there were art galleries in the building, I decided to walk in and have a look at the building.  My intent was mainly to see the inside of the building, with the art galleries providing an excuse to be wandering around inside, but after a couple of friendly artists in different galleries invited me in to see their exhibitions, I unwittingly took my first step into a... habit/hobby/tendency/something of visiting art galleries to see exhibitions.

The thing is - I've always spent my time taking pictures and never made the effort and/ or found the time to have a look at other people's art.  But once I started, I quickly realized that I quite enjoyed looking at art exhibitions, and have regularly visited several art galleries every week ever since then.  Initially, I noticed that I enjoyed seeing any kind of art exhibition save photography, with the reason for that exception being that I couldn't look at photographic exhibitions without a range of competitive/critical thoughts/feelings arising.  Paintings, on the other hand, were something I don't (and basically can't) do myself, so I just enjoyed looking at everything in a non-critical way.

That ignorance-is-bliss mode lasted for quite a while - around... five years I think it was.  Since then, gradually, the habit of experiencing several art exhibitions every week for several years has provided somewhat of an education, and increasingly, particularly lately, a critical eye.  And so, while I still enjoy seeing art exhibitions every week, it's not as fun as it used to be, because I've seen/experienced too much and the years of innocence are (almost completely) gone.

Sometimes I think I could become an art critic, but I'm not *that* knowledgeable and I decided at the outset that I would not criticize people's art.  I figured "If someone has attempted to make something beautiful, it's not for me to criticize the result", which I'm holding to, although I now understand that some of the things in art exhibitions are not the result of someone trying to make something beautiful, but are put there for other reasons, but let's not go there.  Suffice it to say that there's a dark side to everything - including the art world.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

"Going Off-Script: 'No offense, but...'"

Having just gone down to the sixth floor via the stairway, I noticed an interesting element of the building on the ceiling and took a few pictures of it.  Turning around, I then ran into a loose acquaintance from another country.  He called out a friendly greeting and extended his hand.  All according to a script and visual flow of images you've seen... what? - thousands of times? - tens of thousands of times?

And so the automatic social gears in your imagination kick in and you are probably already imagining me reaching out my hand and shaking the man's hand with a big smile on my face - which is what I usually do, but not always (especially when I'm using my camera, as I was at the time), and not this time.  I went off auto-script and left my hand (with my camera in it) by my side - explaining that I never touch my camera if there is oil on my hands, and since I was in the middle of taking pictures, I would prefer - as I generally do at such times - not to shake hands.

Mind you, there's no antisocial element to this, it's simply a matter of washing my hands - with soap - before using my camera so I don't get sweat/oil/whatever on the camera.  Unfortunately, it's been my experience that - more often than not - when I shake hands with someone, I come away from the encounter with extra oil on my hand, which is irritating anyway, and especially when I'm using a machine that I want to keep clean.  I wasn't accusing him of having dirty hands, but the usual outcome of making (for what bloody purpose?) physical hand-to-hand contact with people out in public is me ending up with an oily right hand that I then need to wash before I can resume taking pictures.  I didn't have the time at the moment to go off in search of soap and water, and I thought I could explain the issue to the man.

Unfortunately, my acquaintance from another country appeared to take this as a personal insult.  He muttered something at me in a language I don't understand and walked off - looking rather unhappy about the exchange.  No offense intended on my part, but apparently taken by him - and now also by me, since the muttered word he used didn't appear to be a friendly one.  The dangers of going off-script....

Anyway - for the record, I really hate the custom of shaking hands.  Bowing is - I believe - a much more civilized way to greet people.