Category Archives: Collecting

Looking for “a certain smell of ‘edge’ “

Mori art Museum director Fumio Nanjo presents a nice overview of the Asian art scene in The Korean Times, put together from a lecture at the Gyeonggi Creation Center.

Choice quotes:

* “The museum boom in Japan was actually in the 1970s through the 1990s,” said Nanjo, the director of Mori Art Museum, but the art market has become increasingly stagnant since the late 1980s.

* “If you go to an art fair in Asia, there will be a Taiwanese buyer of Indonesian art, and an Indonesian buying Thai art. Korean galleries are showing Japanese artists and Hong Kong showing Chinese.”

* “It used to be an age of museums, but that’s over now and it’s the age of collectors.”

Read the whole story here.


Changes in the creative landscape of Tokyo


With the fears in Japan that its 20th century manufacturing strength is facing serious competition from China and other rapidly developing Asian countries, contemporary art and the creative industries are becoming the buzz in Tokyo. To help the transition from “software” to “hardware,” movers and shakers are looking to creative industries to not only lead the way, but even help people reconsider the work/life balance that has been accepted in the modern urban world of Tokyo.

Three new spaces are represent this new way of thinking: 3331 Arts Chiyoda, an artist-led initiative done in collaboration with the Chiyoda Ward government to turn an abandoned high school — with the birthrate declining, more schools around Japan are becoming redundant — into a profitable rental space for art-related businesses and NPOs; SOHO in Odaiba is a newly constructed building meant to provide a community-oriented office center for young design-related businesses; and Tabloid, the most recently opened project, features a renovated warehouse that once housed printing presses for the Sankei Shimbun newspaper and has now been repurposed by the real estate management company ReBITA as another space meant to foster cross-discipline interactions between young creatives. (You can see my full story on Tabloid in The Japan Times here.)

What is interesting about all these buildings is that while they align themselves with the excitement that has gradually been building about contemporary art in Japan, for the most part, they don’t appear to be engaging with the major players in the commercial art world — the galleries of Kiyosumi (Taka Ishii, Hiromi Yoshii, Tomio Koyama, etc.), as well as other big names like Scai, Wako, Mizuma, Radium — or with the new generation of young galleries such as the New Tokyo Contemporaries (at the opening for Tabloid, there were few of the usual Tokyo art crowd prowling around). Instead, 3331 is about community outreach and SOHO and Tabloid are more about design and business; which is fine, but does nothing to address some of the major issues facing the art world in Japan: that the local collecting market sucks; and that contemporary art in Tokyo often feels segregated from other creative fields, to its detriment. Hopefully in the future we will see interactions not only between those who occupy these buildings, but also with the galleries that are doing the best to promote great contemporary art, Japanese and Western, both here and abroad. (I can’t say anything specific, but it looks like this might be on its way to happening with one location.)

In a related note, Hiromi Yoshii announced last night during the press conference for Tokyo Photo art fair (to be held again this September), that he will be taking over the gallery T&G on Roppongi’s Imo-arai-zaka street. He plans to use the second space — with two floors and a bar (now that’s what I call a gallery) — for exhibitions that feature architecture, design, fashion and more, so there is the possibility that some unusual cross-genre projects could arise there.

Roppongi Crossing 2010

Video still of contact Gonzo from the 2008 performance “We're Gonna Go Dancing!! Vol. 9” at Beppu City Center, Oita; Toda Yoichi Photo/Courtesy of Mori Art Museum

I look forward to the triennial “Roppongi Crossing” exhibitions as a chance to see what the leading curators and critics in Japan are doing to present Japanese contemporary art in an international context. This year the show was not only drastically reduced in number, but contained a number of puzzling choices that made for a disjointed experience.

Include rabble rousers Chim | Pom in the show but seal them off behind glass as if they were dangerous to encounter in person? I thought that was their point — that art should get in you face. The six should have been given a whole room to desecrate so that viewers would have to stumble through the mess they left behind.

Rogue Gallery’s powerful sound and video installation of performances produced through recording night cruises in their Citroen is shut off behind sound-proofed doors you could easily walk past? How many people missed the chance to be mesmerized by flashing tailights and a throbbing motor? I think I would have greated people at the front door with this aural onslaught to let them know things were different around here.

contact Gonzo squeezed in next to Ujino so that it was hard to tell where one started and the other ended?

One last thought — the Japanese art market continues to struggle despite the great level of creativity here. I love installation art that creates immersive experiences, but the reality is in an underdeveloped market, 2D will still be king among the collectors that exist. At the yearly survey of 2D art held at the Ueno Royal Museum, “Visions of Contemporary Art,” it is always entertaining to see the breadth of taste among the 40 some curators, critics and professors who each pick one artist to join. But the result is inevitably disjointed and kind of a let down. What if the Mori had used its curatorial muscle to taken on 2D art in “Roppongi Crossing” — creating a “Best of painting/photography/new media in 2D” exhibition? What better way to find a way to seriously engage with the kind of work that you find in the best of Japanese galleries?

My publicly sanctioned account is here: “‘Roppongi Crossing’ may be better when crowded”