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Sunday, Aug. 19, 2001


Sights of the city

Staff writer

"Voice from the Heavens," in Ebisu Garden Place
Kan Yasuda's "Ishinki"
"My sky hole 91 Tokyo," by Bukichi Inoue
"To Where? No. 2," by Toshihito Hosono
"Singing Man" (1999) by Jonathan Borofsky
"Piano" from the series "Books on the Garden" (2001), by Hiroshi Yoshimizu
Roy Lichtenstein's "Tokyo Brushstroke II" (1993)

"Public art," according to Sokichi Sugimura, president of the Public Art Research Institute, "is anything that has artistic value in the eyes of the general public."

Since much of "art" is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder, Sugimura's definition certainly covers the field. In Japan, for instance, there is an abundance of creative works in both cities and country towns that have been fashioned and positioned to please the public eye.

However, critics might quibble whether those pretty picture-tiles set into walkways, or naturalistic bronzes of nudes or old couples, rightly qualify under the heading of "art." Decorative, harmonious and pleasing they may be, but many insist "art" needs to be challenging, inspirational or even astonishing as well.

Over the last several years, though, by any definition the concept of "public art" has been grasped more and more all over Japan -- from Kagoshima's parks peppered with artworks, to the large structures and sculptures gracing Yonago in Tottori Prefecture.

In Tokyo, too, beside some better-known locations, the streets of Azabujuban in Minato Ward are now a veritable sculpture park thanks to an urban-renewal initiative in the 300-year-old area for the opening of new Nanboku and Oedo line stations. By removing a few of the area's old traditional shops, planners were then able to create an open space named "Patiojuban." Artists from 12 countries, including Pakistan and Zimbabwe, were then invited to create works on the theme of "Smile."

Completed in 1996, the area's 16 artworks now provide a wide variety of interest and stimulation for shoppers or strollers, and together create a harmonious whole.

However, as Sugimura is keen to stress, public art is not just some new-fangled concept. "Even a torii gate can be regarded as a form of public art," he notes.

So, in terms of public art, he suggests "we have been focusing mostly on Western art until now. But we should also turn our attention to old and beautiful Japanese artifacts like torii and reassess the value and meaning of them."

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