LONDON – In one of the most influential art markets in the world, a Japanese woman has opened a gallery dedicated to emerging contemporary artists from the land of the rising sun.
The intention is to raise the profile of contemporary art from Japan and to act as a catalyst for the artists on the international scene, says Yukiko Ito, director of the gallery.
Mark Rappolt, editor of leading contemporary art journal ArtReview, said, “The fact that they opened it in this way suggests that Japanese art hasn’t exactly been at the forefront, that it was under-represented before.”
“I think this will change now that this gallery has opened,” he said.
Ito opened the White Rainbow gallery in October after realizing that contemporary art from Japan was little known in the British art scene, and often stereotyped.
“We want to showcase artists that wouldn’t necessarily be featured in big shows around the world yet,” a gallery official said.
“It is a lot of effort for a curator to travel to Japan in order to indulge the scene,” the official said. “By having an exhibition here in London, we hope it leads to further invitations for artists to exhibit in Europe.”
While the United States has seen a growth in interest for Japanese contemporary art following Mono-ha and Gutai-ha exhibitions in New York in the past few years, Britain has been a much more difficult scene to break into, according to art historian Kiyoko Mitsuyama.
Mitsuyama, who specializes in the reception of Japanese contemporary art abroad, puts this down to Japan being seen as an “exotic country.”
“Unlike in the United States, the U.K. lacks the physical presence of a Japanese community, or immediately obvious physical ties between the countries,” she said.
The White Rainbow gallery believes that contemporary art from Japan has a unique balance of both idea and technical execution that enhances the concept of the artwork.
Being noticed abroad is often the key to success at home for young artists, Ito said.
The gallery’s first group exhibition, held under the theme “Temporal Measures,” featured three young Japanese artists based in Berlin.
Koichi Tabata, an exhibiting artist, said: “The Japanese art scene and critics are very cautious. You have to be accepted abroad before you can be recognized back home.”
Another of the artists featured, Futo Akiyoshi, said: “We’re in our 30s, and for us to have an exhibition that has so much focus just on our work is really quite amazing. It’s a huge opportunity.”
Akiyoshi enjoys exhibiting abroad, describing the experience as “you’re always pitching a curve ball in Japan, whereas in Europe, you’re getting it straight into the mitt every time.”
While the international art scene remains largely centered on the West, a growing appreciation for Asian aesthetic values is influencing the scene, Mitsuyama said.
She suggested that a new focal point for contemporary art might be forming in Asia.
Rappolt’s journal, for example, in 2013 launched ArtReview Asia, a new journal series to reflect the growing interest in contemporary art in that region.
“An art scene or trend is created when academics, curators and the market all converge on a single theme,” Mitsuyama said.
Now that there is a gallery for Japanese contemporary art, Rappolt is confident of its impact. “You’ll walk into the gallery very conscious of where the art is from,” he said.
However, he also pointed out that nationality is just another framework, saying, “You are an artist, you make art, and only after that perhaps you are a Japanese artist.”
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