While many people in Japan undoubtedly know someone who owns a brand name handbag, few may know anyone who owns a work of art. If Tokyo-based artist Satoshi Maruhashi has his way, that will soon change.

“In Japan, houses are small, but some people might have good cars — but very few people have good art,” he tells The Japan Times.

Maruhashi runs his own design office in Toshima Ward and is an organizer of the Tokyo International Art Fair (TIAF), a two-day event operated by Global Art Agency, Ltd. that starts May 26 at Shibuya Hikarie Hall in Tokyo.

Paid tickets are required on the first day of TIAF, when there will be a VIP grand opening, drinks and private viewing, allowing for ample access to the artists in attendance. On the second day, anyone can register for free admission.

“Our style is more relaxed. There’s a party. We don’t push you to buy,” Maruhashi says. “You just come to our fair and have some Champagne or wine and just enjoy.”

The goal is to “bring art closer” to the visitors, he adds.

“I want the visitors to enjoy themselves and, of course, the exhibitors have to enjoy our fair,” he says. “This is really important.”

The third edition of TIAF will feature about 140 exhibitors consisting of artists and galleries. On sale will be works by artists from around the world such as Damien Hirst — the news-making Brit whose creations have included a shark embalmed in formaldehyde and a bisected cow — and Shona Lucille, an installation artist of Grenadian heritage based in New York who specializes in floral motifs.

The idea for TIAF came after Maruhashi met Natal Vallve, director and cofounder of GAA, at an art fair in Amsterdam. At the time, Maruhashi had a small gallery and cafe at the site where the Toranomon Hills business and entertainment complex, opened in 2014, now stands in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, which also happens to be where we are conducting our interview. Maruhashi points to a spot not far from where we’re sitting on the grass under the giant sculpture “Roots” by Jaume Plensa.

“I had run my own company for a long time,” Maruhashi says. Vallve “already saw what I was doing,” so Vallve tasked him with starting TIAF when Maruhashi was “looking for something new to do.”

Maruhashi says he has both an artistic and a business mind, so TIAF has been a good fit, but he stresses art before business.

“I am an artist, that’s why I wanted to produce an art fair that is good for artists and the art market,” he says.

Maruhashi is currently the Asia art event coordinator for GAA, which has offices in London and Dubai and was founded in 2010 by Vallve and Joelle Dinnage. The three of them were among the curators who selected the exhibitors for TIAF.

Exhibitor slots were offered by Maruhashi to some galleries and artists, while others applied through the TIAF website or had participated in other international art fairs run by GAA.

Among the first-time TIAF exhibitors is photographer Keiko Imaizumi of Canada.

“I will be so inspired by other artists from all over the world,” she said by email earlier this month.

Based in Vancouver, she said that her agent chose TIAF since it is in Tokyo, where Imaizumi was born. Imaizumi added she will be at the fair in person.

“Every year many artists come to Japan and talk to visitors directly about their work,” Maruhashi says.

For TIAF, Imaizumi is bringing work that offers a different feel to traditional photographic art. For example, by using “metallic print covered with acrylic glass,” she said, “I would like to interpret the voice of Nature through my frame work.”

She added: “I expect viewers to have interest in the new finishing technology like acrylic glass finishing with strong but light Dibond aluminum backing or Japanese bamboo paper finishing.

“Some of them,” she says, have “like a ukiyo-e touch. I try to mix very traditional Japanese materials, traditional techniques with very modern high technology.”

Imaizumi has also exhibited her fine art photography in galleries in Ginza and other areas of Tokyo.

“My artwork does give an energy to the people who own it. I wish people speak to the work,” she said. “They will answer you in silence.”

As for the Japanese art market, she feels the “Japanese standard of viewing artists’ work as art is very high.”

According to Maruhashi, the Japanese market is really different from the European and American ones.

“The art market is shrinking a little bit” in Japan, he says, which is one of the reasons he had been “thinking about how to bring people who are interested in buying art” together.

“That’s why I’m bringing a European (style) art fair to Japan,” he says.

The first edition of TIAF was held in 2015 at Harajuku Quest Hall, while last year’s version was set up at the Omotesando Hills shopping complex, both in Shibuya Ward.

This year’s venue at Shibuya Hikarie Hall is a little bigger, and Maruhashi says he would like to continue to focus on the center of Tokyo.

“There are so many artists coming from other countries and our visitors are many kinds of people. Some of my friends come to the fair and they say it doesn’t feel like Japan,” he says, adding that many artists tell him they return because they love Tokyo.

Maruhashi wants to continue to emphasize that art knows no borders or nationalities, hopefully changing the mind-set of people in Japan.

“Many Japanese people think, ‘Oh, I’m an artist’ or ‘I’m a businessman.’ It doesn’t matter. I want to bring art closer to life,” he says, referring to people’s everyday lives. “I didn’t buy art a long time ago, but when I bought art for the first time, when I came back to my home and I saw the art, it made me really happy. You feel good. I want more Japanese people to understand that.”

Tokyo International Art Fair takes place at Hikarie Hall in Shibuya Ward on May 26 (6 p.m.-9 p.m.; ¥3,000) and 27 (11 a.m.-7 p.m.; free admission). For more information, visit www.tokyoartfair.com.

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