THE PERFUME FOUNTAIN

 

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Meandering in Meguro, Tokyo, yesterday – an area we don’t know – in the hot sun, the first full day of summer, the pounding light

 

 

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we came across an exhibition by an artist we had never heard of – Moise Kissling – at a gallery and building we had never heard of either : the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum.

 

 

 

Its grounds inviting – we could see families and young lovers politely picnicking on the grass, children running from pools of light to shade – we decided to buy tickets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hypnotic in the afternoon, we rested on a bench for a while watching the quiet play of the respectful, almost hushed members of the public recreationing on the premises

 

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– the sound of the elevated highway beyond the perimeter low, but constant against the foreground of bird song, voices, and insects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Couples in kimono took pictures

 

 

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and we took took pictures of them

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before beginning to feel, after a while, like entering the interior cool of the prim, but not uninviting, white building that housed the paintings, and drawings, of the unknown artist.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ice cold airconditioning did not detract from the gelid attractiveness of the Art Deco mansion, which it quickly transpired was the former royal home of Prince Asaka and his family in the 1930s, who had relocated to Meguro after a three year stay in Paris, where they were inspired by all things European, thus building their homage – Lalique windows inside; crystalled, spreading angels of glass filtering trellises – but you were not allowed to take pictures of them

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(        the royal toilet       )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– never have I known a more anally retentive, almost furiously passive aggressive museum, where a surfeit of security guards and waxen, bloodless women guided you with swift and disciplined hand; gritted chin, through the ‘suggested route’, admonishing you if your clammed skin should graze against the walls or railings or furniture ( the claustrophobic, mahogany childhood bedrooms of sequestered and cloistered princelings and maids and childrens’ books a perfect setting, in some ways, for Kissling’s Modigliani-like portraits of the rich and the decadent alienated ; some quite brilliant, particularly when he found his own voice; many of flowers – peonies, mimosa – some too lavish and almost tacky, others oil painted in splashes of colour that offset the lonely dreams of the imperial ancestry, cosseted in their European blue lace, their lives foregrounded by duty, protocol, and expectation .)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intriguingly, the young princesses even had a magnificent, if slightly grotesque, almost Hollywoodesque perfume fountain in the atrium of the palace ( what a delight ! To fragrance the ambience when guests would arrive in the drawing room to dine or listen to string quartets !)

 

 

 

 

 

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( this you were mysteriously allowed to photograph, but each exhibit was obsessively and maniacally divided into those you could, and those  – the majority – you could not )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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( ‘Portrait of a Fascist Perfume Fountain with Stiff’, Neil Chapman, Saturday May 25th, 2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet much as we enjoyed the aesthetic culmination of the artworks and the cold precision of the setting, after a time, the silent reverence and absurd REPRESSION of the place had me bursting at the seams (I could not refrain from goosestepping like a Nazi after a while and contaminating the place with my scent and my foul language, much to Duncan’s hysteric)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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– the fittings and furnishings on some levels pleasing my sensibilities even when they simultaneously made me want to SCREAM

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even when confronted with undeniable beauty :

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

( the exquisite tea house : rendered by me here in black and white ):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No, by this point we had to leave – my blood was beginning to heat up in protest with all the security guards and almost vicious courteousness, and I had started joking about lobbing grenades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Retiring to a bench on the way to the exit, delighted to be pawed and leached by the four O clock sun (let it RAIN on me after all that sphinctered insularity !)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

