*by Ash Duhrkoop
Japanese artist Tsuyoshi Ozawa is part of a generation of Tokyo-based artists who took their work to the streets in response to the exclusionary rental gallery system. In 1993, Ozawa opened the world’s smallest gallery. Called the Nasubi Gallery—Japanese for eggplant and an inversion of the name of a well-established rental gallery in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district—Ozawa’s ‘white cube’ gallery was a traditional milk crate painted white. Acting as curator, Ozawa commissioned artists to create works for Nasubi Gallery. He exhibited his crates on the street outside of the Nabis Gallery, until he realized the full mobility of the crate and took the project abroad. Nasubi Gallery closed in December 1995, and after a period of rethinking its direction, Ozawa opened the New Nasubi Gallery in 1997.
This essay discusses three boxes: Duchamp’s Boîte-en-Valise; Aspen, the unbound magazine in a box; Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s Nasubi Garo, the milk crate gallery. Each in their own way, these boxes work to de-center the white cube gallery, which, as Brian O’Doherty asserted, may be the archetypal image of twentieth century art. There is also a separate, though related, ideology of the museum, as described by Benjamin Buchloh in connection to Duchamp’s Boîte:
“All of the functions of the museum, the social institution that transforms the primary language of art into the secondary language of culture, are minutely contained in Duchamp’s case: the valorization of the object, the extraction from context and function, the preservation from decay and the dissemination of its abstracted meaning…”
Already in 1941, Duchamp had shown the world that the museum can be portable with his Boîte-en-Valise. In the 1960s, artists explored the potential of the magazine as a new kind of artistic medium and exhibition space: Dan Graham’s Schema (March 1966) is a schematic program for a poem comprised of the exact data of the publication in which it appears; Michael Barry’s two contributions to the sixth issue of 0 TO 9, “The Space Between pages 29 & 30” and “The Space Between Pages 74 and 75,” reference the physical space of the magazine; Michael Asher’s contribution to the first issue of Vision, in which two pages of the magazine were glued together. All of these projects take the site of the periodical as the locus of an original work of art. Due to its format and presentation, Aspen is perhaps the most radical redefinition of the magazine as an exhibition space. Finally, Tsuyoshi Ozawa transformed a traditional wooden milk crate into the white, ideal space of the modern art gallery, thus simultaneously literalizing the white cube and unveiling the ideology beneath its façade.
These three boxes are ambiguous objects, with many formal layers that evade categorical definition. Duchamp’s boxes are both a compilation and a multiple, a discrete object filled with reproductions created using labor-intensive and obsolete techniques. Aspen so eluded the trappings of its professed media—the magazine—that the United States Postal Service concluded it was not a periodical, revoking its second-class mail license. Ozawa’s Nasubi Gallery is both context and content; each one is a place in itself, with defined limits and contingencies.
With Duchamp’s Boîte-en-Valise and Aspen magazine as historical reference points this paper investigates the curious status of the objects contained by Ozawa’s miniature white cubes, the container itself, and the unique configuration of the artist-as-curator role that Ozawa occupies in the network of gestures that comprise the Nasubi Gallery. What is lost in conserving the individual Nasubi Gallery crates within a museum, as each one was intended as a discrete exhibition to be seen on the street? How does one historicize Institutional Critique so as not to extract it from its context and function? Does it not have the most to lose in this transformation from the primary language of art to the secondary language of culture? If the museum protects against the ephemeral, should concessions be made for art objects intended to be ephemeral? Or, is it our responsibility to preserve even the most stubbornly ephemeral objects—like magazines—for posterity? Is there a way to preserve objects of critique, in the very container being critiqued, without the object loosing its potency? With these questions in mind, this paper investigates conservation of/as Institutional Critique, the idea of exhibition as object, and the curatorial paradigm of the artist-as-curator, against a backdrop of Brian O’Doherty’s ideology of the gallery space.
