We did a lot of homework when last we visited San Francisco. Our goal was to spend a little over 3 weeks exploring Artspan, which is the largest open art studios event in the US and spreads throughout the districts of San Francisco with a concentration of co-ops in the Mission and SoMa areas. We wanted to be based in an area that was handy to downtown but far enough away to afford a little chill. Castro seemed a perfect fit but outside of a basic appreciate for the life and times of Harvey Milk, we knew very little about the area and despite all of our research we somehow missed that our visit would coincide with the Castro Street Fair. This one Sunday of celebration, love and laughter turned out to be as much fun as 3 weeks of open studios… ahh the things straight people miss hey.
San Francisco is only just behind New York on a our favourite cities to visit in the US. We love it. The architecture and geography is wonderful, you can get lost in the streets and districts day after day and continue to make new discoveries. We have a bit of an aversion to the mainstream. Chugging out to Alcatraz or strolling Pier 39 holds little interest for us. We’d rather be riding buses to the end of the line, admiring Mission’s street art or woofing down a chimichanga in Castro. Ok, maybe the Golden Gate or a trolley ride might sneak in there but the point is we wanted to see the cultural side of San Francisco through it’s art and diversity.
Castro is no more picturesque than a dozen other SF areas. However, San Francisco does have high standards and with Castro’s colourful history, comprehensive selection of cafes and eateries and being just a 10 minute trolley ride along Market Street to downtown, it makes for a solid base to explore. On top of all that it is easy access along 18th Street to Mission and SoMa without necessarily having to head too deep into the city and you’re a couple of minutes over the hill to lovely Noe Valley.
Perry has always been fascinated by Harvey Milk and I suppose it has rubbed off on me. It’s an intriguing part of the cities history not least for the tragic and somewhat bizarre events that surrounded his final years, which reflect the harrowing times that this community faced during the 80’s. Have a look at Rob Epstein’s award winning documentary and also the Gus Van Sant’s film “Milk”, if you fancy a little enlightening.
CASTRO STREET FAIR
On a lovely Saturday morning we left our Airbnb apartment and wandered down the road to a very pleasant surprise, the Castro Street Fair was in full swing. It’s a wonderful celebration of pride, joy and acceptance which was started by the late Harvey Milk and this year marks its 45th anniversary (Sunday, October 7, 2018). Market stalls, dancing and cheer leaders fill Castro Street from Market Street down and into 18th. The best way I can describe it is that of a feeling of warmth toward each other, as a couple of straight foreigners we never for one moment felt unwelcome, people enjoying each others company regardless of who you were… bring a smile and you’re in. Just wandering the streets back and fourth from our rental was a fabulous way to immerse yourself in the mood of the celebration as many locals have garage sales in the surrounding streets (a gay man selling off his immaculate wardrobe is worth a browse ?).
Just below the SoMa district is Mission. Named after the Alta California mission (San Francisco’s oldest standing building) Mission was traditionally an area mostly of Mexican immigrants but has seen many communities come and go and now with the gentrification of anywhere remotely close to downtown it continues to evolve into a prized piece of San Francisco real estate. We came across Mission really by accident as we explored the Artspan Open Studios event. It’s home to several large art co-ops and is an area well worth a visit purely for the street art and cafe scene. For a little more detail, here’s a great article we found that might help push you over the edge.
ARTSPAN – SAN FRANCISCO OPEN STUDIOS
The Artspan event is a terrific way to explore San Francisco and gain an insight and authentic connection with another of San Francisco’s important communities. The once run down areas South of Market Street (SoMa) have sprung back to life since the turn of the century and are made all the more interesting by the presence of hundreds of art co-ops that via for the remaining spaces that aren’t spoken for by developers.
Artspan – San Francisco Open Studios is the oldest and largest open art studios program in the US. It runs annually throughout the weekends of October and showcases over 800 emerging and established San Francisco artists in their studios. The list of studios and spaces is huge, from painters, photographers, sculptors it’s all there. The thing we really enjoyed was arriving at a little known area (to us) and stepping inside beautiful old warehouses, having no idea what was to come. The San Francisco Open Studios event is free for visitors and endless if you have the stamina. We covered an insane number of studios, saw many inspiring studios and initiatives and ticked off quite few “firsts”, by far the best city experience we have had… this is where I plead for you to change that ticket to October!
