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Friday, April 27, 2012

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On display: Pieces that will be featured at Art Kyoto include: Masaharu Sato's Elegy series "Sakura" (2011, above), which is an animated high-definition loop; Taro Yamamoto's "Hagoromo Balloon" (2012, below); and Kim Riyoo's "Haganki" (2010), at Gallery Neutron (photo by Kosuke Tamura). PHOTOS PROVIDED BY ART KYOTO


Representing Japan at Art Kyoto

Special to The Japan Times

In the wake of the recently held Art Fair Tokyo, Kyoto is following up with its own alternative in Art Kyoto. Organizers will, however, eschew the international art fair model seen in Tokyo and do what Kyoto does best — represent Japan.

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Keigo Ishibashi, a member of Art Kyoto's executive committee, says he wants to flip the way things have been done until now. Rather than sending contemporary Japanese art to the international market to make its debut, he wants to show the best that is being produced here and use that to cultivate a domestic market.

"The event is not conceived of as an art fair at all," says Ishibashi, who is also director of the Gallery Neutron. "It's more of a domestic offering that aspires to internationalism," seeking not merely "art marketing but the creation of a domestic art economy."

Ishibashi's hopes for domestic interest are high and his vision of the event is expansive. He believes it will take 10 years (a conservative guess) for Art Kyoto to cultivate an art market in the city and then Japan in general.

Art Kyoto is the present incarnation of Art Fair Kyoto, which took place for the first time in 2010 and then again in 2011. Those events were held at the ritzy Hotel Monterey in the city's central Nakagyo Ward. The original outing brought together 35 galleries and pieces were hung on the hotel's walls, displayed on beds and other pieces of furniture, and occasionally found in the building's miniscule bathrooms.

This year's fair boasts a threefold increase in participating galleries, including 13 from South Korea, bringing the total to more than 100 galleries. The event will once again take place at Hotel Monterey on the fourth and fifth floors, but other venues have been added. The main location this year will be Annex Hall at the Kyoto International Conference Center, which was in part a symbolic move due to the internationalism suggested in its name. This year's event, which takes place April 27-29, has also been timed to coincide with the advent of spring, but more importantly the beginning of Japan's Golden Week holidays when tourism to Kyoto hits a peak.

The idea to promote Japanese talent wasn't necessarily an innovative marketing ploy by Art Kyoto, it was in a sense forced upon them by the realities of the country's contemporary art market. Committee member Yuzo Imura, who is also the director of Imura Art Gallery says selling contemporary art in Kyoto is especially difficult and as a result international exhibitors are less likely to want to come to the city. He adds that there is a general lack of knowledge about contemporary art in Japan as a whole and that the primary focus of the art market is on old and modern art and not on the emerging forms — and this is particularly true in Kyoto.

"Part of the reason for this (problem) is that while international centers such as Tokyo have the Mori Art Museum, and Paris and London have their own eminent institutions for the introduction and display of contemporary art, Kyoto lacks such a venue," Imura says.

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Figuresque: Naoki Koide's "new home" (2007) courtesy of Tomio Koyama Gallery.

Japan also faces a problem with respect to buyers. There are no millionaire contemporary art collecters such as Eli Broad or Francois Pinault buoying the market. Thus artists must go looking for buyers overseas.

"The American and European complex that Japan holds obscures the reality that the contemporary art scene in Japan resembles something of a subculture," Ishibashi says. "While the contemporary art market is global, Japanese art plays only a small role."

Ishibashi also points out that the contemporary art market hasn't established any roots like the markets for antiquities and modern art have. The only exceptions have been the success stories of Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara.

Murakami and Nara's popularity aside, Imura notes that fabulous things are being done in Japan and this is what he expects will be on offer at Art Kyoto. One of the goals is for a further Japanese style of contemporary art that will engage collectors of older Japanese art whose interests lie in hanging scrolls, folding screens and ceramics.

"Art Kyoto will provide the opportunity for new discoveries" Imura says, and "ones which link old and new Japanese art."

Some of those links will be provided by contemporary artist Akira Yamaguchi, who has been commissioned to create a screen painting for the 960-year-old Byodo-in temple in Uji, Kyoto.

In addition to the art fair portion of Art Kyoto, organizers have set up a series of talk events that are meant to raise awareness about the contemporary art market (the talks will be in Japanese only). Lecturers scheduled to take part include artists Noboru Tsubaki, Kohei Nawa and Kenji Yanobe; and institutional figures such as Atsuhiko Shima of the National Museum of Art, Osaka, and Masato Ozaki curator at The Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. Another talk by art collector Daisuke Miyatsu should push the conversation in the direction Art Kyoto desires — the creation of an art market.

A further attraction of Art Kyoto, one that sets it apart from Art Fair Tokyo, is the abundance of satellite events. These include Kyoto Open Studio, running over an extended period from April 27 to May 6. Here, a group of predominantly 20-something artists will open their ateliers to the general public, thus introducing a number of emerging artists through studio visits and opening up the spaces of art production in addition to ushering in a range of artists not officially promoted by the galleries at Art Kyoto. The aim of Kyoto Open Studio is to promote the under-promoted, something that the Tokyo event lacks.

Other satellite events include the digital/video art projects of Moving 2012, Grassland at the department store Fujii Daimaru, a group show titled Transmit Program#3 — Metis at the Kyoto City University of Arts Art Gallery (KCUA) in addition to exhibitions at individual contemporary dealer galleries. A much anticipated solo show is that of Sai Hashizume at Imura Art Gallery, in which the artist will display some of the most superlative oil painting techniques imaginable in the solo exhibition "Sometimes We Can't Chose Where to Die" from April 27-May 26.

The events are, for the most part, being held at locations along the north-south subway line that connects the two principal venues of the Kyoto International Conference Center and Hotel Monterey.

As art dealer and gallery owner Tomio Koyama sees it, "Kyoto's long cultural history connects to and adopts the latest ideas and techniques available from any given period."

Koyama is interested in seeing the ways in which the latest contemporary artists are making new attempts at creating art and whether these works are to be rejected, critiqued (as a form of praise) or even necessary. For him, the event is the creation of Kyoto's cultural history henceforth. And considering Kyoto has a history of incorporating divergent contemporary culture as part of its own cultural background, Art Kyoto should fit right in.

Art Kyoto takes place April 27-29 at the Kyoto International Conference Center and various other venues. For more information, visit www.artkyoto.jp.

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