For serious collectors of Japanese art and antiques, a visit to Robert Mangold’s Kura Monzen Gallery is a must. The gallery carries a wide range of work, from Jomon to contemporary, with ceramics, tea ware, painting and Japanese armor well represented.
Kura Monzen Gallery exterior. Photo by Robert Mangold
Robert Mangold came to Japan over three decades ago and soon started working with a Japanese carpentry crew. While demolishing houses, he came across a lot of Japanese traditional furniture and antiques. He salvaged what he could and quickly became known as a go-to guy for Japanese antiques and furniture. Along the way, he educated himself about Japanese antiques and learned to speak and read Japanese. His interest in antiques led naturally to an interest in Japanese fine art. In order to deepen his study, he amassed thousands of books on Japanese art, mostly written in Japanese.
As a result of this serious display of “doku-gaku” (self-study), Mangold is now one of the leading foreign experts on Japanese art and antiques. He deepens this study by attending a dozen or so auctions of Japanese art and antiques every month, coming across literally thousands of pieces a month. But, he is very discerning in what he buys. Mangold says: “First and foremost quality and rarity are paramount, however above all else I seek things that have a story behind them, something that gives them a reason to have value. I like things that have `hagotai’, which is something you can sink your teeth into.”
Kura Monzen Gallery interior. Photo by Robert Mangold.
Mangold has a particular interest in specific periods of Japanese art, for example the Taisho period. Through the Meiji period in many Japanese arts, there was a strong continuity from master to disciple through apprenticeship. However the birth of art universities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries allowed young artist training by multiple teachers expanding their repertoire, and coupled with the turmoil of the Democratic movement and allied victory in the first World War (Japan was on the side of the allies then) allowed a flowering in the arts unprecedented. Unfortunately, suppression and the steady march toward the second world war caused a reversion to conservative traditions. During the war a whole generation of young artists were wiped out, resulting in a sort of a blank and a huge generation gap. So, right after the war, everybody picks up where they left off and starts painting 1934 again. But they quickly got away from that and started going in all these different directions, with thicker pigments, larger formats, and a lot more texture. So, by 1952, you see a completely different Nihonga. There’s not a particular name for it, so I just call it 50’s Japanese art. But, by the later 50’s, the Ningen Kokuho system has begun that reveres tradition, so the brakes go on and everyone goes back to 1905. So you have this brief periods of intense development and interest in the new, and I believe we are in one of those now as well.”
Of course, Mangold’s collection goes far beyond these striking paintings. He often runs thematic shows at his gallery and he’s always happy to pull out specific items or genres in response to a collector’s wishes, if given sufficient advance warning.
Kura Monzen Gallery second floor. Photo by Robert Mangold.
Mangold deals with a lot of collectors and professionals, but he’s happy to accept visitors to his gallery looking for a special piece to bring home from Japan. In addition, for serious clients, Mangold is happy to make referrals to other shops and dealers.
To get to the gallery, first, get yourself to Daitoku-ji Temple. And, frankly, if you’re at the temple, you should go in and explore. Here’s our Daitoku-ji Guide. Once you finish exploring the temple, get yourself back to the main entrance (East Gate). There is a bright Café (de Mon) and several galleries in a row on your right side as you walk up past the East Gate of Daitokuji, turn right after the small shop specializing in gold repair. It is 50 meters down the narrow road on the North side, set back from the street with parking in front.
Kura Monzen Gallery 23 Murasakino Monzencho Kita Ward
10am to 5pm, closed Tuesday and Wednesday
The gallery is on the East side of Daitokuji Temple. It is a 15-minute walk from the Kitaoji Subway station, or five minutes from the bus stops at Horikawa Kitaoji.
Official Website (English)
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