Osaka has a history of producing excellent artists, and was home to painter Jiro Yoshihara and artist Shozo Shimamoto – founders of the radical, postwar art movement Gutai, whose artists pushed the boundaries of art by experimenting with unusual techniques and unconventional materials. For an insight into the city’s creative side, Culture Trip shares the best art galleries in Osaka.
Osaka has carved out a name for itself as a haven for mouth-watering Japanese cuisine, but scattered among the tantalising restaurants and bustling fashion boutiques are many excellent art galleries. Culture Trip spoke to Japanese photographer and installation artist, Ink Agop, who experiments with 3D-printing and Japanese biological fermentation technology in her work. Agop says of Osaka’s art scene: “People are not affected by trends like in Tokyo. They are original and unique.” This creativity is demonstrated in the city’s best art galleries, which range from a gallery dedicated to abstract art to a former steel-processing factory for large-scale artworks.
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Though intimate in size, Agop explains that the single-room YOD Gallery has garnered “quite a reputation in the contemporary art scene in Osaka”. The gallery’s owners display artists and works that push the boundaries when it comes to creative mediums and artistic styles. Among these artists is the highly acclaimed Noriyuki Haraguchi, who was part of the mid-1960s Mono-ha movement in Japan. Haraguchi’s Matter and Mind artwork, which consisted of a giant steel pool filled with waste oil, launched him into the Western art world. Also exhibited here is Bae Jung Soon, who sculpts the female body using delicate Japanese paper, wire and Swarovski beads. For more art around Osaka, be sure to check out the massive wall outside this gallery, in front of which many local artists advertise their work and stage live performances for ongoing observers.
Come to ARTCOURT in the spring, and you’ll be greeted with cherry blossoms along the Okawa River, which is right across from the influential gallery, Agop says. This massive gallery has exhibited Japanese contemporary artists who stood at the forefront of postwar Japanese art; represented pioneering artists, including Japanese conceptual artist Hitoshi Nomura, who explored various ways of thinking about time; displayed work by ceramic artist Yo Akiyama, who was part of the Sōdeisha aesthetic movement; and has worked with sculptor Kozo Nishino, whose sculpture Sky Memory resides at the entrance of the new 4 World Trade Center in New York, which the gallery helped coordinate. ARTCOURT Gallery continues to push the boundaries of art by actively participating in several international art fairs, such as Art Basel Hong Kong.
The minimal, white-walled gallery space of Tezukayama Gallery was opened in 1992 by Ryoichi Matsuo and spotlights young, upcoming Japanese and international contemporary artists. Situated in the shopping district of Minami-Horie, it was actually named after its original location in Tezukayama, in nearby Nara. This compact gallery focuses on up-and-coming Japanese artists, who rarely get recognised on an international level, with a collection that ranges from photography by Daisuke Takakura to sculpture by Yoshiyuki Ooe. Free admission and knowledgeable English-speaking staff make this a must-see on a gallery-hopping day round Osaka.
Reminders of Osaka’s flourishing shipbuilding industry can be found at Mega Art Storage Kitakagaya (MASK), as this 1,000-square-metre (10,760-square-foot) former steel-processing factory has been left much as it was to exhibit and store large-scale artworks by high-profile artists. This “showcase warehouse” was born as a site for artists who struggle to find a large production or storage space, often having to reduce the size, dismantle or discard their work after exhibitions. Here, their art can be displayed as it was originally intended. Stored artworks include sculptures by Kohei Nawa and Miwa Yanagi, and Kenji Yanobe’s large-scale mechanical sculptures, all of which have been open to the public since 2014.
Derived from the words “nomad” and “art”, NOMART has stayed true to its concept of “hoping to be free, to be anywhere, independent of any norm” since it opened its doors in 1989. What started as college student Satoshi Hayashi’s dream of creating an atelier for printing in Japan has transformed into much more than a printing studio, and is now a contemporary art gallery that helps foster young artists to exhibit and sell their artworks. Notable artists who have previously been exhibited in the space include sculptural painter Hideki Kimura, conceptual artist Kenji Uematsu, who is associated with the postwar Japanese art movement, and internationally acclaimed sculptor Kohei Nawa, who explores digital culture.
Founder Ai Sawai recalls memories of his painter father being evacuated from their home during World War II, and pays homage to his memory by maintaining a focus on postwar Japanese art in his gallery. Since 1983, Art U has exhibited paintings and prints by many eminent artists of the radical postwar Gutai Group. Notable artists whose work has been shown here include Kazuo Shiraga, Atsuko Tanaka and Sadamasa Motonaga, who all have their roots in the Kansai area. ART U has now evolved into a gallery space for not only fine art but design and fashion, and it also hosts a variety of other art events.
Nestled in the arty area of Chuo-ku, which is also known for its shopping, Gallery Kaze exhibits abstract artworks by highly acclaimed and emerging Japanese abstract painters. Steering away from traditional Japanese art such as nihonga (Japanese-style painting) and calligraphy, award-winning contemporary artists including Yuko Nagayama, Ukai Yoko and Kaneda Mio have all exhibited paintings that aim to represent a depiction of visual reality at Gallery Kaze. The gallery is also an active participant in art fairs across the East Asia region, regularly taking part in both the local annual Art Osaka Fair and Korean International Art Fair.
The new kid on Osaka’s art gallery block, The Third Gallery Aya began as a contemporary gallery dedicated to photography, but has recently expanded to include drawings, video art and photography-based installations. With its main focus on young artists located in the western Kansai region of Japan, the gallery aims to nurture creativity in the southern Honshu area as well as shining a light on Japanese female artists and photographers whose artworks may have been overlooked because of their gender. Female artists featured at The Third Gallery Aya include Toshiko Okanoue, who created surrealist photo collages as part of the Japanese avant-garde art world of the 1950s, and Ishiuchi Miyako, who exhibited her Chromosome XY photography series that focused on male skin and the body.
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