Travel restrictions

As travel restrictions ease, Art Week Tokyo has flipped the script by flying VIPs straight to galleries. Many dealers preferred it

Foreign visitors to this year’s Tokyo Art Week – the first time many culture vultures have been able to visit Japan’s capital since the pandemic began – were taken on a whirlwind bus tour 48 hours in nearly two dozen galleries plus half a dozen museums and private collections.

Participating local galleries said they were happy to welcome more than 300 VIP visitors from around the world, just weeks after Japan’s Covid travel restrictions were lifted in mid-October. Some told Artnet News they had sold several works by contemporary Japanese artists to collectors on the bus tour on Wednesday and Thursday, with some dealers adding they preferred the more direct format to expensive attendance at art fairs. art, especially when the yen has been weak.

Co-founded by gallerist Atsuko Ninagawa and Kazunari Shirai, entrepreneur and art collector, Art Week Tokyo is organized by the Japan Contemporary Art Platform in collaboration with Art Basel, which plays an advisory role in the organization of the event and helps foreign VIPs more. The initiative has received financial support from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Agency for Cultural Affairs, but the organizers have refused to reveal any financial information. The event held its soft launch last year when the country was still closed to foreign visitors due to the pandemic, but still attracted 20,000 local visitors.

Personal exhibition of Mitsuko Miwa at SCAI The Bathhouse. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

But with international travel resuming this year – and Japan’s visa-free border opening to fully vaccinated travelers from October 11 – the initiative that originally aimed to connect Tokyo’s art scene with the rest of the world has finally had the chance to realize its full potential. It also served as a test for Tokyo to become a new market center for contemporary art in Asia, ahead of next year’s Tokyo Gendai fair. It will still have to compete with various Asian cities, from Seoul to Singapore, which have increased their cultural offer in a context of uncertainties over Hong Kong and mainland China.

And taking advantage of the Swiss art fair’s worldwide network of wealthy collectors, Art Week Tokyo has managed to attract an international crowd from Asia, Europe, America, as well as about fifteen Russians based outside the Mother land. The VIP crowd actually ranged from collectors to museum directors and curators, and was larger than the 250 visitors expected before the event, said Ninagawa, owner and director of the Take Ninagawa gallery.

“Japan has a very large arts and culture scene, and Tokyo alone is huge (with a population of over 37 million). We have great artists, our museums put on great shows, and we have great art. historically significant,” Ninagawa told Artnet News. “We have fantastic content, but we just didn’t know how to present it to a global audience.”

“Bringing artists and their art overseas is never easy for galleries, as they either have to participate in art fairs or have their artists selected for international exhibitions,” Ninagawa added of the challenges. faced by many gallery representatives to get their artist noticed on an international stage. level. “It’s particularly difficult for emerging galleries, which often have limited resources.”

Atsuko Ninagawa

Atsuko Ninagawa, co-founder and director of Art Week Tokyo, spoke at the opening reception. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

Instead of hosting another art fair in the city, Art Week Tokyo was born with the intention of filling that void, especially in the wake of the pandemic, during which Japan has been rather isolated from the rest of the world. world. But rather than throwing glamorous parties full of celebrities, as Seoul did to celebrate the launch of the new Frieze fair in the city, Tokyo’s event was more subtle.

Groups of VIPs were taken in 24-seater buses along routes linking 51 participating galleries and institutions, which were open for follow-up visits throughout the week until Sunday, when the exhibits opened to the public. Art lovers could enjoy art quietly or take the opportunity to strike up low-key conversations with fellow collectors, gallery owners, or curators.

Exhibits included works by emerging artists as well as mid-career and established artists, with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, as well as sometimes six-figure prices.

Kana Kawanishi, who opened her eponymous gallery in 2015, sold a few edited prints by Japanese artist Hideo Anze for 70,000 yen ($472) each to Italian collectors on Wednesday morning – and they brought back with them their art-buying trophies on their bus.

“I never thought the Japanese art market would look optimistic. I wasn’t expecting business, but it’s definitely the best time to buy Japanese art because of the weak yen,” Kawanishi told Artnet News. She noted that falling currencies have made it very expensive to attend international art fairs, which makes an event like Art Week Tokyo even more interesting, allowing gallery owners to talk to collectors in the context of their own exhibition spaces. gallery. “I believe this format will continue.”

Kana Kawanishi

Gallery owner Kana Kawanishi presents new works by Japanese artist Hideo Anze to foreign personalities during Art Week Tokyo. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

“We want to showcase how we show the artwork in our space,” veteran gallerist Atsuko Koyanagi of Koyanagi Gallery, one of the participating galleries, told Artnet News. The gallery, which withdrew from international art fairs after 2015, is presenting a solo exhibition of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s opera photographs.

The Art Week Tokyo format was more efficient, Koyanagi noted, since galleries “don’t have to waste money” on “sending works and staff overseas, while having to keep the prices of the works at the same time. same level”. [as that in Japan].”

“Building new relationships is the main goal,” added the gallerist. “If the sales come in, that’s a bonus for us.”

Seoul-based collector Noh JaeMyung was one of the Koreans participating in Art Week Tokyo’s VIP program via Art Basel. The 31-year-old said it was the first time he had properly grasped Tokyo’s art scene, and that Japan’s status as a cultural powerhouse, as well as the capital’s appeal as a big tourist destination, gave the city a lot of potential as future art. center. “I’ve always been curious about the art scene and the artists in Japan. I really enjoyed the exhibitions in museums and galleries during Art Week Tokyo and I’m ready to go back,” he told Artnet News.

Naho Kawabe

Naho Kawabe, On the social contract, on view at the Waiting Room gallery. Photo: Vivienne Chow. Courtesy of the artist and the gallery.

London-based Victoria Taittinger, who has been collecting for three years, decided to head to Tokyo just two weeks ago. The 27-year-old said she enjoys gallery shows as well as museum shows, such as the major Shinro Ohtake retrospective at the National Museum of Modern Art. During the trip, she acquired a small charcoal sculpture by Hamburg-based Japanese artist Naho Kawabe for $1,500 from local gallery Waiting Room.

“It’s different from those big fairs. There is a great personal approach to the program and it exceeded my expectations,” Taittinger told Artnet News. “Maybe a fair will be interesting in the future, but I like this approach to discovering Japan.”

“We have to invest a lot in art fairs, but at the end of the day there is only one stand. Here we can show our artists in our gallery, as well as our city,” Waiting Room director Tomoko Ashikawa told Artnet News. “We can have real conversations with our visitors. This format works well for us and the public.

“What I wanted to create was deeper relationships and a deeper understanding of art,” said Art Week Tokyo co-founder Ninagawa, adding that she had no plans to transform the initiative into an art fair. It seems that she has achieved her goal this year.

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