What kind of object is this? It is simultaneously a unique work of art, a diorama, and an object of critique. The first time I encountered the Nasubi Gallery, it was hanging on a wall of the National Museum of Art, Osaka (NMAO). One iteration—or exhibition—was installed in one of the main galleries of the NMAO amid numerous other works by international artists in various media, where the accompanying wall label read: “Tsuyoshi OZAWA / Nasubi Gallery – Hiroshi Nomura Exhibition / 1993.” The institutionalization of Nasubi Gallery confuses the original object-subject relationship between the artwork and the container, turning the framing device into the subject. As illustrated by the wall label, Ozawa is catalogued as the object’s sole creator. This initially struck me as incorrect, but perhaps this is the best way of handling the ambiguity of this object called Nasubi Gallery – Hiroshi Nomura Exhibition. While it was conceived as a critique of Japan’s gallery system, it also existed as a legitimate alternative site for artists to exhibit. However, context and content, concept and object, are complicated in the relationship between Ozawa’s milk crate and the work within. A slim catalogue documenting the first 24 exhibitions made for the Nasubi Gallery through December 1995 lists Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s empty Nasubi Gallery as its first exhibition; Takashi Murakami’s exhibition for Nasubi, which will be discussed below, is listed as the second exhibition in Nasubi Gallery’s history. This exhibition history, edited by Tsuyoshi Ozawa himself, illustrates that the milk crate exist first and foremost as an object of institutional critique.
The “Geidai group” refers to a group of artists who studied at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in the late 1980s, among them Tsuyoshi Ozawa, Takashi Murakami, Masato Nakamura, and Hideki Nakazawa. This generation of artists entered the art scene during Japan’s “bubble economy,” and the various frustrations that they faced—the struggle for exhibition space, curators’ reluctance to nurture emerging artists, their professors’ focus on tradition and technique, art criticism’s obsession with the avant-gardes of the 1950s and 60s—prompted a dynamic rebellion. Current criticism now refers to this period in the early 1990s as the “golden age” of contemporary Japanese art.
Masato Nakamura conceived of a guerrilla-style art event called The Ginburart that took place on the streets of Tokyo in 1993. The only rule for participation was that each artist must do something that upset the normal, everyday functioning of the Ginza neighborhoods, Tokyo’s upscale district. Participants ranged from Takashi Murakami, who had completed graduate work in Nihonga (traditional Japanese painting) at Geidai by this time, to Peter Bellars, an English artist living in Tokyo, to Min Nishihara, an art writer.
Takashi Murakami’s planned disturbance, which involved a “rejection tour” of the Ginza art galleries with his portfolio, could not be completed because the Ginza galleries were closed on Sundays. Rather than forfeit his participation in the event, he asked Ozawa if he could make an exhibition in his milk crate. With this spontaneous decision, the white cube gallery that Ozawa created, full of the potential to be an exhibition space but as of yet empty, became a legitimate space to install art: Murakami created a miniature installation using paint and plastic toy soldiers, which were common to his early works. In keeping with the gallery’s own satirical tone, the exhibition was called Takashi Murakami’s Large Retrospective Show. The two artists have fought ever since over who owns the work.
In order to understand Ozawa’s gesture of rebellion, and the rebelliousness of the Geidai Group, one must understand the infrastructure of Japan’s art system. The unique and relatively short history of the modern art system in Japan begins in 1868, with the restoration of the practical Imperial rule of Emperor Meiji. The Meiji Restoration began, involving a major modernization program that opened channels of communication and trade between Japan and the West. The Meiji Restoration represents a critical moment in the history of Japanese art: for the first time, the Western idea of modern art was introduced to Japan.
Prior to the establishment of the first hakubutsukan, or Western-style museums, traditional Japanese art objects were collected in Shosoin, the treasure houses of shrines and temples. When national museums began to open, these traditional art objects were transported to the modern museums, understood by Japanese officials as repositories for national historical and scientific relics; these objects were classified as artifacts. It was not until after 1945 that the distinct category of bijutsukan, the art museum (in the modern, Western sense), was assigned. However, the bijutsukan served a slightly different function than the hakubutsukan. Instead of serving as repositories for collections of valuable cultural products and traditional art objects, they more commonly served as large-scale exhibition venues where art associations and juried salons could hold exhibitions. Still today there are a number of bijutsukan that have no permanent collection.
