Day 3: Osaka’s nomadic art scene

One thing is noticeable in Osaka’s art scene: a general lack of gallery space and an attempt to create something local, non-commercial and individual. Forced into reconsidering their own function, purpose and size, small galleries mushroom here and become flexible ideas, somewhat confined by physical proportions. Size does matter here. It is important that the city has always been a trading institution; a capital of commerce, looking outwards and more curious about the unknown than perhaps other Japanese megalopolis.

Run by artists who transport culture into their work space in the form of a hair-dresser/gallery, cafe gallery and a pub/gallery, the exhibition spaces here become concert rooms, bookshops and workshops studios.  The owners are mostly young, friendly and open minded, driven by ideas, in which art is a social enterprise. They remain adaptable and often move from one place to another in pursuit of inspiring connections. In this way, Osaka’s art scene is nomadic, which can be linked to the inclusive character of Gutai Collective, active in the area in the 1950’s and 60’s.


Private art buyers in Japan are sparse and their interest is caught rather by the big galleries owned (ergo internationally recognised) art. It makes it rather difficult for young artists to share their vision. Yet, the big exposure and money oriented projects are not at stake here. The creative independence is something of foremost importance and always striven for. One senses though that Japanese artistic scene would very much welcome a chance to connect with other artists through international exchange and as an opportunity to enrich art readings and dialogue. Experimentation is what perhaps should be prescribed here.

Osaka is then a place, where art can be encountered everywhere and the works exhibited (from what I have seen) are often of small format and represent the everyday experiences. Forming a diary of the quotidian, the subjects are as real as they are imagined, and as happy as melancholic. It might be that the presentation and character of the pieces reflect the confinement of the physical space. Small can be beautiful, but on a larger scale poses a danger of uniformity and falling into obscurity in the sea of charm.


Zazie Hair is a hair salon and a petite art gallery in one which is a space-invitation to stop by and breath in some art. Currently exhibiting Somebody Who Knows (or rather ‘Somebody Familiar’) by Hirofumi Suzuki and Naoko Izawa, the show tells of people and places we know, or assume we do; just as the gallery itself, which isn’t quite what we were thinking. While Suzuki creates drawings of monuments depicting esteemed Japanese figures, Izawa impersonates characters from famous Renaissance paintings. Her imaginings are often funny and recollect a travel journal from a trip to Italy. One could ask if the journeys actually took place or are simply ‘What if?’ scenarios: What if I was Botticelli’s muse? Similarly, Suzuki’s interpretations are based on his own perception and sculptors’ vision. The line between the real and fictional is vague. What matters is how we see things for ourselves, what they mean to us and how we remember them.

It helps to see Suzuki at work, sketching quickly and being attuned to movements taking place within the landscape.


Other similar (but different) to Zazie Hair spaces are iTohen, Gallery Yolcha and Atelier Sangatsu. I-tohen is a cafe and a well stocked bookshop with publications of both established and new artists. Their new show Happy Delivery by Yuka Sakamaki from Tokyo, a collection of lively watercolours is again, a visual illustration of everyday encounters and things, with which she perhaps felt a brief connection.

Gallery Yolcha, apart from being a cafe/bar can also serve as a gig spot and even has got a relaxation room, all designed to create a sense of community outside the commercial environment. Atelier Sangatsu, whose director is also a Gutai fan, has collected a small permanent collection of contemporary artists and is currently presenting a show on the inexhaustible – so it seems – theme of cherry blossoms.

The research continues…


* The review is a result of  a research trip kindly supported by the The Great British Sasakawa Foundation



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