Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kaiseki Cuisine: An Haute Smorgasbord of High-class Healthiness

Kaiseki: A mega-sampler platter. Via

The dishes keep coming one after another. Smoked duck breast with chrysanthemum sauce, sashimi, crab, pumpkin and butternut squash soup–and the meal still isn’t even halfway through. The waiter presents several choices for the next course, and by the time you’ve decided, you are already thinking about the next six.

If you were at any other restaurant, this would likely be the point at which you would start contemplating how to burn all this off the next day. However, you are at Michelin-Star chef David Bouley’s Brushstroke, patting yourself on the back for sticking to your diet.

Brushstroke, the result of a collaboration between Bouley and the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, Japan, specializes in a type of seasonal Japanese cuisine known as kaiseki, and Bouley claims it’s one of the healthiest ways to eat.

"About 10 years ago I started to think about how I wanted to do food with a healthier twist," he says. "Why? Because I want to see people more often," Bouley told Town & Country.

But  kaiseki is not just healthy. It is very much a high-class cuisine with centuries of tradition. The food is expensive, meticulously arranged, and served in small portions, much like French haute cuisine. It is believed that the term kaiseki (written with the Japanese characters for “stone” and “chest”) originated from the Zen Monk practice of placing warm stones into the front folds of their robes to ward off hunger.

No two kaiseki menus look the same, and meals can consist of more than 14 courses, decided upon by the head chef. The menu is ever-changing (over 5,000 seasonal dishes at Brushstroke alone), and the food is made to be as aesthetically appealing as possible, often presented on creatively-styled dishes and bowls to enhance the visual effect.

Some common courses include a bite-sized appetizer called sakizuke, a seasonal sashimi called mukozuke, and several soup courses, among others. If you’re somehow still really hungry before dessert, there is one final course known as tomewan, which is simply miso soup and rice. However, people often choose not to eat it, as kaiseki can be very filling.

When Bouley first introduced his tasting menu in the 1980s, he faced a lot of challenges, as he told GrandLife:
People sometimes thought they were going to eat too much, that there was too much food. They thought it was going to take too long. Those folks with the metabolism of being packed in like Thanksgiving dinner? That’s not what this is. This is like being a birdie, you know. I’m seducing you, I’m seducing you, I’m seducing you. And you’re playing. I’m teasing you.
It’s this seduction that gives Bouley a sense of purpose–being able to convert even the most reluctant diners. That trend continues October 23 at Japan Society, where he’ll be holding a lecture all about kaiseki’s past, present and future, followed by a tasting reception where guests will have the opportunity to taste Bouley’s brand of the distinctive cuisine for themselves.

“I’m a chef of ingredients," said Bouley. "That’s my type. That’s what it’s all going to come back to. Ingredients. Your body remembers them your whole life. A beautiful presentation is fun, but you will forget that. You won’t wake up one day with a craving for that. However you will wake up with a craving for a perfect white peach. I’ve always been sensitive to that. That has got me hooked.”

--Mark Gallucci

Friday, October 10, 2014

Facing Forward, Looking Back: Hisashi Tenmyouya’s 'Street-Samurai' Style

Detail of Tenmyouya's Rhyme.

Hisashi Tenmyouya is a man of many styles. He’s a rebel and an innovator, doing his best to express the diversity of Japanese culture through art.

“Japanese culture has been considered a world that is ascetic, static, simple, minimal, one of anime and manga," Tenmyouya said in an interview with Laura J. Mueller, who co-curated the exhibition Garden of Unearthly Delights: Works by Ikeda, Tenmyouya & teamLab, opening today at Japan Society. "However, that is just one aspect of Japanese culture. It is more diverse. We treasure the sight of cherry blossoms falling from the tree. We amuse ourselves with fireworks exploding like flowers blooming in the sky. We enjoy festivals with elaborately designed floats moving down the street.”