Museums in Japan are connected to the nation’s political institution; public museums fall under the control of the Japanese government. To use an example, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) receives its funding from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and is regulated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture. Thus, programming and acquisition decisions are made by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The government makes their decisions with input from a collection committee consisting of art specialists, the museum director, and art critics.
The concept of the commercial contemporary art gallery was imported later than the bijutsukan, with the first established in Japan in 1950. Tokyo Gallery, which is still open today and runs a satellite location in Beijing’s art district, has a rich exhibition history fundamental to the introduction of contemporary art to Japan in the postwar period. The gallery quickly became known for exhibiting groundbreaking work through its support of early-career Japanese artists like Kazuo Shiraga, Jiro Takamatsu, and Taro Okamoto, each of whom later went on to form important Japanese art groups, Gutai and Mono-ha. Tokyo Gallery was also the first gallery to host Western artists such as Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, and Jackson Pollock in Japan.
When Japan experienced a museum boom in the early 1980s, causing a dramatic increase in public and private museums, there was a parallel increase in the number of commercial art galleries to serve these new museums. However, this development did not supplant the indigenous concept of the rental gallery. Museums focus largely on major Western art movements and well-known Japanese artists. Generally, in addition to significant foreign artists, commercial galleries will only present the works of recent graduates of Japanese art universities whose professors have taken the initiative to line up gallerists and buyers for their favorite students. This is referred to as the senpai-kohai, or ‘master-underling,’ relationship in Japanese. None of the members of the Geidai group seem to have enjoyed such a relationship with their professors at Tokyo National University, as these young artists were more interested in the conceptualism they read about in the global art press.
Ozawa graduated from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music with a degree in oil painting in 1989. During the 1980s, at the time of Japan’s “bubble economy” from 1986 to 1992, real estate prices skyrocketed, making it hard for commercial contemporary art galleries to survive. For while real estate and the stock market were high at this time, the market for contemporary art was slow and collectors were for the most part interested in buying Impressionist and Old Master paintings abroad. Rental galleries flourished, as they did not present risks for gallery owners.
The kashi garo, or rental gallery, which developed alongside the commercial galleries beginning in the 1960s, is the more ubiquitous type of gallery in Japan. In this system, as implied by its name, the artist must pay a fee to rent out the gallery space for a set duration, usually one week. The fee includes the use of a 20 to 30 square meter exhibition space, a postcard invitation sent to the gallery’s mailing list, and an opening reception—for which the artist must supply the wine. While there is a gallery staff member on hand during the exhibition, he or she does not work for the artist. The gallery staff member is not for hire with the space, and expressly will not make any accommodations, such as assistance with installation/de-installation, transportation, press, or customs, in the event of a foreign buyer. This obliges the artist to remain on site or be very close at hand. When I was in Tokyo in 2012 to study contemporary art, of any rental galleries I visited, the artist was almost always present. Under the conditions of the rental gallery system, exhibitions are short, ensuring the work is under-exposed, and with no curator included with purchase, the artist is forced to shoulder the responsibilities of this role. This is a very different occupation of the artist-as-curator role than the more familiar understanding in which the artist uses the exhibition as an articulation of form.
In his review of Lucy Lippard’s “557,087”, one of her seminal Numbers shows, Peter Plagens claimed that Lippard had been the artist and her medium was other artists. This statement is literalized by the gesture embedded in Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s Nasubi Gallery, as the series is predicated upon Ozawa assuming the role of curator. Lippard, in her position as critic, curator, and artist-collaborator on the nascent Conceptual art scene, blurred artistic and critical practices in her Numbers exhibitions. However, Lippard is not the first to do this; she follows the legacy of Marcel Duchamp, who is another seminal figure in the history of the artist-as-curator.
