The Party at the Pola

Arts - April 8th, 2010
Pola Museum Annex, installation view, photo: Owen Schaefer

Things being what they are in Tokyo, you eventually stop being surprised when that restaurant that you like, or the bar that you sometimes hang out at, or the house next door suddenly disappears overnight and becomes a construction site.

That is what happened one day with the Pola Museum Annex in Ginza. I turned up expecting art, and found that the only white walls were facing the sidewalk, and the only thing hung on them was a vague notice explaining that the entire building had closed. Which was fairly obvious, really.

Luckily, the Pola Annex — the whole building, in fact — reopened in October of last year. And with any further luck, it will continue to be the space it used to be, showing fantastic work by young Japanese artists. But there are some changes, and whether those run all the way to the gallery’s core program remains to be seen.

The Pola Museum Annex is an annex of the Pola Museum of Art in Hakone. And while that museum’s holdings range from Renoir to Kandinsky, with a healthy dose of Western-style Japanese work and a smattering of contemporary artists, Ginza’s Annex has, for the most part, focused on the current contemporary scene, and I’ve attended more than one fantastic shows there.

But one of the draws to the old Annex was that it was a great space — up a flight of friendly outdoor stairs, just next to an artsy cafe that sometimes had live music, the gallery was an open room with subdued light and an unobtrusive information desk tucked away in one corner. There was something of a community feel to it… which perhaps is why management decided it had to go. After all, this is Ginza. And how can you have community when there’s just this much gosh-darn shopping to do?

Pola Museum Annex, installation view, photo: Owen SchaeferThere is nothing strictly wrong with the new Annex. It is a perfectly functional space designed to be a gallery. The building has a shiny facade winking with LEDs, and an entrance about as inviting as a dentist’s office. And once there, a brilliantly white elevator will deliver you to the claustrophobic third-floor vestibule of the equally white and antiseptic show-space. Seriously, you could eat off the floors. And with Lei Saito’s banquet spread of ceramics, paper, cotton balls and unidentified mounds of powder, you might be better off if you did.

The current show, on until April 25, is one of the dozens of group shows that crop up in galleries at the beginning of each year. And to be honest, I found most of the works disappointing this time around. However, Lei Saito’s installation The Party conjures up some timely Lewis Carroll-esque visions, and Ryotaro Endo’s computer-graphic based paintings flip-flop between abstract and landscape, incorporating from time to time some Zen ink-painting techniques that battle for prominence against the pixelated mouse-drawn backgrounds of his canvases — a wonderfully uber-contemporary blend of ideas and forms.

But what really caused me to raise an eyebrow was the announcement that the next show would feature works from the Pola Musuem, including Matisse, Wassily, Kandinsky and Antonio Stradivari.

It may very well sound like a show worth seeing, especially for those unable or unwilling to get out to the main Hakone museum. But the question is whether or not this is a sign that the clean, new gallery intends to be more of an annex than ever before — acting as a rotating Tokyo room for the Hakone collection?

I sincerely hope not. I would honestly hate to see old masters taking over a space where the new ones were once given a chance to shine.

Pola Museum Annex, installation view, photo: Owen Schaefer

-Owen Schaefer