In: Daido Moriyama

Best known best for his black and white photos, Daido Moriyama is one of the leading photographers in Japan, his work focusing primarily on the country’s post-war experience of the breakdown of tradition and subsequent influx of modern values. The show, at the Cartier Foundation, exhibits a large portion of Moriyama’s work in colour, an element of his photography which has been largely unobserved throughout his career. The show ultimately strives to demonstrate what Moriyama describes as the “confusing interaction of people and things in the contemporary city” in both parts of the exhibition: Daido Tokyo – his colour work; and Dog and Mesh Tights – an audiovisual installation that presents his better known black and white works.

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015
Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Daido Tokyo presents a body of work which demonstrates Moriyama’s apt eye for colour. His shots that are visually very “busy” (showing larger scale urban areas/ lots of colour/ multiple visual elements, objects and subjects) appear to work best; high focus resolutions with compelling colour contrasts such as a wide shot of a snowy Tokyo street with a large bright red vending machine at the centre of the image. The vending machine takes a strangely unnerving stance, its bright red colour and artificial look making it seem misplaced on the soft, snowy street. Both bleak and beautiful, the image captures a moment in modern Tokyo with a sad sense of nostalgia. What adds to this unnerving and slightly uncanny quality is that Moriyama doesn’t reveal any of his photographs’ contexts. For example, a shot of the bottom of a stairwell patterned with bright red leaves which clash with the purple wall, capture a dinginess which evokes the seediness that you might find in a brothel, a fact that is neither confirmed nor denied. In fact, there is no information next to each photograph: no title, subtitle, label or description; his work is inherently mysterious.

Unfortunately, the gallery does Moriyama a disservice by presenting his photographs in a jumbled formation that makes them difficult to focus on or follow; being arranged in 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s and 6s, edge to edge and without borders. Arguably this deliberately reinforces Moriyama’s idea of confusing interactions of the city – perhaps the presentation is a meta-visual tool that sees the works themselves inhabiting the confused landscapes of the artist’s photographs. Nonetheless, the photos are hard to look at, sometimes becoming distorted by their presentation.

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015
Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Photos that stand out from the jumble are portraits that provide an interesting insight into city life. The most dramatic of these features a blurred street at night-time as a backdrop with a woman’s face in the forefront, her eyes dark with kohl which is slightly running round her eyes. It’s hard to say whether her expression is unnerving or endearing but it’s thought-provoking and beautifully composed nonetheless, conjuring images of loneliness and vulnerability which are up against the great magnitude and darkness of the city. Another shot which is particularly absorbing shows a group of women moving through a market. Those in the background are out of focus, bringing the woman at the front to our attention who has a candidness in her expression that makes you wonder if she knew she was being photographed. This, along with the blurred movement in the photograph creates an image whose subjects are fleeting and mobile, evoking the fast-pace of an urban environment.

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color, 2008-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Dog and Mesh Tights takes a different approach to its colour counterparts: an audiovisual piece installed in a dark room comprised of four 10 ft screens providing a slideshow of Moriyama’s vast body of black and white work. The audio adds an interesting extra element; often involving people talking in groups (in Japanese) and moving around busy public spaces as well as the clattering sounds of restaurants and communal eating. Moriyama knows that most of his French audience won’t understand the Japanese audio; this assumed unfamiliarity is another meta-artistic demonstration of Tokyo’s “confusing” urbanity.

Daido Moriyama, Dog and Mesh Tights Series, 20014-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

Daido Moriyama, Dog and Mesh Tights Series, 20014-2015 Courtesy of the artist / Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation

In Dog and Mesh Tights, the photos on display suggest that the “confusion” Moriyama speaks of involves Tokyo being in a limbo state, uncomfortably wedged somewhere between the old and the new. Symbols of modern pop culture such as glittered lips on an airbrushed face or the iconically branded can of Coca Cola stand juxtaposed with banal images of human habit – a sellotape dispenser, toilet roll and paperclips. The clash between habit/ tradition and new/ contemporary are central ideas in both parts of the show and are, unsurprisingly, left unresolved as if to say that Japan is still attempting to forge its post-war identity. Whilst Moriyama explores these ideas with thoughtful detail, it is a shame that the gallery itself couldn’t have dealt with the presentation a little more thoughtfully. This ultimately left me with a sense of incompletion – a feeling that the show lacked the coherence that Moriyama’s work really deserves.

Daido Moriyama, Daido Tokyo is on view at The Cartier Foundation, Paris through June 5, 2016

The art scene in Paris has long been recognised, first and foremost, as the birthplace of Impressionism with the likes of Manet, Monet and Degas bringing it to global prominence. Today, however, Paris’ modern and contemporary offerings are a strong and exciting force driving its reputation beyond the die-hard, 19th century roots.  From cutting-edge industrial architecture in the Gagosian Le Bourget, to digital innovation at La Gaîté Lyrique, we rounded up the 10 best modern and contemporary galleries to give you an insight into the city’s burgeoning arts scene. 

1. Palais de Tokyo

In a nutshell: The rugged concrete interior may appear to be a meditated aesthetic decision but was actually due to the the gallery’s lack of money in the middle of renovation which led to organisers leaving it in its stripped-down state. Situated across from the Musée d’Art Moderne, the enormous Palais de Tokyo space houses some of the most cutting-edge, contemporary art in Europe including mind-blowing installations, films, and performances that are always exciting and immersive. Don’t miss the excellent bookshop and The Toyko Eat, the gallery’s restaurant.

Where: 16th arrondissement. Open 12pm-12am every day except Tuesday.

