The Gate Exhibition

A musing on Toriawase
May 9, 2022








What does a 400-year-old Japanese concept in harmony have to do with the exhibition of a contemporary artist at a Japanese art gallery? Everything. The difference between the worlds inhabited by Misako Mitsui, the owner of Mitsui Fine Arts, and Léonie Guyer, the artist, is where the two found a connection in art. Their connection is the basis for this exhibition on Toriawase philosophy, titled Gate, a conversation between Guyer's contemporary artworks and Mitsui's master artisan and artist collection from old Kyoto, Japan.


As Rita Bullwinkel wrote of Gate in her article* Outside of Time & Under Language", the particular cadence of each work is amplified by the centuries that separate their births. Like a congregation of ghosts, Misako Mitsui's Japanese works, and the works of Léonie Guyer bump up against one another." It is how the works of art, disparate across period and style, communicate with each other in the space of Mitsui's San Rafael art gallery that provides the energy and harmony for their collaborative exhibition.
Guyer and Mitsui met a few years ago at an artist's book fair organized by Codex Foundation. Guyer noted that among the vendors of contemporary art books, she found Mitsui's early 20th-century Kimono textile design books in woodblock prints (Zuancho)** the most compelling. That a contemporary artist of Guyer's standing would find an art dealer showing the turn of the century works from Kyoto, Japan is a demonstration of Mitsui's adherence to Toriawase, the 400-year-old Japanese concept to find harmony between different elements - in this case, aspects of art. Indeed, the two women represent a vast difference in art and time, but that is only a surface of perception that Toriawase encourages us to see beyond. Once we can find how works of art are connected beyond usual labels: isms, eras, styles, and even intent of creation, we begin to understand how they are related and realize that they can resonate together in the same space. 
Toriawase has its origins in Japan's "the way of tea" culture, tea ceremony, where hosts sought to find harmony between different elements crucial for the event, usually held in a small tearoom. It is an artform to coordinate everything from tea bowls, scrolls, and flower arrangements to the event's theme and guests. Mitsui compares the practice to curating or art directing. Except, says Mitsui, with Toriawase, "we detach ourselves from them, step outside the curating, and let the works communicate to each other." As a young girl growing up in Kyoto, Japan, Mitsui was brought up on the "way of tea" philosophy and aesthetics. And now a renowned art dealer, her work and life embody Toriawase. 
On her first visit to Mitsui Fine Arts Tree House, Mitsui's gallery, Guyer*** was struck by the meticulous space, noting, "I had been invited into a special place to be explored slowly with focused attention." It was the spirit of Toriawase that led Mitsui to invite Guyer to collaborate on Gate. They have been nurturing the idea of Gate for several months, and this exhibition is a musing formed through the lens of their distinctive eyes. Indeed, Guyer, the contemporary artist, has chosen works to show from Mitsui's collection, and Mitsui, the dealer in Japanese art from old Kyoto, has selected Guyer's works.  
It is a new challenge for Guyer to show her contemporary work in an unusual gallery setting. And though Mitsui has curated exhibitions based on Toriawase at museums and contemporary art galleries, this is her inaugural Toriawase exhibition at her Mitsui Fine Arts Tree House Gallery. She plans to host one Toriawase exhibition a year.



* Read Rita Bullwinkel's article: Outside of Time & Under Language
** Read about Léonie and Misako's first meeting
*** Read about Léonie's visit to Mitsui Fine Arts Tree House Gallery

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Misako Mitsui

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