Japan is real handy. As far as international travel goes it’s pretty close to our home in the tropics of far northern Australia. Problem is, contemporary art is hard to come by. It’s certainly there, but you have to push past the anime and samurai swords to find it. So once we had taken our swig of iconic Japan we found it a challenge to explore our real passion – contemporary art. Enter BnA Koenji. It would make sense at this point to just plagiarise paraphrase their own marketing… nothing to do with laziness –
Based out of Tokyo, Japan, BnA (Bed and Art) is a social x art hotel project that aims to support Japanese artists while providing travelers with the unique and unforgettable experience of “staying in an art piece”.
BnA was born out of 2 simple realizations.
1. Many talented contemporary artists in Japan are unable to make a living through their art.
2. Visiting art enthusiasts are unable to find small independent art galleries that showcase up and coming Japanese artists.
In an effort to ease these burdens, we designed a mutually beneficial ecosystem within which both artist and traveller can benefit. The system is simple yet effective; Create independent art hotel rooms with talented local artists and share the profits from room bookings, while guests get the chance to live inside a functional work of art and are immersed in the local art scene.
BnA consists of 5 members, all business people that bring a range of industry skills from areas including design and architecture. There are 4 Co-founders (pictured above – not in order of appearance… necessarily… oh god, I don’t know): Keigo Fukugaki, Yu Tazawa, Yuto Maeda, Kenji Daikoku and the fifth member is Ikue Nomura.
BnA were kind enough to let us have an inside peek at the hotel and rooms. There is a reception/bar and basement/backroom gallery and two guest suites that were assigned an art director, Daikoku Kenji who is also chief Art director at BnA, alongside the artists. The attention to detail is fantastic, custom carpets, bedside tables and serious structural work have complimented some inspiring artwork. Considering Airbnb’s current predicament in Japan, the BnA Hotel Koenji is the alternative for interesting and rewarding accommodation for Tokyo in my opinion and the rates are very competitive.
MURAL CITY PROJECT
The Mural City Project is a terrific initiative that BnA has produced for the Koenji area. We spent a morning wandering around Koenji. It’s a very funky area and being fans of Shimokitazawa as our preference for the alternative take on urban Tokyo it seems Koenji is making a play for the title. Koenji is known for its underground music scene, there is the usual Tokyo myriad of dining options and of course…. there’s coffee. But the art is what has us excited. The passion and support behind it is to be admired and should be experienced. Following or better still, finding the mural sights is a great way to explore Koenji.
Q & A – BNA’S SABRINA SULJEVIC
We caught up with BnA’s Pr/Marketing Manager, Sabrina Suljevic. Off the record I said. Just a few questions to paint a picture I said. We couldn’t ask for more, thanks Sabrina! BnA is a terrific model created by some passionate people and we thought our conversation deserved and needed to be spread and read (with regard to liability Sabrina… he made me do it).
Q : It’s hard to find urban/street artists and art in Japan, can you tell us why? A : There are a few factors that make street art hard to find in Japan the two main being 1. Street art is still seen as “graffiti” and defacing of public-private property by residents and government alike. 2. Lack of government funding for street art projects (both financially and helping to secure walls). However, it is by no means impossible to find street art and every neighborhood has its own iconic street art piece, be that an electric box covered in awesome stickers and stencils or, like here in Koenji, murals. Their longevity main not be long-lasting, but they are around.
Q : Can you explain how the BnA concept came about and how it works? A : BnA was born out of a need for a platform that supports up and coming, underrated Japanese artists by providing exposure and income. How it works is simple: we work with local artists to create one of a kind art installations that guest can stay in. Part of the profit earned from each room booking goes back to the room creator (artist), meaning the artists receives continual income while being able to exhibit their work to an engaged audience. Guest get to stay somewhere interesting, be plugged into local art communities and can feel great about actively contributing to the art and the local community. Win Win we think.
