Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Art and Cheese steaks

One of the teachers I worked with at Hamamatsu Minami paints in his free time. It often seemed like several of the teachers had quite interesting personal lives that they never revealed to students - or even other teachers; this teacher a painter, another a jazz guitarist, another the head of the Japanese fan club for a Korean actor (admittedly, I find that one less cool than amusing. Incidentally, these teachers that have something outside of work that gives their lives meaning seem to be both better teachers as well as more agreeable people in general). I only found out about this teacher's painting after asking him specifically about what he had done one weekend, and he admitted it only furtively. Later he told me he paints regularly and has exhibitions in the city, and his wife is artistic as well: a published poet!

A couple weeks ago I received an invitation in the mail for an exhibition by his collective put on by the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, so I went to check it out. As it turns out, one of his three paintings won an award in the exhibition. I walked through and found all three, which were titled Expectation 1, 2, and 3, respectively. Frankly, I was shocked. The paintings are of a series that seem to be following the pregnancy of his wife (hence, "Expectation"), who had just recently given birth to a baby girl, their first child. This teacher is an unfailingly genial guy, and it often seems like there's a goofy kid stuck in that 40-year-old frame, and to be honest, I wasn't expecting such a naked (pun not intended) display of emotional depth. The light and color change across the series as the child in the woman grows, while images of chromosomes and a fetus are arranged in a sort of cosmic backdrop (Expectation 2 is the above picture, and Expectation can be seen here). I left the exhibit pleasantly surprised to see a new side of a friend, and with a renewed appreciation for how little others may reveal to us about their inner lives. (You can see a selection of his paintings here, at his personal site)

And as I left the exhibition, I noticed the showing in the main gallery: Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art! This was surreal, since I had seen all these paintings about five years previously with my aunt, uncle, and cousin while visiting them in Philadelphia. To stumble upon them again in the middle of Tokyo was a treat.

And speaking of treats, this is what I found on my way outside the gates of the museum: Philly cheese steaks! A small van was parked right outside the entrance to the exhibit grilling up steaks for any takers, sponsored by the museum and thus, for all intents and purposes, an extension of the actual exhibit. A large poster alongside relayed the story of the steak for inquisitive Japanese minds: apparently it was developed by an Italian guy who sold hot dogs to taxi drivers in the 1930's. One day he tried thinly sliced meat along with grilled onions and cheese in a sandwich and the Philly Cheese Steak was born.

The last part of this surprisingly long and involved message on steaks - much longer and more prominent than the placards you might find regarding paintings in the museum - contains this final plea: "We sell these steaks to match the exhibit from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The exquisite flavor combination of steak and cheese will call forth the spirit of Philadelphia to you, so please enjoy one in remembrance of your appreciation for the art here today."

Apparently, you can't really appreciate art from Philadelphia without a giant Philly sandwich jammed down your gullet. And that's not just my opinion, that's coming right from the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art.