Art Fair Tokyo shows off some of Japan’s best talent


Staff Writer

Welcome to the “art museum” where everything is on sale.

At this year’s edition of Art Fair Tokyo, which was postponed after the March 11 earthquake and will be held July 29-31 at Tokyo International Forum, there are booth-displays from 133 commercial art galleries, mostly from Japan. Visitors will have a huge variety of art to peruse and, if they fancy, buy. Here is a sample of what we think is best.

Shomei Tomatsu at Misa Shin Gallery

Regular Art Fair Tokyo visitors won’t want to miss Misa Shin Gallery, a new gallery that opened in Tokyo’s Shirokane district last November. Misa Shin is the woman who between 2005 and 2010 served as Art Fair Tokyo’s director and more-or-less set it on its current path. She decided, for example, that it should include a wide variety of types of galleries — from those covering contemporary art to those specializing in antiques.

Having worked in the New York art scene in the 1990s, Shin’s own tastes run to cutting-edge contemporary. She opened her gallery with the first commercial solo show on these shores for the outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who earlier this year was controversially held by the Chinese police for two months without any official charges being filed.

At Art Fair Tokyo, Misa Shin will exhibit work by an artist of a slightly older generation. The 81-year-old Shomei Tomatsu is recognized as one of the founders of contemporary Japanese photography, having worked at the vanguard of the documentary movement that dominated the local photography scene in the postwar era.

In the 1960s, he worked with fellow photographer Ken Domon to capture the lives of victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs. In the 1970s, he moved to Okinawa Prefecture, where he focused on those who lived in the shadows of the island’s U.S. military bases.

One highlight among the works by Tomatsu that are on sale at the booth is an artfully skewed 1971 shot of a cloud above Hateruma Island near Okinawa.

Hiroshi Senju at Shinseido Hatanaka

Hiroshi Senju is one of the few artists of his generation whose work is recognizable to the general public in Japan. Born in 1958, he rose to prominence in the 1990s with gigantic paintings of waterfalls that focused on the point where the water, falling from an unsighted spot above, hits the pool below.

Many of his paintings adorn the lobby walls of corporate and also public buildings such as the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, in Roppongi, and the new Haneda Airport International Terminal.

So lauded is Senju that he is about to have a museum named in his honor. A private educational foundation, the Kokusai Bunka College foundation, will open the Hiroshi Senju Museum Karuizawa in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture on Oct. 10. Designed by architect Ryue Nishizawa — who is best known as one half of the architect duo SANAA — the uniformly white, single-story building is entirely encased in glass, but has internal partitionlike walls on which the paintings will hang.

You can own your own Hiroshi Senju by visting the Shinseido Hatanaka booth at Art Fair Tokyo, where a series of large new paintings titled “Cliff” will be on sale.

Morikazu Kumagai at Yanagase Gallery

Morikazu Kumagai was one of the most original and, perhaps, most single-minded of painters working in 20th-century Japan. Born in 1880, he defied his politician father with his decision to leave his native Gifu Prefecture and enroll in the Tokyo Art School (present day Tokyo University of the Arts), in 1900.

While Kumagai was influenced at first by the bold forms of the Expressionism movement, he gradually developed the style that would become his signature: simple geometric shapes defined in black outlines painted on backgrounds of uniform, often unusual color.

Just as Kumagai prioritized his art over the wishes of his father, so too he seemed oblivious to the needs of his own family. Three of his five children died from sickness resulting from the family’s extreme poverty. He also spent the last three decades of his life virtually living as a hermit, painting pictures of the flowers and insects in and around his small home in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward.

One of Kumagai’s surviving children, Kaya, is now the director of the museum that was established in her father’s name by the Toshima Ward government. She has signed a series of print reproductions of some of her father’s best-loved paintings, including “Kitten,” which are available to buy at the Yanagase Gallery booth.

Naofumi Maruyama at ShugoArts

Naofumi Maruyama, who was born in 1964, uses a painting technique called staining. Instead of a brush he uses a moistened cloth, which he seeps in acrylic paint and then transfers to his canvases. The results are paintings consisting of not lines but soft, cloudlike smudges of ink.

Maruyama chooses subject matter that suits his technique perfectly. Some of his best known works depict people walking through mysterious forests or canoeists paddling over lakes.

At the ShugoArts booth, you’ll find new paintings capturing reflections in puddles.

Art Fair Tokyo runs July 29-31 at the Tokyo International Forum. For more information, visit