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About the experience in AMPG
Written by Satoshi KOGANEZAWA   
Published: September 23 2008

    There was once a printing factory. Before renovation as a gallery, almost all of the inside was colored slightly ashy white and the shutter fixed in front of the exhibition hall had rusted. Also, several holes in the walls were not repaired. The walls had been damaged for some reason when it was a printing factory. The new owner didn't want to mend them. A toilet and a sink were left.
    As a result, an empty space like a garage rather than a gallery was created. This is "AMPG" (AZUMA MAKOTO PRIVATE GALLERY), founded by Makoto Azuma (born in 1976), which has held monthly exhibitions of artworks featuring flowers/plants for two years from April 2007 to March 2009.


    AMPG is located in the middle of a downtown area called Kiyosumi-Shirakawa. As is well known, in Kiyosumi-Shirakawa, the Museum Of Contemporary Art Tokyo is located on the east side in the direction of Kiba Park, and a building full of contemporary galleries such as Tomio Koyama Gallery and SHUGOARTS is on the west side near Kiyosumi Park. Since eight galleries were moved/opened at once in November 2005, it is known as one of the greatest information centers of contemporary art in Tokyo. In July 2008, the ANDO GALLERY specializing in works by Katsura Funakoshi and Seiya Shinotsuka was opened also.
    Did Azuma chose this place as an up-and-coming area of contemporary art? Or did he have a very strategic reason? The answer is NO. He had never visited the place before. He knew the Museum was located there, but didn’t know about the gallery complex.

"It started with a company. It offered me the highest floor to do anything as it already leased the building itself. I'd never been to Kiyosumi-Shirakawa. Unfortunately the company had to cancel the offer. However, I was already inspired by the incident and could not give up since I had been keen to exhibit my artworks for a long period. At the same time, I also had to create artworks for a scheduled solo exhibition in Germany. I then thought it might be interesting to show the works one after somewhere even before the exhibition. The first chance was aborted, however, I had visited a nearby real-estate office to see if they knew of an appropriate place and they introduced this place to me." *1
    In this area, huge new apartment buildings are being constructed, but on the other hand, old houses still exist in the downtown area. I am wondering why he chose here instead of the places in New York or Ginza he had exhibited before. He answered as below:
"I felt a fundamental connection with the unique atmosphere of the downtown area. I thought this was a place I could express myself purely."*2

    It was only to be a private presentation. His purpose was not to sell artworks, so he didn't have to develop strategies to gain profit. His main concerns were: whether the place or property was appropriate for him, and what kind of gallery he would establish there. No extensive promotion was carried out for the opening. The visitors are mainly his friends and journalists. After one year and a half, the exhibitions are reported in magazines or news spread by word of mouth, and now five hundred people visit every month.*3 His solo exhibition in Germany, "Makoto Azuma: Botanical Sculpture" (NRW Forum, from July 5 2008 to August 3 2008), was said to have been viewed by six thousand people. The number is astonishingly large. This result was caused by a more fundamental attitude in this country towards culture although this is too big an issue to rise here. However, I would like to add that exhibition posters were put up all around Dusseldorf and the local newspaper spotlighted it.


fig. 1 "Damned Ikebana" (May 2007). Photo provided by AMPG, copyright © 2007 AMPG

fig. 2 "BOMBING OF A DAHLIA" (July 2008). Photo provided by AMPG, copyright © 2008 AMPG

fig. 3 "Rip a go go (for Yukio Nakagawa)" (June 2008). Photo provided by AMPG, copyright © 2008 AMPG

fig. 4 "The other side of Crazy RED" (July 2007). Photo provided by AMPG, copyright © 2007 AMPG

fig. 5 "Fish&Flower" (August 2007). Photo provided by AMPG, copyright © 2007 AMPG

