New dimensions of time and space are unfolding at The Contemporary at Blue Star. After a splashy October rebrand and a significant funding gift from the Kronkosky Foundation, the San Antonio contemporary art center is rolling into the spring season with two new exhibitions exploring invented worlds and traveling through time.

JooYoung Choi: Songs of Resilience from the Tapestry of Faith renders a multiverse of characters brought to life by the Houston-based artist in sculptures, puppets, video animations and comics-style paintings. 

On Friday, an exhibition by San Antonio artist Hiromi Tsuji Stringer fills an adjacent space with The Dog Show: Time Traveler Umeyama’s Drawings from the 21st Century, a set of drawings depicting a multitude of dog breeds, along with other observations by the artist’s time-skipping character. 

Just business

A native of Kyoto, Japan, Stringer came to study at the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2008. She is now a lecturer of drawing in the university’s Department of Art and Art History.

One thing she brought with her from her time in Asia is a distinct memory of seeing a Siberian husky on the streets of hot, sticky Bangkok, Thailand as a youngster, noting the oddity of how a creature bred for the Arctic climate could find itself in a tropical zone.

The term “globalization” was just coming into use at the time, referring to the blurring of national borders through free trade and economic partnerships. Studying later as an artist, Stringer focused on how globalization might affect national identity, drawing from her own experience as an immigrant.

The result bloomed as the Umeyama Time Teleportation Museum, a thoroughly realized, detailed collection of drawings ostensibly by Umeyama, a citizen of Edo-era Japan who had the ability to teleport through time to different locations around the globe. Umeyama’s documented observations form the core of the museum’s invented collection. 

The Dog Show exhibition collects more than 130 individually framed drawings, including one of a fire hydrant observed in 2019 Berlin, Germany during one of Umeyama’s time teleports — though Stringer insists it’s pure coincidence that she was there at the same time for an artist residency sponsored by The Contemporary.

As an Umeyama drawing explains, the time traveler mainly follows the Japanese tradition of dog drawings centered around the Kufu catalogs of the Shimazu shogun clan, which monopolized the breeding of foreign dogs in what was then a closed society that eschewed contact with other nations. 

In one drawing Stringer said was made in 21st century North America, Umeyama noted the resemblance of a typical American mutt to a popular Japanese dog toy — black and white fur, curled tail and especially pink eyes. 

What was essentially a low-value mutt in the modern world would have fetched a high price in early 19th century Edo (now Tokyo), and Stringer claims no noble motivations for Umeyama beyond being a practical businessman documenting his time-traveling, border-crossing observations for potential profit in his own time.

A drawing of a typical American mutt being compared to a popular Japanese dog toy from Hiromi Stringer’s exhibition The Dog Show: Time Traveler Umeyama’s Drawings from the 21st Century. Credit: Courtesy of Hiromi Stringer

“Umeyama was really interested in making money,” she said. “He’s just a regular guy. He’s not a hero or anything.”

At the edge of the world

In the spirit of her entrepreneurial non-hero, Stringer’s portable Umeyama Time Teleportation Museum — first seen in a 2017 exhibition at the Southwest School of Art — comes complete with a line of merchandise.

One hundred percent of the profits generated from the merchandise, including postcards and a transparent ruler with embedded magnifying glass, go to supporting The Contemporary’s mission to bring contemporary art to San Antonio.

Though Stringer is elusive in explaining the motivations of her Umeyama avatar, the ruler might be a reference to Umeyama’s 1856 wooden ruler also in the collection, or meant as an encouragement to scope the finer details of Stringer’s drawings.

Hiromi Stringer’s The Dog Show: Time Traveler Umeyama’s Drawings from the 21st Century at The Contemporary at Blue Star.
Hiromi Stringer’s The Dog Show: Time Traveler Umeyama’s Drawings from the 21st Century at The Contemporary at Blue Star. Credit: Brenda Bazán / San Antonio Report

Viewers will marvel at the level of detail and the dexterity of Stringer’s museum drawings, which include hand-rendered graphite depictions of typical museum wall labels printed on thick, bevel-edged mat board. All the seemingly printed letters and fine print on these labels were drawn by hand, most within the past two years, Stringer said.

The adjacent Choi exhibition in the main gallery is realized on a much larger scale, with a room-filling installation detailing her universe of colorful characters. 

Because of the depth and complexity of Choi’s imaginary universe, the Houston-based artist is known as a “world-builder.”

Asked whether she also considers herself a world-builder given the vast complex of her imaginary museum, Stringer maintained that she considers herself part of this world, though she admits “maybe I am really at the edge of the world.”

JooYoung Choi: Songs of Resilience from the Tapestry of Faith opened in February and runs through May 7.

The Dog Show: Time Traveler Umeyama’s Drawings from the 21st Century opens during the First Friday art walk at the Blue Star Arts Complex, and runs through June 4.

Avatar photo

Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...