we decided to find out more about Prince Asaka and the house ( as you know: when we visit somewhere, be it Laos, Cambodia, Korea, anywhere) we do no research:: just go, absorb, feel, observe, and then get all the ‘factual information’ later – I find this a more valid form of experience, more immersed and honest; unprejudiced. You experience it pure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And it turns out my instincts, on this occasion, were undoubtedly very right : with its heavy, small rooms devoid of sufficient light (poor children!); its design, some of which reminded me of Mussolini’s Cinecitta futurist district in Rome in its mathematical concision;  this, it turns out, was the royal house of the hyper nationalist imperialist, and (alleged/probable) instigator of the Nanking Massacre ( an INCREDIBLY contentious issue here you cannot talk about in public: a subject as  full of fury as the most ardent Holocaust deniers …..I might even get into trouble daring to touch on the subject here…..) – a person who,anywhere else, would have been executed as the worst kind of war criminal, but who instead, went on to live freely, at his leisure, playing golf for many years in Atami.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the environs behind us,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I couldn’t help, despite the beautiful, searing blue sky, thinking of the ‘dark clouds of fascism’ that were brooding and percolating then in the race- hate-filled hearts of the many who were plotting to bayonet and decapitate the founts of our liberty, and the currents of now, not dissimilar: isolationist, ‘patriotic’; ultra-conservative, founded on limitation, control, ethnic hatred…………ironically, cruelly; and problematically, given the setting of the exhibition it occurred to me later (would the painter really have wanted his works to have been presented in this place?) – precisely what Kissling – a Bohemian Polish Jew who managed to escape with his life to America and then France, given a death sentence by the Nazis, but who instead went on to his freedom and to make some beautiful and riveting art, – was so utterly desperate – and determined, to escape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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15 Comments

Filed under Flowers

15 responses to “THE PERFUME FOUNTAIN

  1. Neil, you reduce me to a most disconcerting state after every post. I feel everything you write about and photograph, to a degree that feels like I have come home, mentally. I am totally bereft of the words to use to explain how your very being on this earth affects me.
    Should I ever chance across you in real life, you are so getting a ginormous bear hug. My gratitude for you putting yourself into this ether for us to encounter.

    Shine on, you amazing diamond!

    • Thank you.

      Yesterday was an amazing day (this was just the start of it). I felt hypnotically alive in the moment and absorbing everything to the extent that I was hoping I would be able to get this across in the post with the words and the pictures to make it palpable.

      Delighted that has been the case.

      • As always. You really have no idea of how you communicate. You are like the wise dr who just knows exactly where to prod after asking just a few questions, in a very calm, gentle manner. You nail the pain precisely and you tell us what is wrong without any doubt of your intuitive diagnosis.

        Yes, you are THAT good.

      • I have no idea about this: I almost feel like I need to have all of this examined and diagnosed, if that is the case.

        I do know though that I have a profound need to just blurt out my instincts, no matter what the consequences (which is probably a form of madness).

  2. rprichpot

    Great post! Amazing photos!!

    • Thank you. I can’t remember which photos were mine and which D’s – plus I have been having a LOT of problems uploading things, both on the computer and on my iPhone – you have no idea how long this took, when it should have just been instantaneous; I wanted MORE photos, but these seemed to encapsulate something.

  3. Deanna

    Fascinating article, very evocative and slightly chilling photographs .
    Presumably you weren’t allowed to photograph the paintings.
    Wonder how they choose the exhibitors for this very particular setting.

    • I wonder that too (and no, we weren’t allowed to photograph the pictures – I could have just rebelled and been the ‘naughty boy’ I am wont to be, but couldn’t be arsed with all the hullabaloo and giving the ‘guards’ a chance to do something other than icily somnambulate

    • I wonder that too (and no, we weren’t allowed to photograph the pictures – I could have just rebelled and been the ‘naughty boy’ I am wont to be, but couldn’t be arsed with all the hullabaloo and giving the ‘guards’ a chance to do something other than icily somnambulate

  4. matty1649

    Another wonderful piece. X

  5. Robin

    The severity is softened by some especially entertaining nose-thumbing on your part. Aside from the slightly disturbing reveal – this being the former home of the director of the genocide of 300,000 on whose walls Kisling’s works are displayed – I found it quite a lot of fun. Maybe Kisling is even having a bit of a last laugh in his grave at the irony of it all. You never know.

  6. Love the black and white picture of the tea house.

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