fig. 6 "LEAF MAN" (May 2008). Photo provided by AMPG, copyright © 2008 AMPG

fig. 7 "SHIKI 4" (September 2008), Photo provided by AMPG, copyright © 2008 AMPG

    Here, some explanations of why Azuma decided to establish his own gallery might be necessary to us. One question people may ask is – isn’t operating a private gallery a huge burden, both financial and physical for him, even though it is purely for satisfying himself by having regular presentation opportunities.
    The biggest reason to start this gallery is that materials such as flowers/plants cannot be exhibited in the museums and galleries. Everybody knows it is easy for living flowers/plants to die without regular care. Each and every day it is necessary for him and his staff to provide such care. After the exhibition, the smell is left as evidence. Theodor W. Adorno described how artworks exhibited in museums are works separated from their original context, by using the following phrase "The museum is a grave for art works." This is not a metaphor. Museums are not well suited to sustaining a "living" exhibition.
    It is not only artworks that the museums are ungenerous to accept flowers/plants. Flowers are also often prohibited from being carried into the exhibition hall in addition to long items such as umbrellas, which may be potential weapons, and large items of luggage which may inconvenience others. This situation regarding short-term visitors' belongings shows the difficulty of exhibiting fresh flowers for a certain term.

    “Mit Man” (2008) at "Fabrice Hyber Seed and Grow" housed in the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art is an accidental example of this difficulty. This was a doll made using vegetables for each body part, such as a cauliflower for the head, paprikas for the eyes and nose, and a banana for the lower back. Created with extremely positive intentions, it was a disaster at the end of the exhibition period because it went partly rotten, became discolored, smelled bad and became infested with worms. Hyber didn't make active use of dying moldering life as in “Damned Ikebana” (May 2007) [fig. 1], using waste flowers as Azuma did at AMPG. It is clear that Hyber did not anticipate this situation.

"They never even tried to listen to me. If I talked about my works, they only said NO. It was unacceptable for them."*4.

    Azuma was once turned away, as he mentioned above, when he brought his solo exhibition plan to a museum before the establishment of AMPG. His first solo exhibition was then held at Tribeca Issey Miyake, New York, in November 2005. There, his "SHIKI" series using pine tree, was introduced to the USA for first time in the world, and was also exhibited at AMPG afterwards.


    However, we should not think that AMPG is amazing because of its usage of flowers/plants which museums cannot undertake. Azuma’s art is not second-class conceptual art which aims only at criticizing the established art and bureaucratic museum attitude without any sound art value, nor former avant-garde art highly evaluated for its originality. His works are simply based on love and respect for flowers/plants. His eyes only look for how to increase their charm. His robust activities go far beyond the haute couture flower shop, "JARDINS des FLEURS", and AMPG*5.
    Moreover, "it" means an individual flower/plant, not the species. Taking his actual work for example, the theme for the "SHIKI" series targets only one specific kind of pine tree, never other plants, nor all kinds of pine. This means that his approach to his works is based on individual flowers/plants. One of the past exhibition in AMPG titled “BOMBING OF A DAHLIA” (July 2008)[fig. 2], he destroyed a Kokucho Dahlia and left the wreckage on the floor. He wanted to leave it as was. He wrote as below in the text, "keep creating":

"Creation/ Starts from grasping an invisible something/ By reaching out to the future in an ever-lasting struggle/ (…some sentences omitted…) / In terms of flowers/ I try to bring out and disclose/ Nature as never imagined/ Is to grasp a step ahead future"*6.
Once he also said;
"Don't you think to display flowers by cutting off their life in nature means "death" or "destruction"? I don't want to create art just showing the surface image of the material I use (…some sentences omitted..) It is very important for me to create art while always keeping "destruction" in mind. This inspires me with affection for flowers and the value of life. I cannot conduct destruction with a half-hearted attitude. I feel responsibility for discovery of new life from destruction."*7.

