Sunday, December 4, 2011

Art & Commerce: Japan Society Exhibition & Union Square Christmas Market

If you can, RUN, don't walk, to see Fiber Futures: Japan's Textile Pioneers, the wonderful contemporary fiber exhibition at the Japan Society closing on Sunday, December 18.

We told you we'd fallen behind. We had the great good luck to attend opening night (thanks to Katherine Crone), but opening nights are so much more about people than art that we weren't able to give the exhibition the time and concentration it deserved. We wanted to go back, but circumstances militated against us. When we realized the exhibition was closing in only two weeks, we had to put it at the top of our list of priorities, because it's a stunning show, and we wouldn't want you to miss it. If you can get to Japan Society any day at 12:30, there's a great docent-led tour that's free with the price of admission. If you can't make it at that time, go whenever it's good for you. There's a beautiful catalogue that accompanies the exhibition and explains the works on display. (The gallery is closed Mondays, and open Fridays till 9 pm.)

Just inside the entrance are two works by Kiyomi Iwata (above), seen here with one of them. A wonderful work, it needs to be seen close up to be fully appreciated. Called Chrysalis, it is made of paper and kibiso, which Iwata defines in the catalogue as "the first ten meters of silk thread that a silkworm spins in its life". Usually discarded, kibiso was intentionally used in this artwork to give a second life to a waste product. In fact, many of the art works convey a subtle environmental message.

A number of the artists turned out for the opening, including Atsuko Yoshioka. That's her, above right, in front of one of three panels of her art work, with Midori Sato and Valerie. Ms. Yoshioka also made the purse she's carrying, shown in close-up below.

Rei Saito is one of the youngest artists in the show. This work, called Dots, comprised of batik-dyed newspapers, derives from Saito's memory of snow falling after dark.

We had to stop and engage Hanako Narahira in conversation because we loved what she was wearing. Hanako gave each of us two brochures by way of introduction. It turns out she is a graduate of Central Saint Martin's in London (think Alexander McQueen and Stephen Jones, among others), and has a very creative way of working with knits. We'd love to wear some of her work.

This is one of the most spectacular pieces in a show of spectacular pieces. The size alone is awesome, but the concept and the workmanship are amazing. Only the two ends are dyed shades of indigo. Made of fine rayon cord strung on a metal frame, it has little shape except that exerted by gravity and the length of the individual strands. In the photo you can see the dimension added by its shadow.

This kind of thing is the best part of opening night. We love running into like-minded people. We're standing in front of one of two gigantic pieces created by Junichi Arai, now 79. One of them serves as the entrance to the exhibition, giving the visitor some idea of what follows, as well as the rare opportunity to touch the art work (gently, please). Arai is one of the unparalled masters of 20th century textile design. If you scroll down, below we've embedded a six minute video made by Japan Society, in which there's a very interesting description of the complex process by which these two works were made.

Sometimes it seems as though we're doing a weekly homage to Trippen shoes. Everyone loves these modern chopines, worn here by Santa Fe rug designer Robin Gray, who appears on the far left in the photo above.

One of the most amazing works in the show is Gift from the Sea, by Yoshiko Iyanaga. A large and wide work in a corner, on opening night it was always surrounded by people, and impossible to photograph. Now we have reason to regret that, because neither the web nor the catalogue show the piece in its entirety. Here is a photo by the artist available on the web, but this gives you only the tiniest idea what it's really like. In person it's as though the author has recreated a section of a coral reef out of silk. Undulating lines, shaped by invisible wires, evoke giant clam shells and small pods that evoke sea urchins or other sealife. It's hard to imagine the time and planning that went into this work. Anyone who works in shibori will find this a wonder to behold.

Valerie with Yoshiko Ebihara, owner of Gallery 91.

Two fabulously dressed guests.

Valerie trying to blend in with the work of Fuminori Ono, Feel the Wind, made of chemical pulp and chemical dyes.

The work of Hideho Tanaka is very dimensional and tactile. The photo doesn't do justice to the work, which rises and falls across the wall surface. It looks great, but it's even better in person, and up close.

Jean in front of the work of Takaaki Tanaka, which consists of mulberry paper applied to thread stretched over an iron framework.

Here's Jean with Hitomi Nagai, creator of the piece seen behind them. Again, the photo hardly does the work justice. Made of waffle weave cotton, the structures evoke a thicket of rhinoceros horns.

At the top, a huge wheel made only of flat paper squares and paper thread, by Naomi Kobayashi; below an amazingly flexible structure of sewn stainless steel filament by Kyoko Kumai. In the background, the work of Takaaki Tanaka. Photo from Arttextstyle

At the reception in the lobby we met Michelle, who had made this knit wrap which cleverly incorporated half-sleeves into the design.

Stretched over the the waterfall just before the entrance to the exhibition is a very fine knotted paper net dyed a very deep indigo, by Kyoko Ibe. The paper was taken from old Buddhist sutras cut into thin strips, and was completed by the artist following the earthquake and tsunami in March.

Artist Kyoko Ibe, center, with two guests.

