Isn’t it time to take art out of storage?


Staff Writers

Tokyo’s art scene has always comprised many hubs, and it’s about to get a new one — one that promises to be among the most exciting.

Two months ago, storage company Warehouse Terrada unveiled T-Art Gallery, a new space within its planned art complex in Tokyo’s bayside district of Tennozu Isle. Last week, the space opened an exhibition of work by the winners of the company’s brand-new contemporary art competition — the Terrada Art Award.

And there is more to come. By next spring, the art complex plans to include T-Art Village, a Kengo Kuma-designed facility featuring rental studios and a residence program for foreign artists, as well as a new cafe and store.

Warehouse Terrada was established in 1950, becoming the first self-storage company to gain government approval in Japan soon thereafter. Now one of the industry’s leaders, it has storage facilities dotted around the country. And it has never been afraid to innovate.

Their latest challenge — art — came about when the company realized that many of its clients were using the storage facilities to store artworks.

“(We thought), if this is so, why not become an expert in art storage?” Masahiro Akimoto, a Warehouse Terrada managing executive officer, told The Japan Times.

This summer, the company opened a specialist art storage facility at their Tennozu Isle base, offering a “viewing room,” where art dealers can show prospective clients works of art. There is also a “bonded room,” where dealers can inspect imported artworks before they are cleared by customs and attract import duties.

It has also just launched an art rental service for other kinds of clients.

“Once people have deposited possessions in our storage facilities, we propose that they make the most of the new space in their homes by borrowing artworks — it can help them create spacious, modern interiors,” Akimoto said.

Apart from the synergy of Terrada’s two messages — reducing household clutter and promoting appreciation of art — Akimoto also said the company aims to support local art scenes, which he says are ailing.

“Only a tenth of the amount of money that was involved during the bubble period is being invested in art now,” he explained.

The number of teaching jobs for artists has also decreased, he said, because of changes to the education curriculum that saw art-lesson hours slashed by half in the last 30 years.

The Terrada Art Award is the centerpiece of the company’s art-related efforts. The call for entries — which was restricted to two-dimensional works by artists between ages 18 and 35 — was made in June. By August, the company had received around 2,000 applications, of which a shortlist of 20 were chosen for the award exhibition.

A total of eight winners were announced on Nov. 22, with first prize going to Aru Sunaga for her large, predominantly yellow-colored oil painting titled “Mukogawa Kara” (“From the Other Side”).

A graduate student studying oil painting at Tokyo University of the Arts under the mentorship of the highly respected artist O Jun, Sunaga’s painterly skills impressed judges. Yumi Yamaguchi, an art producer and a member of the six-person judging committee, however, explained that, though talented, the young recipient still had a long way to go to achieve a successful career as an artist.

“I hope she keeps striving to succeed, without giving up,” Yamaguchi said.

The award is designed to help make sure she doesn’t. Sunaga takes home ¥5 million in prize money and is eligible for a loosely defined “one year of support” from Warehouse Terrada.

Akimoto said that the details of the support will be decided with the artist, but it could entail use of a studio space for a year or, perhaps, support participating in an art fair.

“We may rent a booth at an art fair and then show the winner’s artwork there,” he explained.

The next addition to Terrada’s art activities will be T-Art Village, which is due to open in January.

If all goes to plan, that will be followed in April by a store and cafe, also designed by Kuma, while plans are underway to hold the art-award competition again next year.

“Terrada Art Award Exposition” at T-Art Gallery runs till Jan. 18. Free entry. Closed Wed., Dec. 27-Jan. 4.