Every year, Tokyo becomes a hot spot for art and, every year, newcomers to the scene consider taking the plunge and buying their first piece. Now in its 11th year, Art Fair Tokyo hopes to make things a little easier on first-time buyers.
“Art can be a part of anyone’s lifestyle,” declares Naohiko Kishi, charismatic executive producer of Japan’s largest art market and festival. “It can be something you grow together with throughout your lifetime. The theme of our fair this year embodies that vision.”
Taking place from May 12 to 14, Art Fair Tokyo will again occupy the massive halls of Tokyo International Forum. The event will have a record 157 galleries from around the world on show, bringing together a full spectrum of styles and periods, from antiques to contemporary pieces. Sure enough, the theme of this year’s installment is “Art is a lifestyle,” and, in conjunction with the main galleries, it will feature three cornerstones of content — namely Projects, which is working under the playfully provocative motto “Don’t feel, THINK,” as well as sections called Artistic Practices and 100KIN.
Although the Projects section has been around since 2011, the area’s concept has gone through a revamp, with a renewed focus on emerging artists.
“Eleven artists and galleries will gather in the south wing of the site to allow visitors to really think about art and it being a part of human intuition, hence the motto,” explains Art Fair Tokyo curator Keisuke Ozawa. “The artists and their work that we have selected will certainly do just that.”
The Artistic Practices: “Face Up!” section, on the other hand, will have a slightly more superficial mission, at least on the outset.
“We asked 13 galleries to provide work that focuses on the human face, which is why the section will be called ‘Face Up!’ this year,” Ozawa says. “We want people to take their time ‘facing’ the art, while considering the artists’ vision, the material of the work itself and maybe even the amount of time taken to produce it.”
Collecting fine art may not be a pastime for a penniless student, but Kishi has a strategy, of sorts, to change that. The “100KIN” corner of the fair, which is a nod to the ¥100 shops dotted around the country, only deals in works that are priced below ¥1 million. Students may still opt to buy an extra bowl of ramen, but this price range is likely to provide many newcomers an entry point to artistic investment.
“When we were talking about how to make some of the pieces more accessible to new art fans, we thought that doing something that anyone could understand conceptually may work,” Kishi says with a hint of a smile. “100KIN is something that all Japanese people will get. It’s also a great TV op.”
Price tags aside, there is also a noticeable increase in the number of international galleries and artists making pop-up homes for themselves over the weekend this year, hinting at a growing trend of exhibiting more work from across the globe.
“We had eight galleries coming from abroad last year, and this year we have 19,” Kishi says. “By 2020, we want to have 50. We started out as a domestic art fair, but we realized that over the years, each of Asia’s art capitals — Hong Kong, Taipei, Beijing, Singapore, Tokyo — have all been putting out their own art and artists to the world and so we decided to expand our horizons and create an internationally inclined event.”
In line with this development, Singapore’s Gajah Gallery will be showcasing its work for the first time at the fair. The Japan Times reached out to Gajah-represented artist Ashley Bickerton, who will be showing his piece “Kid 3,” his first nondigital manifestation of a digital image of his son.
“When I received this opportunity to show in Japan, I knew immediately that this is the image I wanted to show,” Bickerton says. “Japanese art and culture have played an inestimable role in the formation of my thinking, in some cases to the point of obsession. Manga is a continual presence always at dialogue with my process of image making.”
It is this thinking that Kishi wants to nurture — and it goes both ways. Closer to home, Japan’s Pola Art Foundation will be holding its first gallery at Art Fair Tokyo, and yet its sights are set on international shores with a mission to support young artists going abroad.
“Japanese people are great at incorporating ideas, we’ve seen that with fashion, food and entertainment,” Kishi says. “But although artists here have the right ‘sense,’ two things that Japanese artists lack are how to present their ideas and knowing the tastes and needs of the global art market.”
Exporting local artists may be a key to boosting Japan’s soft power, but maintaining a traditional flavor is also vital for any art scene. Kishi’s cross-border approach has given birth to a host of other, more solemn, events taking place over the weekend.
The inaugural Asian Art Forum, which will be part of the Tokyo Art Summit happening concurrently to the fair, will invite heads of other art fairs in Asia to discuss not just the business aspects of art, but the cultural side as well.
“The Olympics are the culmination of sports and culture, but who decides what culture to promote, and who is a part of it?” Kishi asks. “I think Japan’s omoiyari, or compassion and consideration, is key. And hopefully at the summit we will be able to find out what the keywords are for each country.”
Since Japan won its bid for the 2020 Olympics back in 2013, the worlds of art and entertainment have been scrambling to create a foothold in anticipation of an unprecedented inflow of sports and culture fans alike.
“More and more tourists are making their way to Japan because of its culture and beauty,” Kishi says, “so we want to showcase all of that to them, as well as the galleries that we invite to the fair, too.”
Kishi himself only entered the world of art after a thriving career in radio, music and event production — even jazz dancing — so he understands the challenges that he faces. Working at TBS TV for 20 years, he was the man behind Tokyo’s glitzy entertainment zone Akasaka Sacas, as well as the prominent Akasaka Blitz concert venue.
“I used to work in radio and the music industry, but never really, truly encountered art in the past,” Kishi explains. “To be honest with you, through my own experiences influencing the people around me who aren’t art-inclined with regards to my own projects, I realized that it’s important to nurture the idea that art is cool.”
With this mission in mind, Kishi has been an integral part of a number of crossover creative projects that combine aspects of art and other forms of entertainment. So it’s curious to know what this outspoken doer’s take is on bringing more color to new audiences.
“I think it’s important to create an art scene, as opposed to an art market,” Kishi says. “When I got into the art world, I produced a collaboration project with Taichi Saotome and (“ultra-technologist” collective) teamLab. In my mind, we were creating entertainment, but in theirs, we were making digital art. I have the belief that no-one really knows what the difference between art and entertainment is until someone says it out loud.”
This begs the question. What is the difference between art and entertainment, anyway?
“For me, it’s ambition,” Kishi says with a grin. “Art has it, and entertainment doesn’t, and I think it’s my job to make that statement, so that new fans can join the art world.”
Big words, but after such a successful and many-sided career, he and his fair may be onto something.
Art Fair Tokyo takes place at the Tokyo International Forum in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, from May 12-14. For more information, visit www.artfairtokyo.com/en.