Ninguen by Atsuya Tominaga as seen on a Tokyo Art Tour

Atsuya Tominaga’s Ninguen in Tokyo

As Mac, our founder, was emailing guests to plan their Tokyo Art Tour with Maction Planet, he discovered that they had actually previously participated hands-on in a work orchestrated by Japanese artist Atsuya Tominaga (富永敦也)! They were overjoyed to find out that Tominaga-san has an exhibition in Tokyo right now at the Ippodo Gallery in Gotenyama! Mac reviews ‘Ninguen’ and looks at the career of this visionary sculptor.

If everyone becomes one with nature, the whole earth will become one.” – Atsuya Tominaga

Atsuya Tominaga was born in Osaka in 1961. He graduated in 1984 from the Kanazawa College of Art and completed a postgraduate degree there in 1986, majoring in Painting and Sculpture. He has been regularly exhibited in Japan since the mid-80s and internationally since the 1990s. He has held solo exhibitions in the major art centres of New York, Paris and Tokyo and participated in group exhibitions in Vienna, Prague, Grass and Carrara.  

Ninuguen as seen on a Tokyo Art Tour

The more I seek the human element, the more distant the stone becomes” – Atsuya Tominaga

The journey to Tominaga’s signature series Ninguen is fascinating and gives great insight into the man behind the sculptures. After graduating in 1986, Tominaga returned to Osaka. It was there he began working with black granite at a local quarry. Over a decade of working there, he developed his connection with the landscape. One key formative experience was the day he stopped ‘fearing the sunset’ – a day he remembers as the turning point to developing a oneness with nature. In 1996, he travelled to work in Pietrasanta, Italy, for one year. While there, he visited the Rome catacombs. Observing the chisel marks carved into the rock recesses which held the deceased, he reached another epiphany: that sculpture and carving were more about the “mark left by the chisel”, rather than the “shape of the form”.

It was at that point in 1997 that Tominaga began creating Ninguen. He coined the word himself. It alludes to the Portuguese word ‘ninguém’, meaning nobody, and the Japanese word ‘nin’, meaning people. These anonymous, androgynous bodies resemble human form but transcend that. Their primordial nature strikes you immediately, a quality which Tominaga himself has explored in an interesting way. He spent some time in Lascaux, France which is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage cave complex with 600 prehistoric wall paintings. There, he worked with the same type of limestone found in these caves.

Ninguen - Atsuya Tominaga seen on a Maction Planet Tokyo Private Tour

Tominaga’s work can be seen in a number of museums and galleries around the world. Perhaps my favourite is his installation of 11 Ninguen in the gardens of the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, New York, where they sit on the beautifully curated grounds amongst other amazing works, such as Willem de Kooning’s ‘Reclining Figure’. They are especially resplendent with the daffodils in bloom.

“Stone exists within the ground, but longs to come up into the light. It awaits our touch” – Atsuya Tominaga

In this current exhibition at Ippodo, the pieces on display range in price from ¥60,000 to ¥450,000.

Two drawings are also available for purchase, ‘Our Love 1’ and ‘Our Love 2’ priced at ¥80,000. These relate to one of his seminal projects – ‘Our Love’ and the ‘Love Stone Project’. ‘Our Love’, three hearts carved from travertine rocks from Italy, Iran and the Former Yugoslavia, won the Grand Prize at the 25th UBE Biennale International Sculpture Competition, one of the world’s three largest outdoor sculpture exhibitions. The ongoing ‘Love Stone Project’ is a grand international affair. People come together to polish heart-shaped stones. It has so far involved over 15,000 participants. In fact, this current exhibition at Ippodo is being held in conjunction with “‘Love Stone Project’ – Toyonaka” in Osaka.

Ninguen - Atsuya Tominaga seen on a Maction Planet Tokyo Art Tour

We end with the words of the artist himself, and his poem, ‘Vox Petra’:

I long to hear the voice of the stone

Yet sparing of word is Petra

Solid and imposing from her beginning

Drawing me to her side

Chisel in hand, I seek greater proximity

Reaching out to touch her heart

And then perhaps to catch the sound of her voice

Atsuya Tominaga, ‘Ninguen’, is on show at the Ippodo Gallery, Gotenyama until Wednesday 18 October 2017. Directions can be found here.

Maction Planet’s Tokyo Art Tours encompass the major exhibitions, street art, murals, sculpture, gallery showings and events which make up the rich cultural landscape of the city. The sheer scope of events can be difficult for visitors to navigate, and often these events do not have any English language support. 

Our Tokyo Art Tours can be fully-customised around any Tokyo Private Tour experience. A large part of the Maction Planet manifesto is that we don’t believe in ‘compartmentalisation’ of tourism. Just because guests contact us for an art tour, we don’t stop there – we help them understand the history, architecture and curiosities of the areas they are in, and make sure the whole trip is a food tour too! 

Whatever your interests, contact us on to begin your journey to your perfect, personalised time in The World’s Greatest Metropolis. 

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