Duchamp’s own curatorial work—far surpassing the Boîte-en-Valise alone—is as radical and significant as the works that he produced, if somewhat overlooked in art historical scholarship on the artist. Dorothea von Hantelmann has studied Duchamp’s role as a curator and argues that the artist himself initiated what she refers to as the “curatorial paradigm,” with his readymade representative of the shift from “a production-oriented society to a selection-oriented society.” Elena Filipovic adds a corrective to this “curatorial paradigm,” asserting that instead of selection, it was Duchamp’s “understanding of the exhibition as a means of interrogation, a tool by which to critically question the limits of both the (art) object and its institutions, all of which importantly determined the fate of his readymade even more than his mere selection [of the readymade] did.” Filipovic’s thinking about the exhibition as a means of interrogation is correct; Duchamp’s “1,200 Bags of Coal” at the 1938 Exhibition of Surrealism is a perfect example. Duchamp not only acted as “generator-arbitrator” for the Exhibition of Surrealism held at the Galeries des Beaux-Arts; his own contribution to the exhibition performs an interrogation of the exhibition space. By affixing 1,200 sacks of coal to the gallery ceiling, Duchamp drew attention to a part of the gallery that conventionally only serves operational purposes and desecrated the pure, ideal space of the gallery. In addition to the sacks of coal on the ceiling, he turned a stove on the floor into a chandelier by placing a light bulb inside. Thus, Duchamp both subsumed the gallery and turned it on its head, using the smallest bit of “exhibition” space proper of any artist in the show and the ceiling, the space that no one looks at and that no other artist would have wanted.
The main, and indeed very obvious, difference between Ozawa’s Nasubi Gallery and Duchamp’s Boîte-en-Valise is, of course, that Ozawa, like a true gallerist, dealt with the work of other artists while Duchamp applied the curatorial gesture to his own oeuvre. The two share the same curatorial gesture, however, which is not one of selection, but rather, of framing.
“My whole life’s work fits into one suitcase,” said Duchamp in 1954. Duchamp’s Boîte-en-Valise is a suitcase containing miniature reproductions of all his works predating the mid-1930s. Duchamp’s Boîte is both a portable museum and a system of production that takes itself to task. In her book Unpacking Duchamp, Dalia Judovitz poses the following question in reference to his Boite-en-Valise: “What does it mean to conceive the work of art as a box or valise?” Rather, the question might be: what does it mean to conceive the museum as a box or valise? The same confusion about the status of the objects within Nasubi Gallery surrounds the miniature versions of Duchamp’s works found in the Boîte-en-Valise. Are they reproductions? Multiples? There is no definitive answer to such a categorical question, especially considering that the miniatures were produced by local artisans, who used obsolete and labor intensive techniques. Thus, the Boîte is not merely a collection of facsimiles, but each individual Boîte is an entirely new and unique object produced collaboratively through arrangement of hand-made replicas.
As Filipovic points out, Duchamp’s creation of a miniature version of a retrospective “allowed him to play, literally, the museum’s game on his own terms.” The invention of the readymade was also a curatorial gesture. Citing Duchamp’s statement during an interview that “For a period of thirty years nobody talked about the readymades, and neither did I,” Filipovic makes the very astute point that the invention of the readymade had to be curated. Duchamp’s Fountain and other readymades only became legitimate content when he provided first the context in which to view the miniature objects.
If it is easy to see that artist-curated exhibitions can trouble our very understanding of such notions as “artistic autonomy,” “authorship,” “artwork,” and “artistic oeuvre,” what might be less evident is that they also complicate what might count as an “exhibition.” Many artist-curated exhibitions … are the result of artists treating the exhibition as an artistic medium in its own right, an articulation of form.
Thus, there are multiple, interrelated layers of critique embedded in Nasubi Gallery. First, of course, is the artist’s struggle to exhibit in Japan due in large part to the proliferation of the rental gallery system. The second layer is directly connected to the first. With the rental gallery system, the artist is forced to act as his own curator. For Nasubi Gallery, Ozawa assumes the task of curator in lieu of his role as artist. However, in taking that role, Ozawa is also usurping that authority, for he is not serving as curator of his own work, but rather supporting the work of other artists. As such, Nasubi Gallery is not only a parody of the white cube gallery, it is also a tongue-in-cheek mockery of the idea of “the subject of an exhibition [being] the exhibition as a work of art.”