Tenmyouya has invented several self-described styles in the years he's been making art. His Butō-ha (circa 2000) depicts resistance towards the authoritative art system. His Neo-Nihonga (2001) incorporates elements of traditional Japanese art (nihonga), while using contemporary art styles and modern art materials, such as acrylic paint. And most recently, Basara (2010) draws inspiration from the extraordinary beauty of past eras, including the woodblock print artists of the late Edo period (1615 – 1867), and the kabukimono (men, often samurai, who dressed and acted flamboyantly) of the late Sengoku era (mid-15th to late 16th centuries).

“My manifesto, Basara, is based on the subculture of the ‘street-samurai culture’ that is excessively decorative and imbued with a rebellious spirit that defies traditional values. Basara stands for anti-authority and anti-aristocratic culture, which is derived from samurai culture on the streets. Basara represents a counter to the traditional values of wabi, sabi, Zen, and otaku,” he said.

Still, even across multiple styles, there are some common themes to be found in Tenmyouya’s work. His paintings tend to depict subjects that are in direct contrast with each other.

His 2002 work Neo Thousand-Armed Kannon presents Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, with her many arms holding machine guns, army knives and pistols. The piece examines the state of the world in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the U.S., highlighting the close relationship between violence and faith despite their opposite natures.

These contrasts are not always so serious, however. He also created a poster for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, appropriately titled Football, depicting two soccer players wearing samurai armor and decorative helmets in the midst of a battle for the ball - one player with his leg pulled back, ready to kick, and the other sliding towards him in an attempt to steal the ball away.

"[His] works exude an historic feel that is also wholly contemporary,” wrote Vicente Gutierrez in The Japan Times about Tenmyouya's Tokyo exhibition in 2009.

“Tenmyouya’s paintings of fantastic beasts and tattooed warriors are a record-album-cover designer’s version of Buddhist and Shinto religious icons,” wrote the The New York Times’ Holland Cotter, when Tenmyouya was featured in Japan Society's 2011 exhibition Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art.

Even though his solo exhibitions have mainly taken place in Tokyo, people from all around the world have been introduced to Tenmyouya’s unique style when his works have been showcased in places such as Berlin, Sydney and Singapore. He made his U.S. debut in 2002 in One Planet Under a Groove: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art at New York’s Bronx Museum.

He received more worldwide exposure with the 2006 video documentary Near Equal Tenmyouya Hisashi (released internationally as Hisashi Tenmyouya: Samurai Nouveau), in which director Go Ishizaki followed Tenmyouya as he worked on his paintings.

Japan Society’s Garden of Unearthly Delights features Tenmyouya’s first large-scale installation: a room adorned with several of his paintings, placed around a Zen garden with volcanic rocks and skulls planted in a sea of blood-red sand. One of the centerpieces of the room, his most recent work Rhyme, is a sizable painting which depicts yakuza-type men battling each other wearing nothing but fundoshi (ceremonial loincloths). While the subject matter is traditional, there is a sense of surrealism (a tiger and several horses wearing armor against a shimmering gold background), and the style is thought to be influenced by Leonardo de Vinci’s early-Renaissance The Battle of Angihari (1505).

It’s one of the many influences that contribute to Tenmyouya’s distinctive “street-samurai” style, in addition to his striking visual approach. His always-innovating, rebellious mindset makes each of his paintings more unpredictable than the last. With new styles, new ideas and new concepts, Hisashi Tenmyouya will be a fascinating artist to follow in the years to come.

--Mark Gallucci, additional reporting by Younjoo Sang

Images (top to bottom, left to right):  Hisashi Tenmyouya, (b. 1966), Rhyme (Detail), 2012. Acrylic paint, gold leaf on wood; inkjet print on paper, mounted on wood; each 49 7/8 x 118 1/8 in. Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Colonel Rex W. & Maxine Schuster Radsch Endowment Fund purchase, 2013.23.1-.2a-b.; Neo Thousand Armed Kannon, 2002. Acrylic, wood; 89 ½ x 68 5/16 in. Takahashi Collection, Tokyo. © Hisashi Tenmyouya, courtesy Mizuma Art Gallery; Football, 2004, official poster selection of the 2006 World Cup in Germany; Neo Acalanatha (Detail), 2004. Acrylic, wood; 42 1/3 x 18 5/7 in. Collection of Katsura Yamaguchi. © Hisashi Tenmyouya, courtesy Mizuma Art Gallery.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Meticulously Monumental: Manabu Ikeda’s Dedication to Perfection

Manabu Ikeda attends to details. Via.