    “Rip a go go (dedicated to Yukio Nakagawa)” (June 2008)[fig. 3] was produced in homage to the flower artist, Yukio Nakagawa. He picked 2000 tulips cultivated in his own field, then fermented and sealed them in an acrylic box. As time went by, their shapes were broken down, liquid was exuded, and finally everything dissolved. Nakagawa's creation in 1976 was named "Open", so he named this "Close"*8. That's not all. What struck me at the entrance was the screen where a bunch of tulips streams within the monitor like blood. The "crowd" was appropriate for energetic flowers.
    It is interesting that the images of the past AMPG exhibitions are totally dissimilar although all were created only by Azuma himself. He once painted the inside of the gallery red and displayed flowers there everyday (“The other side of Crazy RED”, July 2007[fig. 4]); the next month he put flowers into an aquarium full of fish (“Fish and Flower”, August 2007[fig. 5]). One month before “Rip a go go (dedicated to Yukio Nakagawa)” he showed a man covered with plants who happened to appear in his dream, “LEAF MAN” (May 2008)[fig. 6]. Without hesitating to crush his given-image. in “SHIKI 4” (September 2008)[fig. 7], he enclosed a pine tree in vacuum packing, not in a freezer nor an aquarium. Due to the huge stress on the pine sealed in a plastic bag, it lost its greenness as time went by, however, the emphasized beauty of its shape caught my eye.
    I remember he said during my interview as turning over the pages of "Photographs, glasses, and calligraphy by Yukio Nakagawa, Flower Artist- Shape of lives" (Kyuryudo, 2007)

"I admire him because his works such as “Magic Mountain” and “Hana-bouzu” can tell connoisseurs how he truly cherishes the flowers. He is waiting for flowers to rot and cares for the rotten flowers while they smell extremely bad. I feel it is the horribleness of his art which directs his message to the viewers. He expresses himself splendidly, not simply, as he really comprehends and pursues each flower in order to be the nearest to the flower as well as maintain an appropriate distance. It is where I admire him most. (As in the picture of “Swan/Song/Farewell” by Nakagawa) We usually throw away these fruits, we don't keep them. So my heart twinges to imagine him, as an old man, taking the trouble to keep them in his really small space. He might have photographed these flowers which were set on the stainless board in his room. I do understand him."*9

    It's not a superficial attitude towards creation such as to "do what nobody has done before", but he is driven by a strong desire, almost hunger, to show nature, which comes from staring at existence itself. He, as well as Nakagawa, has a sincere attitude to flowers/plants.


    This sincerity runs throughout AMPG. "AMPP" (AZUMA MAKOTO PRIVATE PAPER), the monthly published booklet, is a prime example. This was born from his concept, "to record what he has done at AMPG by plants which are actually mortal and never live forever"*10, with an enthralling look that is very different from the simple recording function expected of a normal booklet.
     For example, he created such work as “Damned Ikebana”, a vacuum-packed work, with a carelessly rolled printed poster in it, or “Bamboo Man of Power (dedicated to Sakutaro Hagiwara)”, a cylinder like bamboo. He sometimes published three-dimensional objects, sometimes an A6 edition book as “The Catcher in the Datura“ in which Plant Hunter, a newly-written novel by author Tomoyuki Hoshino, is sandwiched between "Concept" and "Afterwords" by Azuma, in addition to a bookmark where the AMPG concept is written using outlined characters on a black background. Yoshitaka Haba, BACH President, was in charge of this "easy-to-follow art work inspired by "The Catcher in the Rye" by J. D. Salinger", and came up with the paperback design which was completely the same as he imagined*11. These booklets might not explicitly display the actual exhibition. However, they supplement his idea in another dimension from his art works*12.
    He doesn't produce pins nor direct mailing for the exhibition in AMPG. However a small exhibition notice is given to the visitors, which describes his schedule and his currently running magazines stories as well as the concept and explanation of the exhibition. In contrast to haughty galleries who do not greet visitors, the polite staff should also be noted. I would have left there ignorant, not knowing even the names of the displayed flowers/plants without the detailed explanations provided by the staff. His sincerity towards flowers/plants is passed on to visitors, and is not only a feature of his works. This totality is AMPG.