Q : What’s next for BnA & the Mural City Project? A : For BnA we have a number of hotels in the pipeline, with the next opening in Kyoto. Title BnA Alter Museum, this is our biggest hotel yet 31 rooms, 16 artists and 8 art directors all from the greater Kansai area.
As for MCP (Mural City Project), we are currently at 6 murals in Koenji and are pitching to secure walls for future murals while also looking to expand the concept into the rest of Japan.
BNA HOTEL KOENJI CREDITS
You can find out more and book accommodation at BnA Hotel Koenji here. The hotel currently has two rooms done by artists –
MONA… what the? For some time l had been hearing positive yet vague comments about this quirky art space, MONA Museum Tasmania – the Museum of Old and New Art. So, call me cynical, but having grown up in Australia and been fortunate enough though our travels to have experienced some of the worlds headlining galleries such as the Louvre, all of the Tate’s, Uffizi, the Guggenheim’s, Getty and New York’s MOMA, was this gallery with the rip-off acronym just a sorry attempt at surfing coat tails? Being in the middle of nowhere, a closer investigation was put on the back burner until recently and… I must dip my head in shame. Perhaps I could put it down to presumption, after all, Tassie does food, Tassie does wine and whisky and Tasmania does devils but is Tassie also a beacon for the art experience? Errr… yes, I was oh so wrong! Of all the aforementioned galleries, MONA Museum Tasmania, for me, is the World’s Best Art Museum Experience.
Tasmanian millionaire David Walsh, is the founder of MONA. The Moorilla Museum of Antiquities was founded in 2001 but then given the mother of all facelifts in 2007 – $75 million worth of botox evolved into the Museum of Old and New Art – MONA. The new version was officially opened in January 2011 and coincided with the third MOFO festival of which MONA hosts annually (music and arts festivals showcasing public art and performances).
MONA houses 1,900 works from David Walsh’s private collection. Of his themes, sex & death are high on the agenda, his attitude toward collecting is probably best described by Richard Dorment, art critic for The Daily Telegraph –
…doesn’t collect famous names; his indifference to fashion is one of the strengths of the collection. He likes art that is fun and grabs your attention, that packs a sting in the tail or a punch in the solar plexus.
On approach you feel like you’re up for a nice morning in a vineyard (it is set in the Moorilla winery on the Berriedale peninsula). Having barely parked the car the first installation that you will stumble across hints at what is to come (assuming you drove, if you caught the ferry you’ll be too preoccupied with climbing the 99 steps to notice much else). Two large concrete walls form a funnel, running parallel. “Does my bum to big in this” comes to mind… the rear of a car sandwiched between the walls. Right from the start, your mind is on art alert, a bit like the scary fun house at Disney, you don’t know what’s coming, but you know it’s coming. There was loads of cool stuff to check out around the grounds, there’s a market day on Sunday which has local wares, good food and ordinary coffee, the views across the Derwent River are fantastic. But if you were like us you’ll be gagging to see behind the curtain, or more accurately, the fun-house crazy mirrored entrance.
My first surprise was that you descend into the mountain side… very cool. You’re job is to find your way back to the surface. The whole museum is all about the crafting of a cavernous space and then reminding you of it where ever you turn – lots of metaphors at play here for you to ponder. I was also surprised at the amount of permanent installations and the lengths that they have gone to to incorporate and accommodate them within what is already an impressive engineering feat.
Now I don’t want to go into too much detail on the installations themselves. So many of them rely on the element of surprise and I’m sure to get you excited about something that may not be on show when you arrive. What I will say is that you are never too sure what is around the corner, or what an inanimate object is capable of. There is at least 2/3 hours of jaw dropping exhibits. No labels, just a groovy little iPod, or ‘O’ device with an in-built GPS that senses where you are and displays information about the nearby artworks in ‘Art Wank’ (their words, not mine).
