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Simply passing by on the street without noticing Gallery éf’s name, it would be easy to assume that this is just another café. In fact, not only does this gallery have a great café in the front that almost hides the exhibition space from the street, but since its opening in 1998, it has been by far one of Tokyo’s most unusual art spaces.
To enter the gallery, you stoop low and pass through a small door, where you remove your shoes before stepping up onto the raised floor. Looking around, you find yourself inside an old Japanese warehouse, the antithesis of the white cube. The walls are earthen, the floor is a deep lacquered red and the entire space is cast in dark, rich hues, accented only by the occasional point light. The gallery focuses on unknown artists, and exhibitions here often respond directly to the space’s physical or historical setting.
More so than any other gallery, this space invites you not just to look but to touch. Its cool walls — many of them original — have witnessed a remarkable history. At over 140 years old, this building has survived two fires, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the firebombing of Tokyo in 1945. The mere fact that it exists in a city so intent on relentless demolition and reconstruction is reason alone to celebrate. That it’s been beautifully restored and is now a free art space open to the public is all the more reason to make this gallery a must-see for any art or architecture lover visiting Tokyo.
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