Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on November 2010
Have you heard of Sosuke Morimoto? No? Well, then, how about Ryo Shiotani or Osamu Obi? Nope? OK, do the names Hiroshi Oda or Nobuyuki Shimomura ring a bell? They don’t? Well, I shouldn’t be surprised. The problem these artists have is that they are far too talented to be famous.
Yes, you read that right. These are all artists whose technique has developed to such an extent that their pictures are often mistaken for photographs. In some cases, they look even more lifelike than photographs. What’s more, they paint the way they do without any ironic intent or pseudo-intellectual agenda. That’s why most of their paintings tend to feature rather nice things, like beautiful damsels, flowers and snowy landscapes.
The trouble with realist art like this is that, even though most people greatly enjoy looking at it, the art world has moved well beyond it in its ceaseless and sometimes senseless search for innovation and marketable uniqueness. Yet none of this bothers Masao Hoki, a successful businessman, who has brought all these artists together in a private collection founded on the I-know-what-I-like principle. From this month, the collection is also on public display at a newly constructed museum in the town of Toke in Chiba.
“At first, I began showing my collection to a few close friends,” the 79-year-old tycoon recalls, explaining the evolution of the museum’s concept.
“In 2001, I constructed a storage vault and exhibition space adjacent to my home, and made the collection available for public viewing once or twice a year. As news of it spread, the crowds grew larger. On a single day, 1,000 people would come, passionately eager to see the paintings. It occurred to me that I might open a museum that would make it possible for even more people to encounter the superb qualities of realist paintings.”As if to offset the rather retro feel of realist art, the new museum is an astoundingly innovative and high-tech building, and worth a visit in itself. While most museums and art
galleries still conform to the converted house model, where visitors wander from room to room, the Hoki Museum, designed by architect Tomohiko Yamanashi of the firm Nikken Sekkei, is based on the idea of what an art museum essentially is: an interface between art and bipedal, sentient beings. It takes the form of an almost continuous 500m-long corridor that is then folded into three levels so you don’t exit too far from the parking lot when you finish.
This design gives a much smoother feel to the experience of viewing an exhibition, while the cantilevered top floor creates an illusion of weightlessness. Another interesting architectural point is that, seen from above, the building’s intersecting curves seem to form the shape of a lens—a perfect metaphor for the museum’s purpose of showing art that conforms to the rules of light and perspective.
While the architecture is sure to attract its own audience, the main focus of any art museum must remain the art. Among the highlights are Sousuke Morimoto’s nudes, which combine a soft porn sensibility with something much more precious and indefinable; Osamu Obi’s studioesque interiors with a rather fetching model; and Toshihiro Ohata’s landscapes with snow and water that glitter and shine more than reality.
The artists on display here are more like craftsmen: prices are dictated by man-hours and skill levels rather than by hype and belief in the “next big thing.” But with almost no art rules left to be broken, there is also a chance that high-quality painting like this will actually become the next big thing. If so, it will prove once again that the only way to collect is to collect what you like.
Special Commemorative Exhibition: From the Collection. Various media. Until May 22, free (MS and under)/¥1,000 (HS, univ, 65 and over)/¥1,500 (general). 3-15 Asumigaoka-Higashi, Midori-ku, Chiba. Tel: 043-205-1500. Open Mon, Wed-Thu & Sat 10am-6pm, Fri 10am-7pm, Sun 10am-5pm, closed Tue. Nearest stn: Toke (JR Sotobo Line). www.hoki-museum.jp