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Completing the art triangle / 18 April 2011

The gallery design 21_21. Photo © Gini

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A glitter ball twirling in
bright sunlight, Sumida swirls in the
aftermath of more quakes.

Loudspeakers intrude
all over Tokyo.
White Van Man,
with entourage buzzing,
seeks re-election.
Small groups assemble,
some with religious
concentration;
some mute
with placards.
Friend or foe?
I cannot guess.

And Sumida
carries the sounds
wide over the water.

When I visited the Mori Gallery a brochure informed me about the Roppongi Art Triangle, so today I will attempt to complete the triangle by visiting side three: the Suntory Museum of Arts.

SP is not impressed that I'm already returning to Roppongi, but there are other galleries here that are supposed to be open on Mondays so this seems to be my opportunity. Hatchobori station is quite busy when I arrive, but they are use to me now and getting me on a train is less of a performance.

I roll into Midtown and explore a little before attempting the first gallery. There are gardens here, and the paving is smooth and easy for the skinny wheels, so rather relaxing for me.

Design 21_21 is a modern concrete building, all slopes and angles; two giant panels of glass slide  automatically, one after the other, to allow me entry. Inside looks very empty appart from the reception desk and some stairs.
I ask about access, but communication is poor. Pointing to stairs and my wheels usually does the trick, but not here.

The entry fee is 1000¥; I wave the money about and am rewarded by: "we have elevator-e".
A young man is produced to remove a cordon from in front of the elevator and escort me down to the basement floor and the exhibition.

He keeps a watchful eye on me. Visitors here are very serious, apparently well-heeled and all of the temporarily-non-disabled variety. The exhibition "represents the world of design, a world of dreams and love created by designer Shiro Kuramata and master of Italian design Ettore Sottsass."  

Filmed interviews with the designers introduce the exhibition and threaten to alienate me before I've had a chance to see anything. I bristle at the declaration that: "Good design should totally ignore functionality in it's quest for beauty."

There is also a strange statement about Tokyo, "Tokyo has two faces: the public one which is unknowable and the private one which is secret and religious and the one we love."
I move into the exhibition proper. And rather like it.

The gallery staff relax and stop watching me like hawks.  I roll around some very attractive pieces that "outshine functionality and convenience" but are good to look at.

There is the bed long enough to sleep four people, head to toe and the iconic, clear acrylic chairs with embedded plastic roses by Kuramata, as well as a collection of Sottsass' "Kachina": very large glass objects with symbolic significance.

I am finally driven out by the concrete. Irritating my eyes and nose the building itself is a triumph of non-functional inconvenience.

Entry to gallery two is over a stepped bridge from Design 21_21 or by a badly signposted route through the Midtown mall. It also involves the elevator dance; controlling queues is a Japanese speciality involving one set of lifts and x number of stairs.

Ticket purchase and entrance are preferably on different levels. When I do get in I'm already confused.

The Suntory Art Museum is showing off: "Art in Life" displays choice items from it's collection since it opened half a century ago. Ceramics, glass, calligraphy, textiles, screens and ornaments dating from the fourteenth century to present day are beautifully displayed and wired in case of earthquakes.

I join queues of visitors silently admiring the exhibits. I love the ancient Japanese pottery, the kimonos, the ornate hair decorations and the beautiful painted screens. The Japanese visitors whisper approval over the large collection of French glass by Galle.

The visitors here are also very serious apart from two men in business suits with briefcases who stand sniggering beside a display cabinet. There are several of these, they are not easy to see into from my wheelchair, but I try.

The cabinet contains a scroll. It depicts men bending over with exposed bottoms, engaged in a farting competition.

Outside on the streets, I've managed somehow to avoid most of the vans with loudspeakers campaigning for the coming elections and by evening they have all disappeared.

SP and I meet for dinner. I am assisted up steps to a regular haunt of his, a Hong Kong Chinese restaurant serving dim sum. He orders a selection of our favourites and they are very good.

I ask him if he loves the "secret and religious Tokyo" and he gives me a blank look. I explain about the exhibition I visited and he concludes that there might still be some people like that about, somewhere.