A third box to consider is Aspen: The Magazine in a Box, which was founded by Phyllis Gluck, under the pen name Phyllis Johnson, in 1964. Gluck commissioned a contemporary artist to design and guest-edit each issue. Participating artists include Marshall McLuhan, Brian O’Doherty, and Dan Graham. While the 1960s was a decade of anti-institutional experimentation, Aspen did not manage to escape the shackles of institutionalism. After only 10 issues over a period of six years, the United States Postal Service revoked the publication’s second-class mail license, concluding that Aspen was, in fact, not a periodical.
While it is a shame that Aspen ultimately had to fold because of the USPS ruling, it is true that Aspen was less a periodical than a traveling gallery. An advertisement that ran in the Evergreen Review read: “Aspen gives you actual works of art! Exactly as the artist created them. In exactly the media he created them for.” In his working notes for the issue that he guest-edited (Aspen 5+6), Brian O’Doherty referred to the magazine as a “miniature museum.” He specified that the box would be modeled after Duchamp’s Boîte, containing diminutive works by Claes Oldenburg and Donald Judd. These works were never realized, although Aspen 5+6 did contain a model of Tony Smith’s Maze, which required assembly by the reader. For all this, Aspen was a very different type of endeavor than Duchamp’s suitcase, which was produced in deluxe edition containing hand-painted reproductions. Aspen was a “mass-produced museum,” intended “less to preserve and protect works of art than to set them free,” with a circulation of 20,000 at four dollars each.
Aspen 5+6, even more than the other issues of the magazine, becomes an autonomous exhibition space by side stepping the white cube gallery. The magazine asserts its alterity from the white cube gallery by aping its structure on a small, mobile, and relational scale. No two individuals share the same reading of Aspen; each person experiences the contents of the box differently.
Ozawa’s miniature appropriation of the white cube functions very much like Aspen magazine did. Like Ozawa’s milk crate, Aspen became a site in which to bring together a diverse array of things including essays, kitsch found objects (referred to as “souvenirs” in the table of contents), model kits (to be built by the reader), phonograph records, sewing patterns, and Super-8 film reels, as well as a site to experience an original work of art. Writing about Aspen 5+6, one critic calls it the “first self-contained, portable conceptual exhibition in a box that dispenses with the gallery.” As such, the institutionalization of Nasubi Gallery boxes in museum collections is analogous to viewing Dan Graham’s Schema poems outside of the context of the publication it was written for: “Schema (March 1966) only exists by its presence in the functional structure of the magazine and can only be exhibited in a gallery second-hand.” It is this second-hand viewing that comes to mind when I think of Nasubi Gallery hung on the wall of the NMAO. About Schema, Graham also said, “It defines itself as place as it defines the limits and contingencies of placement (enclosing context, enclosed content). It is a measure of itself—as place.” In Ozawa’s Nasubi Gallery, like the other examples brought up here, context is equal to content.
Duchamp countered the ephemerality of ideas by becoming his own conservator. The magazine is an innately ephemeral medium, with its concern for circulation, distribution, and periodicity; an issue is only relevant until the next one is released. However, in the case of Aspen, there is no bound and prescribed cover-to-cover mode of reading. The reading, so to speak, never really ends, much in the same way as an exhibition at Nasubi Gallery never ends. The milk crates accumulate. The exhibition, too, is an ephemeral medium; a show ends and you feel a pang of regret that you did not visit when you had the chance. Reconstructions of historically significant exhibitions are trending, which seems to combat this ephemerality somewhat, but the reconstructions, too, are derivative. They are facsimiles. The Nasubi Gallery exhibitions are not scaled-down replicas; they are places themselves, which have defined their own limits and contingencies. This is what must be preserved when dealing with the conservation of objects of critique. Peering into each milk crate hung on a white cube wall is like looking into the mise-en-abyme of institutionalism. Though perhaps Ozawa and his Nasubi Gallery, which began nailed to a post outside, has won for finally being invited inside.
*Ash Duhrkoop is a second year MA candidate in Columbia University’s Modern Art: Critical and Curatorial Studies (MODA) program. She holds a BA from Bard College in Art History and Written Arts.
 Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (San Francisco: Lapis Press, 1986), 14.
 Benjamin Buchloh, “The Museum Fictions of Marcel Broodthaers,” Museums by Artists, ed. A. A. Bronson and Peggy Gale (Toronto: Art Metropole, 1983), 45.
 Dan Graham’s Schema first appeared in Aspen, no. 5+6 (Fall/Winter 1976), edited and designed by Brian O’Doherty. Robert Barry’s two projects appeared in 0 TO 9, no. 6 (July 1969), reprinted in Vito Acconci and Bernadette Mayer, eds., 0 TO 9: The Complete Magazine, 1967-1969 (Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006). Michael Asher’s project appeared in Vision, no. 1 (September 1975), edited by Tom Marioni. See Gwen Allen, Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011) and Craig Dworkin, No Medium (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013) for discussion of the artists’ projects and the journals in which they appeared.
 Exhibited in The 35th Anniversary of the National Museum of Art, Osaka: The Allure of the Collection. The National Museum of Art, Osaka. April 21 – June 8, 2011. 4-2-55 Nakanoshima, Kita-ku, Osaka, Japan.
 Tsuyoshi Ozawa, ed., Nasubi Gallery: The Smallest Gallery in the World, 1993-1995 (Tokyo: Nasubi Gallery, 1996).
 Adrian Favell, , Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art, 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher, 2011), 99.
 Ibid, 101.
 Giancarlo Politi and Lucy Rees, “Asia at a Glance II: A Survey,” Flash Art 45, no. 284 (May/June 2012): 80.
 Favell, Before and After Superflat, 86.
 Peter Plagens, “557,087: Seattle,” Artforum 8, no. 3 (Nov 1969): 67.
 The artist as curator is not a new phenomenon; artist-curated exhibitions are as old as modern art itself, beginning with Gustave Courbet’s break with the Academy in 1855. See the Introduction to Bruce Altshuler, ed., Biennials and Beyond: Exhibitions That Made Art History, 1962-2002 (New York: Phaidon, 2013), 11. Indeed, Ozawa’s own rebellion is very similar to Courbet’s exhibition across the street from the 1855 Salon in Paris, where he exhibited his works that were rejected by salon officials. However, it was not just that Courbet showed different works than those accepted by the Academy, he chose to show these works differently; Courbet eschewed the typical salon-style floor to ceiling installation of paintings, which as Courbet argued, disregarded the integrity of the works on display.
 The work of Brian O’Doherty, Elena Filipovic, and Dorothea von Hantelmann on Duchamp’s curatorial work is an exception, as well as other more recent scholars.
 Dorothea von Hantelmann, “The Curatorial Paradigm,” The Exhibitionist (June 2011): 11-12.
 Elena Filipovic, “When Exhibitions Become Form: On the History of the Artist as Curator,” Mousse, The Artist as Curator ser., 41, no. 0 (December 2013): 8.
 Dalia Judovitz, Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 2.
 Filipovic, “When Exhibitions Become Form,” 9.
 Ibid, 5.
 Daniel Buren quoted in von Hantelmann, “The Curatorial Paradigm,” 6.
 “Citing criteria established by Congress in 1879m which required that periodicals be dated, numbered, formed of printed sheets, and have consistency betweens issues and periodicity, the Postal Service objected in particular to Aspen’s erratic publication schedule and inconsistent format.” Gwen Allen, Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011), 49.
 Ibid, 43. Reprinted.
 Ibid, 52.
 The box designed for Aspen 5+6 was made of white cardboard and measured 16-1/2 inches square and 2-1/8 inches in depth. The box was bifurcated at 8-1/4 inches, opening into two symmetrical halves. The title and any indentifying information was printed inconspicuously on one side.
 Mary Ruth Walsh, “A Labyrinth in a Box: Aspen 5+6,” Circa 104 (Summer 2003).
 Dan Graham quoted in Liz Kotz, Words to Be Looked At: Language in 1960s Art(Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007), 135.
 Dan Graham, For Publication (Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County: Los Angeles, 1975).