2. Centre Georges Pompidou


In a nutshell: The base level for any contemporary art-goer in Paris is the Centre Georges Pompidou, its name pays homage to its creator – the French president – who commissioned the building in 1969 as a completely new, multidisciplinary cultural centre. It’s architecture is an extraordinary mélange of multicoloured pipes forming a structure that juts out from the traditional French buildings of the 4th arrondissement. With its exhaustive permanent collections of modern and contemporary art spanning over 100,000 works including Pollock, Kandinsky and Man Ray, the Pompidou is, unsurprisingly, one of the most visited museums in France. Don’t miss the panoramic view from the top floor and the gallery’s library.

Where: 4th arrondissement. Open 11am-10pm everyday except Tuesday.

3. La Gaîté Lyrique


In a nutshell: Like the Palais de Tokyo, La Gaîté Lyrique is hyper-contemporary. It focuses on the digital arts, complete with a video game station, interactive library and café, as well as exhibitions in the basement. The institution embraces all forms of contemporary digital expression from cinema, web design, and visual arts to electronic music. You’ll find many students in the café, teens playing the video games and plenty of families who take advantage of the kids afternoons the gallery holds during its exhibitions. 

Where: 3rd arrondissement. Open 2pm-8pm Tuesday-Saturday and 12pm-6pm Sundays. Closed Monday.

4. Musée d’Art Moderne


In a nutshell: Located in the East-Wing of the Palais de Toyko, the Musée d’Art Moderne has been running since 1968 with over 10,000 modern and contemporary works from both European and global artists as well as several temporary exhibitions each year. The gallery was briefly closed in 2010 after a theft of over €100,000 worth of masterpieces, including works by Matisse and Modigliani. Even with its compelling heist history, the gallery is not as well-known as its name suggests, but is still worth a visit for its excellent permanent collection.

Where: 16th arrondissement. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday except Thursday with a late opening until 10pm. Closed Monday.

5. Jeu de Paume


In a nutshell: Situated on the edge of Paris’ Place de Concorde in the famous Tuileries Garden, the Jeu de Paume is a beautiful 19th century building that once served as a tennis court, (hence the gallery’s title – ‘Jeu de Paume’ is French for racquet), as well as a sorting house for Nazi loot during WWII. The work on display, however, often goes above and beyond the building’s history with a focus on exhibiting post-war mechanical/electronic art – predominantly photography but also includes cinema, video installation, web art and more. Its major exhibitions, such as the current showcase of Philippe Halsman’s famous celebrity portraits have made it a popular destination for the city’s art-goers.

Where: 8th arrondissement. Open 11am-9pm Tuesday and 11am-7pm Wednesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

6. Maison Européenne de la Photographie


In a nutshell: Housed in an ex-hotel in Paris’ historic 4th quarter Le Marais, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie is an institution dedicated to showcasing contemporary photography with a collection of over 20,000 works as well as rotating exhibitions which show anything from portraiture to optical illusions. Each rotation gives a broad vision of photography today, recently showing a major exhibition documenting a season at French fashion house Lanvin, as well as the remarkably composed architectural photographs of Caio Reisewitz. As well as these spaces, the gallery houses an auditorium, library, and video viewing facility and runs workshops and events throughout the year.

Where: 4th arrondissement. Open 10am-8pm Wednesday-Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

7. Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain


In a nutshell: Describing itself as having an “original approach to corporate philanthropy”, the Cartier Foundation commits itself to raising public awareness for contemporary art by exhibiting established artists as well as offering younger ones a chance to debut. Housed in a glass building designed by Pritzker Prize architect Jean Nouvel, it sits in a tranquil woodland garden, landscaped by Lothar Baumgarten making it a worthwhile place to visit for reasons beyond just the art. As well as organising multiple exhibitions, the foundation has created ‘Nomadic Nights’, an event focusing on the linkage between different kinds of contemporary expression via the performing arts.

Where: 14th arrondissement. Open 11am-8pm Wednesday-Saturday and 11am-10pm on Tuesdays. Closed Monday.

8/9. Gagosian Galleries


In a nutshell: Major player in the contemporary art world, Larry Gagosian has fifteen galleries worldwide including two in Paris; one in the north-eastern suburb Le Bourget and another in the 8th arrondissement. The former is in an industrial park of Le Bourget, its location enabling the gallery’s spacious interior which, like Paris’ Cartier Foundation, was designed by Jean Nouvel. Indeed, the building is an extraordinary work in itself, combining the rugged industrial original with a smart contemporary finish. The latter is a smaller space than its suburban counterpart but is exceptional nonetheless, set in a Parisian mansion just off the Champs-Élysées. Expect a vibrant contemporary art program featuring leading international artists. 

Where:  8th arrondissement. Open 11am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday // 93350 Le Bourget. Open 11am-7pm Tuesday-Saturday.

10. MAC/VAL 


In a nutshell: Paris’ size to population ratio has always been pretty tight and is one of the reasons why many large public spaces lie just outside the Périphérique dual-carriageway that defines the city limits. One of the many exciting contemporary art centres in the suburbs is Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val-de-Marne, a.k.a. MAC/VAL. Situated in the south-eastern suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine in a sprawling contemporary building, MAC/VAL boasts being the first museum completely dedicated to the French ’50’s art scene. Having now expanded its collection to house everything from the ’50’s to contemporary art, the gallery also enjoys exhibiting both experienced and up-and-coming artists.

Where: 94400 Vitry-sur-Seine. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Friday and 12pm-7pm on Weekends and holidays. Closed on Mondays.