Gallery Seizan: Approachable Art in Ginza

Are you still looking for a Christmas gift for a very special person? Something with a Japanese touch? Then head to the Ginza district, but instead of pulling out your credit card in one of the glamourous department stores, get your gift shopping done at Gallery Seizan. It's a tiny fine art gallery nestled in a small street opposite the Kabuk-za theater, currently showing an exhibition called "Something Precious."

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I always feel somewhat intimidated stepping into one of the numerous art galleries in Ginza. Not only are many of them well hidden in basements or on upper floors, but I also hesitated because I was afraid of getting that look, the long that says, what is she doing here, she can’t even afford the exhibition catalog. Unfortunately, this preconceived notion resulted in me not visiting a single gallery since arriving in Tokyo. But I am happy to say that my visit to Gallery Seizan proved me wrong, and I am now a convert. Japanese art can indeed be very affordable (prices for the works currently on display start at ¥20,000), the atmosphere is super welcoming, and staff are very friendly (and don’t get tired of explaining the story behind each piece).

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“We know that many people usually don’t dare to visit our exhibitions,” admits the gallery’s representative director Seiko Yamada. “And we want to change that.” That’s why the gallery participates in the Xmas Art Festa, which is held each year in Ginza and aims to attract more people to visit the local galleries.

Every December, this year for the seventh time time, the gallery asks a couple of dozen artists—well established ones showing their work at the prestigious Tokyo Art Fair, but also newcomers and first time participants—to contribute one oeuvre for the “Something Precious” (taisetsuna mono) series, to be displayed just before Christmas. The theme of last year’s exhibition was “diamond,” while this year’s is “water.” Yamada says that while the ideas for these themes tend to come to her rather suddenly, this doesn’t diminish their importance. “Colorless, formless, water is the nearest and most precious thing to us,” she explains.

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Apart from the overall topic, the artists are not given any further specifications. With a motif that is so flexibly changeable and full of possibilities, one can imagine that the exhibition is not only colorful, but also very rich in the variety of genres. Not always can the water theme be identified at first glance, which makes a visit to the exhibit somewhat challenging, yet highly enjoyable—and thanks to some hints from the experts you will be able to figure out the connection. Some of the contributing artists truly allow their creativity full bent. To underline this, Yamada shared with me an anecdote from last year’s diamond edition. Artist Yasushi Ikejiri produced a giant almond. Why? Well, he used the word “diamond” literally. The English pronunciation of “di” means “big” in Japanese, and “amond” stands for the nut.

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This year the exhibition includes oil on canvas and watercolor on paper paintings, installations made of wood and aluminium, as well as fragile glass constructions. Most works combine traditional Japanese art with contemporary influences. They are ideal as a subtle reminder of Japan for yourself or someone special, for whom traditional lacquerware or other crafts isn’t quite right. Yamada puts it best: “We offer presents for people who want to offer something precious to a very precious person.”

The Deets

Address: 5-14-16 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-3546-7356

Open: Mon–Fri, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sat, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; closed Sun and hols. The exhibition “Something Precious: Water” runs through Tue, Dec. 22, 2015.

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