    Due to global as well as Japanese concerns, many enterprises run advertisements using the word, "eco", in accordance with the recently increased interest in the environment. It goes without saying that the earth does not consist only of human beings, so there is nothing wrong with the attention to the environment itself. However, sometimes I cannot help noticing that ecology is used only for commercial means as seen in the mass-produced eco bags, and this deviates from its original purpose. I don't deny economic activities, however it often seems we are too business-oriented and we convert even the environment to money.
    We see the same tendency in the recently increasing attention to flowers/plants. There are newly published magazines specialized in flowers/plants in Japan, which were inspired by growing concern about the environment. The word, "gardening", imported from England has spread in Japan over the last 10 years, and is connected to the recent concerns about the same. I should point out that he is dealing with flowers/plants in such a period, that is why he attracts so many attentions. Taro Igarashi served as the commissioner of the Japanese pavilion at this year's Biennale Architecture 11th International Architecture Exhibition. Along with Junya Ishigami, architect, and Hideaki Ohba, botanist, he set up conservatories inside and outside the pavilion where they tried actual planting (“EXTREME NATURE: Landscape of Ambiguous Spaces”). I didn't see this so could provide only the written information, however this would also come from the social interest in the environment
    However, we have to make it clear that we cannot understand Azuma’s work only in terms of this fashion. The strength of flowers/plants as living things cannot be linked to such a temporal phenomenon, and he creates his works in awareness of this. He is extremely critical of the superficial eco boom, which triggered him to create a work in which plants were arranged in an engine.
    After 24 months, the curtain will come down on AMPG. He is considering a mobile gallery after that.*13 This decision will not be changed because a publishing company will lease the current space as a gallery. When this happens we should not moan nor regret, not glorify nor legendize. We have to keep thinking back to his experiments by considering its relevance to our daily life, not just to the arts nor art history. With the strong smell of flowers/plants and its memory, AMPG and his works will live in us. This seems to be an appropriate way of representations for AMPG.
(Translated by Chisato Kushida)

Based on an interview on August 28, 2008 at AMPG
"ART PLANTED VOL.1 SHIKI 2" in "Ecocolo" No.14 June 2007 published by ESPRE
20 days from 1st to 20th of every month (open throughout the period), subject to change
Refer to note 1
Art work presentation inside and outside Japan, offer by enterprises (Kagome TVCF is fresh in our memory), regular running stories in four magazines (as of September 21, 2008): "Botanical sculpture" in "Numero TOKYO" published by Fusosha (monthly, from April 2007), "MADE IN PLANTS" in "Planted" by The Mainichi Newspapers (quarterly, from May 2007, Vol 4), "ART PLANTED" in "Ecocolo" by ESPRE (monthly, from Jule 2007), "Flower and Me" in "Papyus" by Gentosha (bi-monthly, from October 2008, Vol. 20). In "Papyus" he wrote another running story named "Flower and Bone" from April 2007, Vol. 11 to August 2008, Vol. 19
"Flower and Bone" vol. 9 titled "Keep creating" in "Papyus" VOL.19 Aug. 2008 by Gentosha
STELLA People INTERVIEW : Makoto Azuma STELLA WEB magazine - ODN SpinNet, http://www.stella-web.jp/interview/azuma01.html
Refer to Note 1
Refer to Note 1
"Makoto Azuma, Flower Artist, The Catcher in the Datura" in "BRUTUS TRIP" Jan. 2008 by Magazine House
Refer to Note 10
"AMPP" was changed from "SHIKI 4" in September 2008. Before that, "AMPP" had shown simulated art works to be displayed in AMPG, but never the actual exhibition. These reflected the concept, therefore sales on the first date were possible. "SHIKI 4" includes the actual exhibition. Three quarters of the period has gone and we see his change of mind in this edition.
"Living has meaning" Flower Shape Created by Makoto Azuma' in "Art Shincho" Sept. 2008 by Shinchosha
Last Updated on January 16 2017

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