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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Artists' 'mother' helps raise their U.S. profile


BOSTON — The owner of a Boston art gallery is striving to help young artists from her native Japan achieve worldwide prominence, promoting their work through her business while providing support like a family member to those far from home.

Keiko Fukai, owner of Keiko Gallery, sees herself as a "mother" to young Japanese artists and dreams of seeing her "children" reach the pinnacle of the art world.

"It's exciting to see that young artists whom I've discovered have steadily thrived," Fukai said at her gallery on Boston's chic Charles Street.

After accompanying her husband to Boston for his business in 1992, Fukai first became involved in American glassworks, which were flourishing in the United States but less known in Japan.

"I wanted to introduce American glass artifacts to Japan," Fukai said. So around 1998 she started dealing in glasswork of American artists in cooperation with an acquaintance who used to live in Boston but had returned to Japan.

Engaged in this business for four to five years, Fukai got to know Japanese artists of glass and other genres, who urged her to introduce their works to the United States.

Because both her finances and her knowledge of the art world were limited, having her own gallery was only a dream.

Luck was with her though. She happened to find a vacant retail space on Charles Street for rent at a price she could afford.

Fukai opened Keiko Gallery in 2003, initially displaying mostly craft works for practical use.

"But the more I learned, the more I appreciated art," she said. "With my desire to back up young, emerging Japanese artists, I changed direction in the third year toward the new field of art, starting to focus on art objects."

Her gallery now hosts monthly exhibits for individual artists while maintaining a standing section for the sale of craft works to first-time customers. Around 95 percent of her regular clients are Americans and other non-Japanese, mostly collectors who love Japanese objects.

Since opening the gallery, Fukai has worked with some 60 to 70 Japanese artists, of whom she is now actively assisting around 30. Some 85 percent of them live in Japan, while the rest live on the U.S. East Coast.

She is always busy discussing exhibitions for them at other places, including museums, large and small, and coordinating lectures and workshops for them by traveling across the U.S., while discovering promising new artists, mainly through personal communications.

She also periodically travels to Japan and visits artist studios, particularly those whom she has never met before, to better understand their working processes. During a two-week trip, she typically meets around 40 artists.

Looking back at the past eight years, Fukai said her affection for artistically crafted items may have begun in childhood.

When she was a child she was surrounded by precious artifacts at her home in Chiba Prefecture because her architect father was involved in the construction of the Fukiage Imperial Palace.

Her father, who died in 1994, brought home samples or surplus of valuable construction materials, such as scraps of the renowned Nishijin Kyoto fabric.

"I remember the feeling of such blue-chip textiles. Visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, brings back memories of my quiet father. I wish I could have talked with him about them," Fukai said.

"I've loved craft work like this since I was a child. So, there must have been the roots (of opening the gallery) somewhere back in my childhood."

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