We are usually impatient with art exhibits, if it doesn’t grab us we move on quickly. Not here, we are already planning a return trip.
MONA was the most fulfilling public art experience we have had. I pocketed a piece of plastic chain as a memento and it now hangs in pride of place with our art collection at home. It’s a reminder, not only of a fantastic experience but as a kick up the bum, don’t prejudge!
I first came across Yukio Takahashi and his work whilst researching a trip to Tokyo. I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting artists and gallery spaces – I struck gold on both accounts this time. As luck would have it our trip coincided with Mr.Takahashi’s exhibition in the ultra cool Tokyo neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa. No brainer… we set out to make contact and organise a possible ‘sit-down’ with the man himself to learn more about him and his work.
A TIME AND PLACE WITH YUKIO TAKAHASHI
Sounds easy right? Our Japanese is non-existent and with the very little we knew of Takahashi and his work we pushed on through social media and eventually made first contact. With some very welcome assistance from Yukinori Motoya at Gallery Hana Shimokitazawa we managed to set a date and time to rendezvous in Tokyo at the Gallery Hana.In just over 48 hours and beyond a bumpy flight, a deceptively long airport transfer and a chance encounter with a pair of extremely ambitious and persistent Jehovah’s Witnesses we finally stumbled into Gallery Hana to meet Yukio, his wife Maggie and Yukinori. Lovely people and awesome work by a superbly talented artist.Now it’s time to go back and watch the video…. off you go.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to Art and Museums in Tokyo. A Japanese art tour in 2 days will give you just the tip of the iceberg, which is what we were going for. We had a limited time in Tokyo and wanted a taste of Japanese art in the traditional sense but we also wanted to get a feel for what artists were doing now and if there was a chance of squeezing in some public art and god forbid an art store, I was going to leave Tokyo content.
I was recently in Kyoto and timed it perfectly for the refurbishment of the National Museum of Modern Art. It was closed. That’s about it for Kyoto… contemporary art is not it’s strong suit, so I had to go without my customary art fix and save it up for Tokyo… and Tokyo didn’t disappoint.
DAY 1 – ART GALLERIES
Duration: 6 Hours We love the Japanese aesthetic, particularly their take on design. You could spend a year in Tokyo and never run out of fodder for the traditional Japanese art experience. Our plan was to get a taste of traditional art but also mix it with contemporary Japanese art, world art (Tokyo has some terrific collections of western art) and also a dose of architecture.
We based ourselves in Shimokitazawa, slightly inconvenient as it is outside of the Pasmo/Suica travel card coverage, but a great place to stay. We are going to do an extensive peak into Shimokitazawa on our next trip so bookmark that! Our plan for Day 1 was to squeeze traditional, contemporary and western art into a 3 museum loop – with a couple of mandatory coffee intervals. We started with a coffee and breakfast at the San Francisco franchise, Blue Bottle Cafe, which is something of a phenomenon in Tokyo with cues out the door. A strange choice for Tokyo perhaps, but espresso based coffee seems to fit so well with fastidious nature of the Japanese and marries beautifully with the contemporary Japanese design aesthetic. The justification aside, it’s a lovely setting, good coffee and there’s a few more traditional Japanese coffee options nearby if pour coffee and sweets is your thing.
A public holiday had many Japanese women wandering about in traditional dress, which was fitting as we made the short stroll to our first “art” stop, the Nezu Museum (the image at the top of the post). A showcase of traditional Japanese art and artefacts with a beautiful garden that falls away into a perfectly manicured gully. It makes the 1000 yen entry fee more than worthwhile. The collection itself is heavy on antiquities and is a fascinating insight into the culture. It was only open on Fridays and Saturdays when we were there, so be sure to check before you trek.
From here we jumped on a bus then swapped over to the metro to get out to the Museum of Western Art at Ueno. I was keen to get a look at some of the big boys, Monet, Pollock and Miró (above right). It’s an odd, almost eastern block style brutalist building amongst a vast parkland that you could easily spend the day wandering – the zoo is only a short stroll as are a host of Museums. I got my fix so we pushed back through the crowds and made for the Museum of Modern Art (via Glitch cafe).
