Traverse the streets of New York or Paris and you’ll notice galleries appear about as often as dogs — at least a few every blocks—Tokyo, however, hides its art just around the corner. To help future travelers, I put together a list of galleries, museums, and few art-related shops.
Here’s my list and google map of Tokyo Galleries, Museums and a few shops. What are your favorite places in Tokyo? Please let me know.
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The first thing you notice is the building. Tadao Ando delivers an experience that makes you feel like a more interesting person just by walking through it. The show on display when I visited was a curated collection of designed objects. All told? A must see.
TeamLab creates massive installation experiences that combine video projection, LEDs, mirrors, and the physical space to transform the viewer. Some of their projects lean further into art history, others explore the body or the spiritual. All of their work engages your sense of place and space.
Mori Art Museum
High atop Roppongi Hills, the Mori Art Museum has rotating exhibits that draw from art from around the world. You have the options of buying a ticket to see the art, a ticket to see the view, or a combo. When I went, the show was an interesting take on a type of global art: not Japanese art or foreign art, but an international, global art.
Nezu Art Museum
Industrialist Nezu Kaichirō made his money in the railroad, the stock market and creating automobile parts. Born in 1860, and died 80 years later. By the time WWII broke out, he had already amassed an important art collection. He hid it in the suburbs to keep it safe during the war years. The museum contains an astonishing collection of national treasures, including spectacular screen paintings and ceramics. The grounds contain wonderful gardens and a tea house open to museum visitors for tea and lunch.
Famous for the The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa, Hokusai was also the godfather of Manga. His sketchbooks inspired Japan and made their way to Europe via a Dutch trader in 1832. His work influenced Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Émile Gallé, and even Claude Debussy who used his “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” as the inspiration for his symphonic poem La Mer. In his later years, he published drawing manuals. He drew and painted every day. From the museum:
“Hokusai, who started drawing at the age of 6, stated that what he has drawn until the age 70 was nothing but a trivial matter and that he finally understood the bones of fauna and flora, as well as its birth when he was 73. He remarked that his art will improve until 80 years old, by 90 his drawings will become rich in depth, and by 100 his drawings will attain a mystical state of mastership. He stated that every dot and kink would come to alive after he is 100, showing his bottomless dedication for growth well over 100 years old.”
A spectacular museum and introduction to the master painter.
Ginza Graphic Gallery
The Ginza Graphic Gallery, located inside the non-stop upscale fashion mall shopping of the Ginza neighborhood, rotates through exhibitions of graphic arts. When I visited, it was the Tokyo Type Director’s annual exhibition with work from all over the world. I walked the gallery with a design friend and we took a few notes: large posters still inspire; Chinese graphic design is looking very good — combining twists on puns from the pictographic symbols from written Chinese with the phonetic letters/sounds of English. The best Japanese works brought type, illustration, and architecture into a harmonic whole for total project: a hotel or restaurant where all of the parts of the experience where considered. There were a few vinyl records on view: where the beauty of the shining grooved disc added to the overall design.
Suntory Art Museum
Travel to the third floor of a shopping mall to step inside the Suntory Art Museum. Instead of a permanent collection, the space shows rotating exhibitions. When I was there, it was a look at the history of glass art. Check the site to see what’s on display for your visit.
Yayoi Kusama Museum
The museum celebrates the iconic artist. But beware… “Tickets are sold only on the museum website, not at the museum window.” Check the site for details on closures and exhibitions.
Espace Louis Vuitton
Rotating exhibits atop the LV store. Fantastic artists. Ride the elevator up, round the corner, enjoy the art.
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
Three floors of photographic art. You can buy individual or combo tickets to see the different exhibitions on the different floors.
National Art Center
Traveling exhibits, special exhibits, community exhibits. Check the website for what’s on when you’re in town. I saw a collection of masterworks from the Louvre all themed on love.
SCAI Bath House
SCAI is a contemporary installation space in a former bath house.
Since its establishment in 1993, SCAI The Bathhouse has realized numerous exhibitions, commission projects and public works. It fosters the careers of the most vanguard artists: from Lee Ufan, a lead figure of Mono-ha school at the genesis of contemporary art in Japan, to Toshikatsu Endo and Mariko Mori, whose large-scale sculptures evoke unfolding narratives and garner international attention. SCAI is also establishing a global presence for the next-generation talent, such as sculptors Kohei Nawa and Nobuko Tsuchiya. Through their association with SCAI, artists such as Anish Kapoor, Darren Almond, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and He Xiangyu have produced new series of works inspired by Japanese culture. Through iconic installations of Tatsuo Miyajima and Louise Bourgeois at Roppongi Hills, and other public art in Naoshima and Inujima, the gallery supports artists’ commitments to public spaces, changing Japanese landscapes irrevocably, and generating new audiences.
Related to SCAI Bath House is the emerging artist space, Komagome Soko. Venture there for the newest, emerging artists.
Whited walled and ArtBasel-ready, the Nanzuka underground offers contemporary art.
Rotating exhibits combine with a bookstore that features their long-running design and art magazine, also called +81. Purchase back issues, see the art, or chat with the staff. I visited when designer David Carson had a show of his fine art.
Most people travel to this area for shopping, but look closely and you’ll find several important gallery spaces. The Mass shows contemporary works in a space that offers a Tokyo take on the international gallery vibe. When I visited, it was a show of photographs from architect, John Pawson.
Design Festa Gallery
Just for a second, imagine somewhere in the world the money part of the art market operating at full strength—rich, powerful, and glamorous—this is not that. Instead it’s a collection of independent artists working on their practice in with a humble, homey, do-you-own-thing, collective-vibe. The actual art can be hit or miss; the spirit of independence feels essential.
Daikanyama, the Brooklyn of Tokyo, is home to shops, restaurants and this marvelous bookstore complex, T-Site Daikanyama. Go for art, design, and fashion books. Vintage car repair manuals. Vinyl.
A painter’s paradise, Pigment Tokyo has natural and synthetic pigments—both European and Japanese. I got a mini-lesson on how to grind and mix… the same pigments become oil paints with stand and linseed oil… and watercolors with gum arabic. Grind with a Mueller—but beware, the lightness changes with the coarseness of the grind. Too fine == too light. Pre-mixed sets are available.
That’s my list and google map of Tokyo Galleries, Museums and a few shops. Did I miss something? What are your favorite places in Tokyo? Please let me know.
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