Out of Tokyo

237: Luxury Brands and Arts
Ozaki Tetsuya
Date: May 18, 2012

In spite of the record-breaking recession, or perhaps rather naturally considering the increasing gap between rich and poor, luxury fashion brands these days are regaining their former momentum. In the Ginza district, self-evidently the epicenter of such recent activities (in Tokyo), the Dior brand’s refurbished flagship store "Dior Ginza" reopened on April 22, just weeks after the opening of a Comme des Garcons shop in March. The occasion was celebrated with an exhibition titled "Lady Dior As Seen By". I was assigned to moderate the opening talk event, and give two lectures for clients of the brand.


The "Lady Dior As Seen By" exhibition is open through 5/20. Facade visuals from a work by Nawa Kohei. | REALTOKYO
The "Lady Dior As Seen By" exhibition is open through 5/20. Facade visuals from a work by Nawa Kohei.

Existing art spaces run by luxury brands in the Ginza area include the Shiseido Gallery and Maison Hermes 8thFloor Le Forum. I accepted Dior’s offer thinking I may be of help in revitalizing the Tokyo art scene. Miyanaga Aiko, one of the featured artists in the Dior show, was going to participate in the talk event, and upon my proposal of Akutagawa Prize-winner Asabuki Mariko as her talk partner, both Dior and Asabuki herself readily agreed. Miyanaga and Asabuki work in different media, but they obviously have a few things in common, as it seems to me that both of them share similar philosophies regarding memory, time and life.


So I attended a vernissage on April 19. The exhibition was themed around the iconic Dior bag "Lady Dior", an idea we have previously seen in the "Mobile Art" show in 2008, where Chanel’s own quilted bag was the protagonist. However while Chanel had narrowed the array of participants down to twenty fine artists from various genres including large-scale installations, such as Daniel Buren, Ono Yoko and Sophie Calle, Dior chose approximately 70 creators mainly from the realms of design and advertising, including Peter Lindbergh and Bruce Weber, to stage a spectacle dominated by videos, photographs and sculptures (small objets d'art).


Video displays on the basement floor | REALTOKYO
Video displays on the basement floor

What struck me first upon entering the venue was the sheer number of items displayed in an extremely narrow space. The exhibition halls are on the ground and basement levels of the Wako Namiki-kan, and are beyond comparison to Chanel’s "Mobile Art" exhibition in a Zaha Hadid-designed setting. For each video work shown on the ground floor there were four headphones, but there was in fact only space for three visitors to sit - about two meters away from a screen more than three meters wide. The screens were distributed across five of the hexagonally-shaped interior’s six wall segments, which means that it was virtually impossible to concentrate on one work without automatically catching scenes on the walls on either side. I would definitely not call this an ideal environment for watching a movie. (Not that there was nothing wrong with the Chanel exhibition. For a more in-depth discussion of fashion brands' support of art see also the "Special review: Mobile Art" in "ART iT" No.19.)


Things were even more problematic on the ground floor, where a total of about 60 items were on display. Photographs were covering the walls, with objects in glass showcases placed in front of them all across the room. The objects were arranged next to each other or back-to-back, and since each was housed in a transparent case, focusing on one item at a time wasn't possible. The distance from the wall was at no point larger than about 1.2 meters, which made walking past other visitors at times a troublesome operation. As there was no room to view the photographs from a distance, one could only examine sections or see them from an angle. A small piece by David Lynch was put on a door that was frequently used by staff members. If the organizers couldn't find a bigger venue, I'd have suggested to split the exhibition into two parts and show half of the items each during the first and second half of the event period, for example.


Ground floor exhibition | REALTOKYO
Ground floor exhibition
The object on the right makes it impossible to view David Lynch's work head-on. | REALTOKYO
The object on the right makes it impossible to view David Lynch’s work head-on.

The next seriously bemusing experience came on the 22nd, the day of the talk event. The show was to take place in the only ground floor space where an installation using mirrors was set up. There were only ten seats, so everyone else had to stand. It was Sunday noon, the first opportunity for the general public to see the exhibition, and appearing would be a noted artist who will have a large solo show at The National Museum of Art, Osaka, this coming fall, and an author who currently enjoys great popularity in literary circles. I was expecting the place to get crowded with collectors, journalists and other individuals from the art world, so I asked to move the talk show to a bigger venue, but my request was turned down because they "wanted to use the exhibition space." As it turned out, the place ended up crammed with so many visitors that some involuntarily touched the artworks.


The Dior person who introduced the talk guests didn't care to comment on the situation, so I felt the urge to start my part with a few words of apology before launching into the conversation.


"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for coming. Well as you see, it’s a bit crowded (laugh). We only just learned to our great bewilderment that this was going to be the setting for the show today, so please allow me to start with a brief complaint to the host from the position of someone who really cares about art. I do believe that the layout of the exhibition space is very inconvenient for visitors. It happened a couple of times that I bumped against a showcase when trying to step back in order to view a photograph from the distance, which is extremely rude toward the artists, and in addition, it really makes viewing the exhibits difficult. As this space is going to be used for exhibitions also in the future, I recommend that such things be taken into consideration for coming events. It’s not about the contents, but about the way the artworks are being shown."


Installation in which the talk event took place | REALTOKYO
Installation in which the talk event took place

As expected, the conversation between Miyanaga and Asabuki was quite substantial, however on the next day I was told via a coordinator at Dior that "[my] lecture has been cancelled" because "the brand image was scratched," as they put it. Up to this day there was no explanation or apology whatsoever concerning this one-way cancellation of my assignment. Although I had announced a "complaint", it was in fact a concrete "suggestion" that I eventually offered. I am completely dumbfounded, as I have no clue what’s going on here.


There are solo shows by Sawa Hiraki and Yamaguchi Akira underway at the above-mentioned Shiseido Gallery and Maison Hermes respectively, and both of them are truly excellent exhibitions. Moving from Ginza to Omotesando, at the Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo, operated by Louis Vuitton from the same LVMH Group as Dior, a superb group exhibition is held in an elegant space designed by Aoki Jun. As I heard, there has been some trouble between Dior and artists on a level too low to explain here. While some brands naturally do better than others in their support of art and culture, the quality and amount of respect toward art and artists inevitably oozes out from the way things are being executed.


Christian Dior is known for his great love of art. He used to co-run a gallery, deal with works by Picasso, Matisse and Dali, and was associated with the likes of Max Jacob and Jean Cocteau. It seems that now, sixty years after its establishment, the maison’s attitude toward art and artist has changed completely. If they want to continue, I warmly recommend reading their late founder’s autobiography first, and do their homework in how to treat art.


(May 02, 2012)

Ozaki Tetsuya / Editor in chief / REALTOKYO