Written by ART Driven Tokyo

Photo Keizo Kioku

The show in Tokyo asks “What is a human being? What is life?”

The exhibition Portraits-OBAYASHI COLLECTION  is being held in Marunouchi, Tokyo, one of Japan’s leading business and cultural districts, like Paris or Manhattan, until October 20, 2023. The Obayashi Collection is owned by Takeo Obayashi, Chairman of the Board, of OBAYASHI CORPORATION. Obayashi is one of the top 200 collectors in the world selected by ARTnews 2023. (The exhibition ended.)

This exhibition takes portraiture and figure painting as its theme and is held by in cooperation with OBYASHI CORPORATION and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), one of Japan’s leading banks. The Yu-un, the private museum owned by Obayashi, features a building designed by Tadao Ando and permanent works by Olafur Eliasson. Portraits-OBAYASHI COLLECTION  is a special opportunity to view the Obayashi Collection.

In contemporary art portraits are expressed in much more complex ways

Photo Keizo Kioku

Obayashi, one of the members of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA ) says on the official website of the exhibition, “Depictions of the human form can be found in cave paintings of the Stone Age. But in contemporary art the human form is treated in much more complex ways. For example, some artists depict “mediatized figures” of some sort to examine our increasingly complicated identities and the intermingling of falsehood and reality in an age filled with countless images circulated through the mass media.” He also says on the website, “Artists who create their own distinct world with reference to older paintings of the human figure are also of great interest to me.”

Obayashi:Today’s art world, collectors are also one of the targets targeted by the art market

Djordje Ozbolt
“The collector and his find”2012
©Djordje Ozbolt Courtesy of TARO NASU Photo by Keizo Kioku

Djordje Ozbolt “The collector and his find” 2012-Djordje Ozbolt is a London-based Serbian artist who explores ideas of history, memory, and contemporary culture through paintings, sculptures, drawings, and installations. The Collector keeps his collected artwork on a leash, like a pet.

About this work, according to the official comments Obayashi made for the exhibition, “It depicts collectors and collectibles. The collector is proudly showing off his collectibles, but his face has been replaced by that of the target. Osbolt expresses here that in today’s art world, collectors are also one of the targets targeted by the art market.”

Photo Keizo Kioku

The work on the right is Takashi Murakami Miss Ko²-Devil 2004. It would be devil version of COCO in a maid’s outfit, the famous figure by Murakami. This is a portrait of famous Japanese actress Eriko Sato. The eyes are colorful and distinctive, and there is a cuteness (Kawaii) that is typical of Murakami.

加藤泉 ”untitled” 2020 Photo: Kei Okano
©2020 Izumi Kato Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin

Izumi Kato”untitled” 2020- Kato creates oil paintings and wood carvings characterized by organic forms, with primitive and anonymous life forms as his main motifs, reminiscent of fetuses, insects, children, plants, and humans in-between. In recent years, he has been creating three-dimensional works using soft vinyl materials. Kato’s work is interesting because it is both cute (Kawaii) and scary.

The virtual and the real. Will the human face of the future look like this? 

Photo Keizo Kioku

On the left, Go Watanabe Face (Portrait)-24, 2008 -A computer-generated 3DCG face is pasted with image data of a real person’s skin. According to the official comment by Obayashi, “This work shows how reality will be in the future, where the virtual and the real are blurredly mixed.

Will the human face of the future look like this? Watanabe creates paintings driven by memories and impressions of people, objects, and places he encounters. He is also known for his unstructured presentations and performances, including film productions, live painting with musicians, and creating murals in hotel rooms.

The exhibition includes works inspired by masterpieces from the past. In the center, Aki Kondo His Journey, My Journey 2022- “Kondo’s Madonna and Child, while inheriting Picasso’s physical expression, expresses a powerful affirmation of life that is common to Picasso’s works.” Obayashi officially comments.

On the right, Djordje Ozbolt Smile Benjamin, Smile, 2016- It is based on a portrait of Benjamin Franklin by 18th-century French portraitist Joseph Duplessis. Franklin’s portrait, which is also used on the $100 bill, forced to smile, Obayashi officially comments, “It has a sense of ironic humor.”

Photo Keizo Kioku

The SMBC Group, which sponsors the show, considers art an important asset and is active in supporting the development of contemporary art in Japan. The group is the principal partner of Tokyo GENDAI, the art fair held for the first time this summer.


Teodora Axente / Lynette Yiadom-Boakye / Michaël Borremans / Jacques Courtilleau / Hans-Peter Feldmann / 藤田嗣治(Tsuguharu Fujita) / Simon Fujiwara / Ryan Gander / Gilbert & George / 五木田智央(Tomoo Gokita) / 橋本雅邦(Hashimoto Gaho) / Roni Horn / 加藤泉(Izumi Kato) / 近藤亜樹(Aki Kondo) / Vik Muniz / 森村泰昌(Yasumasa Morimura)/ 村上隆(Takashi Murakami) / Toyin Ojih Odutola / Djordje Ozbolt / Elizabeth Peyton / Pierre-Auguste Renoir / 佐藤允 (Ataru Sato)/ Cindy Sherman / 杉本博司(Hiroshi Sugimoto) / 田名網敬一(Keiichi Tanaami) / Sam Taylor-Johnson / 富田直樹(Naoki Tomita) / Wolfgang Tillmans / Christian Rex van Minnen / 渡辺豪(Go Watanabe)

Exhibition Overview

Venue: 3-2, Marunouchi 1-chome, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0005

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation East Building Rising Square 1F Earth Garden

Period: August 25- October 20, 2023

Open: 9:00-18:00 Saturdays, Sundays and National holidays 13:00-18:00

Admission: Free

Exhibition website: https://www.smfg.co.jp/company/art/0825.html