The wave rises. Uprooted buildings, destroyed planes, and derailed trains follow. A giant glacier is swept along, rope-tethered climbers working to scale the massive chunk of ice as it travels. Roads have been split, tunnels upturned, and a raging fire is rapidly consuming what’s left of a small forest. This could be the apocalypse.

Or it could be a mere fraction of what’s taking place in Manabu Ikeda’s Foretoken, a drawing of a massive, 6 by 11 foot wave crashing through civilization.

Ikeda’s works are examples of precision and persistence which sacrifice neither scope nor detail, depicting painstakingly crafted landscapes laden with subtle touches and sweeping emotion. To achieve this, he uses a small, fine-point acrylic pen for his drawings, working on only a few inches each day for up to eight hours, which will eventually make up the minute details of a much larger piece, which often takes him years to complete. For his current project, Ikeda is in the middle of a three-year residency at the Chazen Museum of Art, working on a single drawing.

Commenting on Meltdown, one of Ikeda’s more recent drawings, Chazen director Russell Panczenko told the Wisconsin State Journal, “if you look closely, with all this detail covering the whole surface, there isn’t a pen stroke that is more than an eighth of an inch in length. So – talk about intensity.”

Ikeda’s meticulous approach is very much connected to Japanese tradition. In Japan the term takumi is reserved for one who has mastered his/her profession at the highest level of technical precision.

“The master does it by hand; that’s what makes him the master. That’s important to him,” Panczenko noted.

Ikeda’s work process tends to be spontaneous, as he either sketches quickly thought-out images in sketchbooks or directly inks his larger works without a sketch draft.

Manabu Ikeda's Foretoken (Detail), 2008. Pen, acrylic ink on paper, mounted on boards; 72 x 132 in. Collection of Sustainable Investor Co., Ltd. © Manabu Ikeda, courtesy Mizuma Art Gallery.

“I use ideas that flash in my mind at the moment,” Ikeda said in an interview with Hi-Fructose Magazine. “From a distance, I look at the whole balance of work, and finally determine the image, which takes about one year after I started drawing. Recently, I try to have a whole solid image in the beginning to shorten the time.”

Ikeda’s works received much critical praise in America during Japan Society's 2011 exhibition Bye Bye Kitty!!!, which highlighted contemporary Japanese artists whose works utilized traditional styles while going against foreign preconceptions of Japanese art.

The New Yorker described Ikeda as “a visionary”, saying, “It would take you hours to explore thoroughly, and then you’d have to start over, to refresh your memory. Does this sound like a stunt? It’s an enchantment.” The New York Times praised Ikeda’s attention to detail:
… nothing tops Manabu Ikeda’s miniaturist ink landscapes and cityscapes. In "Existence" he presents the world as a giant, decomposing tree. In “History of Rise and Fall,” it becomes a shifting, clattering architectural pileup: a million-roofed samurai castle garnished with cherry trees, fragmented Buddhist sculptures and ant-size hanged human figures.
From October 10 to January 11, visitors to Japan Society Gallery can experience the largest number of Manabu Ikeda’s drawings assembled to date, presented alongside works by “ultra technologist” collective teamLab and Neo-Nihonga purveyor Hisashi Tenmyouya in Garden of Unearthly Delights: Works by Ikeda, Tenmyouya & teamLab.

The exhibition showcases a crossover from past to present, according to Japan Society Gallery director and exhibition co-curator Miwako Tezuka. Many of Ikeda’s drawings focus on this transition – more specifically, on the shift from reliance on nature to reliance on technology.

“I agree that we benefit a lot from advanced technology," Ikeda told Hi-Fructose, "but at the same time, I feel that we are acting contrary to nature, which makes me feel endangered. Also, figuratively, accomplished shapes do not move my heart. At the end, for example, the mystery of a caterpillar’s color and shape is much more fun for me than any amazing technology.”

-- Mark Gallucci; additional reporting by Younjoo Sang