Koichi Watari, 60, has lived and breathed art since childhood, but whether he was always a fan is another story.

“You could say I positively disliked art, and it was in part because my mother would always take me and my sister to all these museums,” he says. “They were stuffy places and there was nothing fun about them.”

Watari’s mother, Shizuko, opened a small gallery in 1972 that was expanded in 1990 to become the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, commonly referred to as the Watari-um. Since its early days as a gallery, the institution has been a champion of promoting conceptual art and other noncommercial artists in Japan and there are few cultural institutions here that can compare in terms of a willingness to explore new artistic ideas.