The other day I was surfing online and I came across a new to me photography gallery just by chance. I was intrigued because one, it had earlier this year staged a Ralph Gibson exhibition, and two, I noticed that Yoshihiko Ueda, who is a well-established photographer both commercially and artistically, was serving as co-curator along with Shigeo Goto, a figure I’m familiar with through the G/P Gallery in Ebisu where he serves as Chief Director as well as a previous association with Gallery Punctum Photo+Graphix Tokyo(sadly no longer open). Seeing as their upcoming exhibition was work by a Japanese photographer I had not previously heard of, it seemed the opportune time to tick off two boxes in one shot.
Opening its doors in February of this year, Gallery 916 is in the district of Tokyo called Hamamatsuchō, an area not normally associated with galleries. The space is on the 5th floor of a big warehouse-y building, and were it not for a small sign for the gallery near the entrance to the building, I would have assumed I was in the wrong place. It’s quite common in places like San Francisco or New York to have galleries in these kind of industrial warehouse-type spaces, but not all that common here in Tokyo.1 The gallery space itself is huge — 600-square-meters apparently — leading me to wonder if it isn’t now the largest photography gallery in Tokyo.
Though admittedly it’s not a place most would consider warm and intimate, especially on the cold and rainy day I visited, the gallery felt heartwarming somehow, knowing that such a large and relatively unadorned, unpretentious space was being given over to photography.
In size it felt like one of Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography’s exhibition spaces, but sans the obligatory museum shop, coat check, silent black-suited watchers making sure you don’t touch anything, and most importantly, any admission charge, much more relaxing.
Exhibitions held at the gallery so far have been one-artist shows running between six to eight weeks in duration. Both the Gibson and Arita exhibitions have been accompanied by substantial exhibition catalogs normally not seen from galleries2, and in its catalogs and on its clean, well-designed website, English translations of critical essays and biographical information are given equal footing with the Japanese. (Well-translated English it should be noted, which is far from a given in Japan). [Both the Ralph Gibson and Taiji Arata exhibition catalogs are available in the Japan Exposures Bookstore.]
Of course such a large space does not come without its challenges, number one I’m sure being to remain a financially viable concern for its backers. But there are challenges for the Ueda/Goto curating team as well.
On view when I visited was a series of photos by the relatively obscure Taiji Arita from the late 60s/early 70s, for whom Ueda once served as an assistant. The prints were not large, and it felt a struggle sometimes for the photos not to be completely dominated by the space. No doubt the curators are aware that a space this large will not be appropriate for just any work, and care will be needed to select photography that works best in the space. Alternatively, perhaps occasionally the space will need to be changed — closing off the two spaces in the back that lead off the main hall, for example — for some exhibits.
[See our accompanying review of the Taiji Arita "First Born" exhibition being held at Gallery 916. — Editor]
In its first year, two of the five exhibitions were of Ueda’s work. This may well be part of the arrangement, for all I know. But certainly from the neutral’s perspective, one will hope that this is more a gallery served by Ueda’s creative vision rather than the other way around.
That said, having co-curators of Ueda and Goto’s standing, approaching the gallery from the differing perspectives of photographer and curator respectively, leaves what appears to be have been an excellent start in good stead. It remains to be seen what will come in 2013, but I for one am looking forward to it.
1. The Kiyosumi Gallery Complex, which houses Taka Ishii, Hiromi Yoshii and ShugoArts, among others, is an obvious exception.
2. The old Min Gallery and the current Zen Foto Gallery being two worthy exceptions that come to mind.