Events | WHERE IT'S AT

'Silent Auction' lends ear to plea of needy

by Natsuko Fukue

There are many ways to enjoy art: Visit an art museum, join a pottery club or simply walk around a town and take a look at the different architecture.

Robert Tobin and Hitoshi Ohashi, owners of the gallery Asian Collection, believe it is essential to have their gallery be approachable and comfortable for visitors in order that they enjoy art. It’s the reason Tobin and Ohashi held their “Silent Auction.”

The silent auction, staged in March at a restaurant in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, doubled as an art show with the theme “meet, eat, art” and was organized to give artists and art lovers, both old and new, a chance to get together. The sale of four paintings also helped collect money for Second Harvest Japan, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization that redistributes food to the homeless, orphanages, single mothers and others in need.

Some 90 visitors filled the venue as they relaxed with wine and canapes in hand. The organizers explained the procedure for a silent auction in an opening greeting and the chairman of Second Harvest Japan, Charles McJilton, spoke on the poverty situation in Japan. “We estimate that about 20 million people live on the poverty line, and almost a million of those people don’t have a food every day,” McJilton explained. “Your support tonight will help those people get food for tomorrow.”

Tobin explained that their decision to donate money to the NPO came about because they consider art and homeless people to have something in common — you cannot go anywhere without seeing either the homeless or art. “People think art is beautiful but being homeless isn’t. We think the homeless are a part of life and art is a part of life as well,” he said.

One highlight of the event was the opportunity to watch artists at work. Masumi Yoshida, a 25-year-old student at Joshibi University of Art and Design, was one of four artists participating.

“My work using modeling paste is meant to depict the monotony of daily life, but I add some variation to the shapes to indicate those little changes that bring us happiness,” said Yoshida.

Her work theme is “myself as viewed from my friends.” Yoshida says, “I want to convey that it is important for people to support each other.” The event gave Yoshida and other artists not only the chance to meet people interested in art, but also the opportunity to talk with other artists, which Yoshida says she found “exciting.”

Kevin Gibson, managing director of Robert Walters Japan K.K., attended the event and praised the promotion of local art. “Most people in business, like myself, never get to see this creative side of Tokyo,” he said. “It’s quite well done.” Gibson also had the pleasure of meeting photographer Joji Shimamoto, whose photos he found “very interesting.”

Naoko Shinomiya, Yumiko Tomono and Kuniko Ueno, all employed by the European Union Delegation of the European Commission to Japan, attended the event because it piqued their interest when they heard about it.

“The event’s concept is to eat food, meet people and enjoy art. I’ve never seen such an event, so I immediately thought ‘this is going to be fun,’ ” said Tomono.

Shinomiya, however, found the concept much like what is common practice in Europe. “People I work with are into food, drinks, and culture. I’m influenced by this kind of European culture so I decided to come,” she said, adding that she was particularly happy to see many more art works than expected.

For Ueno, who is a frequent visitor of art museums and galleries, the event’s collection of paintings, sculptures, and photographs had its own uniqueness. “I personally liked this one,” she said, pointing to a work by Yoshida.

Ueno noted the presentation style at the event. “The artist’s works are displayed next to the space where she is working on a new piece, and that’s interesting,” she said. On the other hand, she was “also surprised that some works are just casually set on the floor.”

Tobin and Ohashi opened the gallery four years ago, and have been helping others to discover young Asian artists such as Yoshida.

Ohashi said that he found that many young people hesitate to enter an art gallery because they have the impression that only people who are well-versed in art can do so. Art, Ohashi pointed out, has to be fun and close to everybody. “Art is for everybody,” he said.

Some ¥100,000 was collected from the auction and 10 percent of the profits were donated to Second Harvest. “It may be a small amount of money,” Ohashi said, “but we hope it can contribute a little to the society.”