MOMAT is just opposite the imperial palace, on the north-west corner. Which makes for another handy day trip, especially in Spring, the images of cherry blossoms around this area are breathe taking. I was keen to see an old favourite, British sculpture Barbara Hepworth, Perry was taken by the permanent collection from the 20th century “Nihonga” style Japanese painter and writer Higashiyama (below left, Akasegawa below right).
DAY 2 – PUBLIC ART
Duration: 5 Hours
The public art scene in Tokyo is as good as anywhere. Where do you start? We are heading back to Tokyo in a few months as there is so much we are yet to explore. This is a little peak at public art in fairly broad sense. For us it’s architecture/design, landscaping and street art as well as installations. And if those installations happen to be private but accessible to the public… they’re public in my book.
The architecture aspect of Japanese culture is exciting and cutting edge. We won’t pretend that we have anymore than a surface appreciation of what’s on offer. This is really our first introduction to exploring it so we went big.. the big sight, but first things first.
A coffee first, Mojo in Harajuku (lovely pastries), then on to the Design Festa Gallery which is basically a space for rent. It’s very quirky and the space is available to Japanese and foreign artists so there’s a distinct community arts feel. The space is a labyrinth of rooms organised into individual exhibits. There’s a very cool little cafe out the back.
After a browse at Design Festa I needed to wade in some paint supplies. I’d heard about Pigment, a beautiful arts supply shop and there would be no stopping me seeing it. We headed back to Harajuku Station and jumped on the Yamanote Line to Tennozu Isle Station. Pigment is only a few minutes from the station. I just love this place, so much so that I’ve done a seperate post. You’ll get the full run down if you click here for more.
From Pigment you can go back to the same station and go to the next stop, Kokusai-tenjijō Station, and if you get off here and do the short wander across to the elevated Ariake Station then catch the train for 1 stop over to Kokusai-Tenjijo-Seimon Station. This when you can take in the full glory of Tokyo’s convention centre, the Big Sight. The elevated rail will give you some great views across Tokyo and the bay, it’s only a five minute ride before you can get off at Kokusai-Tenjijo-Seimon Station (Big Sight) and take in this brute of building, and of course the “Big Saw” or “Saw, Sawing” by husband and wife team Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.
This place is enormous. It’s the largest exhibition centre in the country and is currently slated as the media centre for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It was designed by AXS Satow Architects. We had a trade show to attend so had the dubious pleasure of walking from one end to the other, several times… did I mention it was big?
By this stage we were gagging for a sit down and after we had taken in our fill of the “Big Sight”, we got back on the elevated train and headed for the Fukadaso Cafe and the Fukagawa Edo Museum in Koto, via the Yurikamome Line.
This train journey in itself is fantastic, hence the above video. You are so far above everything you can see for miles and it continues for another 15/20 minutes once you leave the “Big Sight” and head back into the city. We swapped over at Shiodome Station to the Oedo Line. All up it’s a 50 minute ride to Koto – which is a lovely, chilled part of Tokyo, known for its bookstores (and coffee shops). The Fukadaso Cafe was a very cool, New York loft style cafe… Perry wasn’t wild about the coffee… I was happy.
We never really had any intention of visiting this museum. Perry was focused on an espresso fix, the Fukadaso Cafe was the only cafe in the area that seemed open. A local lady (“lovely lady” for the purposes of this story) started chatting to us. It was a pretty basic conversation considering the mutual language skills on either side and we parted ways with lovely lady after lunch. Or so we thought. We were strolling down a quiet suburban block and lovely lady came out of nowhere on her bike and beckoned us to follow her. We kind of skipped along behind her until we got to the Fukagawa Edo Museum. Before we had time to commit, she had raced inside, bought tickets for us, refused our money and disappeared down the street. There wasn’t even time for awkwardness. It was all very strange and err… lovely.