See the short Japan Society video introduction of Fiber Futures:

* * * * *

Union Square Christmas Market

With the holiday season upon us, we wanted to say a word about shopping creatively, carefully and thoughtfully, if possible. If you can, support your local artists, small businesses and non-profits. And remember! Friends don't buy friends gift cards (unless asked to do so). Gift cards should really be called obligation cards, because you're obligated to carry the *#&@% things around, and you're obligated to keep going back to the same place to spend money that - before being converted to plastic - could have been spent ANYWHERE!

In our own effort to shop small/local/personal, we went to the Union Square Market, which imitates the Christmas markets of Europe that open in the gorgeous old town squares during the holiday season. More than a hundred merchants in the signature red and white striped tents sell Christmas trinkets, food, clothing and accessories, with holiday cheer to spare.

The narrow walkways were thronged with people while we were there.

Valerie stopped at Copa Soaps to restock her own bathroom cabinet (and simultaneously perfume her whole apartment) with handmade soaps by Antonia and David. Here she is, shamelessly inhaling. Purchases this time: lavender rose, basil seaweed, patchouli hemp, cider, spice, and a small sample of saffron thrown in. Aroma therapy in a bag!

Jean bought a fox onesie at Gnome Enterprises. These are Joshua's own designs. (That's Joshua in the photo with Jean.) For a new baby to come, gender unknown, a fox onesie is a good bet, and so cute.

But Joshua also has some really out-there designs, which he puts on onesies, adult size tee shirts and magnets. Valerie's favorites included the giant squid attacking Brooklyn Bridge, the octopus wrapping its tentacles around a ship, a giant alligator rising out of the East River to munch on the Roosevelt Island tramway, and the robot boxing the tyrannosaurus rex. What does Joshua eat before bedtime to come up with these hysterical ideas?

Valerie stopped into Windhorse Trading to check out the colorful felt and silk scarves, and got Phurpa Lama to model these two examples with her. The one on the left is felted on each side in opposing colors; the one on the right is nuno, a combination of silk and felted wool. Both really well priced.

Jean fell in love with the optical illusions at Eye Think, Inc., and bought two discs, one with the running black cat and the second with flying bats (of course!). When we asked the gentleman about the inscription on his shirt ("The Kid"), he said it was a gift from his mom!

Some things were free. How to wrap a hug and take it home, though?

We ran into "Tribe NYC" while shopping. We said they looked fab. They said we looked dope. Same thing, just different generations.

The weather on the Saturday after Thanksgiving was so balmy, the bagpiper worked in his shirtsleeves.

A huge elephant balancing on the tip of his trunk dominates the traffic island east side of Union Square.

Seated beneath the great pachyderm, we contemplated our next move. We cajoled Earl, one of the young skateboarders, to memorialize the moment. (If you compare the first and last photos from this day, you'll notice Valerie has rolled down her pant legs. OK, they look better down, but you lose the really cool effect of the matching socks and shirt. Oh wait, you couldn't see the shirt under the coat anyway. Du-uh.)

* * * * Support Animal Rescue Organizations and Shelters!

Charity is a virtue! Please donate as generously as possible to your favorite charities, which are really struggling in this bad economy. When we visited Union Square Market on 11/25, we met this volunteer from Hiss & Spit, Inc., a non-profit 501(c) charity providing adoptions, low cost pay/neuter services and supplemental food in emergencies. She was bottle feeding a tiny 2-week old kitten. We both made donations and cooed over the adorable dark grey and white kitten. Jean worried all week about the fate of the little critter, so we stopped back on 12/4. Their table and cages are on the south side of Union Square close to the entrance of Forever 21.

We went to the spot, found the volunteers, saw their cages filled with gorgeous cats and kittens, and donated money. Not only did we find the little kitten again, we also learned that he was the only male in the litter. He was one week older and looked slightly bigger in size, with a round belly and an even bigger appetite. He was so anxious for his bottle, he was sucking on the volunteer's finger. Mother Jean made sure he got his bottle -- and even pitched in to hold and feed him.

It is the holiday season, so we are hopeful some wonderful people will adopt this playful little fellow -- and his six sisters! To adopt and/or donate, contact Hiss & Spit, Inc., via mail at P.O. Box 54, NY, NY 10108; via phone at 646-571-5721; and via email at Hiss and Spit volunteers visit the homes of prospective adoptive parents.

Social Tees Animal Rescue has relocated from East 4th Street in New York City to 155 East 2nd Street, just east of Avenue A. The new location is beautiful, with more space for the animals. Stay tuned for the latest details. To adopt or donate, call 212-614-9653.


  1. So much to comment on in this post, I don't know where to start. I'm sorry I didn't see the Japan Society exhibit when I was in NY; love Rei Saito's piece as well as the one Jean is photographed under. Great outfits on the opening night attendees; Valerie looks delish in the yellow print! That kitten is breaking my heart--hope to hear whether he gets a home by Christmas.

  2. Every time I check in here to see what you two are up to, I leave with a smile. The clothes, the attitude (positive and playful!), the art, the events, the interesting people you meet--it's all so inspiring and fun. Thanks!
    jill in Ontario

  3. I have to echo the other two comments above--every picture was amazing--the artwork, the clothes,the kitties, OH MY! Such talent and workmanship, your posts are always so inspiring. Thanks ladies!