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Thursday, July 12, 2012

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Branding guru: American artist Alexander Gelman poses in front of his chess set with platinum plating and gold leaf at Discovery Museum in Tokyo's Haneda airport on July 4. SATOKO KAWASAKI

Artist seeking out a brand for Haneda airport

Staff writer

Alexander Gelman, an artist based in New York and Tokyo, will lend his creativity to help develop a brand for Tokyo's Haneda airport, hoping to make it more than just a place that people pass through to get somewhere else.

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His "kutani" porcelain chess set is also on display at the museum. SATOKO KAWASAKI

"An airport can be a destination. . . . It can be a place where people share culture and exchange ideas. . . . It can play a role of supporting and promoting culture," Gelman said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.

The 45-year-old American, who was listed as one of the "world's most influential modern and contemporary artists in all media" in 2001 by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is scheduled to work on Tokyo International Airport (Haneda's official name) over the next five years to develop it into a place that bridges culture and business, and helps revitalize the country following the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Gelman said he is thinking of ways to "help culture of this country and also to make (Japan) 'genki' (energized)."

He has worked in many fields of art, ranging from graphic design and video to publishing and music. He is especially noted in the field of branding and ad design, having worked for major companies such as MTV, Disney and Apple.

In recent years, Gelman has been more engaged with Japan, collaborating with Japanese artisans, publishing a book and holding exhibitions here.

Branding Haneda airport is one of his latest projects in Japan. Gelman said the airport is one of the best places to promote the country's rich culture and link it to business, considering it is located less than 30 minutes by train from central Tokyo and that it connects with 48 domestic and 17 overseas airports. More than 60 million people move through it every year.

Gelman said he is still in the stage of putting many ideas on the table and doesn't have any concrete plan about how he is going to work on the airport. But he said Haneda "is going to be like a laboratory," where he will try different projects and see what works and what doesn't, and start a new project based on those results.

As an initial step, Gelman is showcasing his works, made in collaboration with artisans from Ishikawa Prefecture, at the airport's Discovery Museum. Among the items on display are his "urushi" lacquer chess sets and "kutani" porcelain chess sets.

The sets are among many projects on which Gelman has collaborated with Japanese artisans — whose skills and spirit he adores — including Edo Kiriko (cut glass) artists in Tokyo.

Gelman said local cultures that have been passed on generation to generation will play an important role in what he calls the "postglobal" era.

In the process of globalization, in an exchange of convenience, nonmainstream cultures have been ignored and some have been lost, making them more unified and less unique, he said.

"We have reached the maximum level of globalization, and now we have to pull back a little bit to 'deglobalize,' and to enjoy local cultures and slow down a little bit."

While many people say this nation lags behind in globalizing itself, Gelman applauds Japan for having preserved a unique culture. "There is definitely a future (for Japan). And I think the world needs Japan. . . . Japan already has ideas and experiences of preserving culture and knows how to appreciate unique things. And we have to teach the rest of the world of the experiences," he said.

He is thinking about the best ways to bring out Japan's appeal at Haneda airport.

"It's not just about having nice logos and the best-designed terminals. I think we have to think much broader and bigger than that, to utilize all the best that Japanese culture offers for connecting people with people and business with business and people with business."

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