The museum itself was equally so. Strange, kitschy but fascinating. Edo is the old Japanese name for Tokyo. A mock “Edo” has been constructed indoors. You can wander through life-size 19th century mock ups of homes and businesses that would have existed at that time. The guides speak English and are very enthusiastic and knowledgeable.
A 20 minute ride on the Odeo Line had us at Roppongi Hills. This place is vast. It’s a relatively new development project, a city within a city. We had planned on taking in the city views from the Mori Tower, which is the star of the show, but the weather had closed in. We had been keen to see Louise Bourgeois’ “Maman Spider” Sculpture which is crouching at the base. That’ll do pig! Time to go home.
My choice of art materials over the years has largely been steered by two factors, affordability and practicality. Dry artists pigment have never been on the radar for me, at least not until I discovered the coolest art store in the whole wide world – Pigment Tokyo.
I started off many years ago as a diehard oil devote, seduced by the lush nature of its application and the vibrancy that it sustained. But whether it’s down to cost, the lack of ventilated working space or simply the need for speed, acrylics have largely ticked all the boxes for me. So, during my research for a trip to Tokyo, I came across a place called Pigment Tokyo and knowing nothing about working with this dry artists pigment I decided it would make for a worthy pilgrimage. It almost makes me ill to think that I may have missed it.
On first approach the establishment itself is quite corporate in appearance, definitely not screaming “come in and touch everything”. But I’d come so far, so I braved the door. Once past what seemed an equally corporate reception area I was rewarded by a kaleidoscope of colour. An entire wall, floor to ceiling of glass jars, beaming with pigment.
I was a pig in pigment heaven!
After several laps of the central counter, not pausing in fear of being removed for my obvious unsuitability, I slowly gathered my faculties and reeled in my dropped jaw to brave first contact. Apart from the lavish display of pigments, the selection of tantalising brushes was equally overwhelming. My obvious delight with my new found nirvana was enhanced with a friendly invitation by Masayoshi to test drive the vast selection of brushes.
It was quite something to give these puppies the once over. Having the opportunity to experience the huge differences between each brush and its application potential was fascinating. Historically I have largely achieved mark-making from repetition rather than by employing the right tool for the job! In retrospect this has heightened an awareness and desire to yield better results by reevaluating the execution of the mark-making process and placing less importance on the resting mark itself.
Lust soon blossomed after spending some time with a selection of three brushes which I can only describe as driving a classic sports car compared to using my push bike with a flat tyre! Could I be really be indulgent and walk away with all three? Or does sense prevail and do I have to choose? Well… neither. On quizzing my very helpful assistant I was informed that to bag these three sable beauties I would need to part with ¥100,000 (approx.AUD$1230 / USD$940!).
I swallowed my pride and started my process of elimination once again, this time with a prerequisite of a price tag being attached before bonding could commence. I eventually a brush not familiar to me or my practice, which in many ways is a delight in itself as it opens up new possibilities and after all, that’s what I was looking for. It was slightly lighter to the touch on paper, a combination of goat and horse hair at just ¥3,500.
It seemed wrong somehow to slap this brand spanking new brush up against some unworthy piece of scrappy sketchbook so I did what any respectable artist (addicted to all things shiny) would do and selected a small bamboo watercolour pad at the reasonable price of ¥1200.
Now to get my head around the pigment selection!!! Having never purchased dry artists pigment before this was going to be interesting, that and my Japanese language skills not stretching beyond counting to ten. I loitered before the monument of colour and was handed a tray on which to place my selected jars. By what I could gather, like any paint, there can be vast discrepancies between prices. This pigment was sold per 15 grams, ranging from ¥500 to ¥5,000 – needless to say I was discretely spinning each vessel around to check the price before placing it in my tray. Selection made, my jars where whisked away and returned to me as little plastic bags full of colourful powder.
Tainting my excitement somewhat was the possibility of these powder samples being misconstrued for something far more sinister at customs. Perhaps my brief visit to Japan might be extended! After a good hour in this store I left ¥11,500 (AUD$140 / USD$108) lighter but with some awesome kit which I can’t wait to road test… oh, and a big grin.