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101 Tokyo

101 Tokyo

Sight unseen, Japan’s first truly contemporary art fair opens tonight. Scheduled on the same week as the Art Fair Tokyo, the 101 Tokyo Art Fair forces the megalopolis into its first Tokyo Art Week.

The world looks to Tokyo for what’s next, casually ignoring that what is there now consists of a tangled and underdeveloped infrastructure. It’s akin to many folks’ experience of moving to Tokyo and learning that it actually takes months to even get an internet connection installed. Compared to Basel and New York, Tokyo is a relative village of hovels when it comes to fine art as a commercial system.

On the macro scale, there is a severe lack of support unparalleled in other first world nations. No zaibatsu has a contemporary (or even modern) collection of note, and there is a complete lack of consumer awareness regarding fine art, though magazines like Brutus and Art-It have slowly been attempting to educate their readers about art history and the contemporary milieu. On the micro level, most Tokyo apartments lack adequate systems to actually hang art and real-estate agents charge exorbitant fees to plug holes in walls. There is a complete lack of a support network for emerging artists age 20 to 30 who more often than not leave their art careers in the dust in order to pursue a regular paycheck.

What has been present is an art fair that is more akin to a trade show than an art fair in both look and spirit. The Art Fair Tokyo would do well to look at the 101 interlopers as a source of inspiration. In lieu of a hodgepodge, non-curated mishmash of different genres, eras, and stuffed walls of the work that hasn’t sold for the year, 101 Tokyo offers another option. Namely, it’s a cultivated, highly curated sampling of exhibition spaces. Each gallery involved with 101 is permitted to show three artists maximum, and only new work is exhibited. The 101 Tokyo organizers are committed to educating their audience. They have gone as far as offering two separate seminars on art investing in Tokyo’s market in both English and Japanese, as well as a seminar on Collecting Art in the Context of Wealth Management.

There are other aspects of 101 Tokyo that are quite a change from the other gig in town. The fair is a stark contrast — the Director is an artist, and the crew running the fair is genuinely excited about visual work. All are young, a 32 year-old being the eldest, and they are decidedly international. 101 Tokyo stands as a series of events of inclusivity, something that must be cultivated if contemporary fine art as a commercial sector is to grow into something viable in Tokyo. They even have parties where you can shake your ass and even potentially get laid by someone your age whom you enjoy talking to about contemporary aesthetics with — more than can be said for elsewhere.

As purportedly over-invested in design and architecture as Tokyo is (which is debatable and a whole lot of lip service to say the least), contemporary fine art in Tokyo could really use a kick in the pants. With luck, 101 Tokyo will deliver a decent bruise.

April 3, 2008

Ian Lynam is a graphic designer living in Tokyo and the art director of Neojaponisme. His website is located at ianlynam.com. His new book, Parallel Strokes, on the intersection of graffiti and typography is available now.

6 Responses

  1. mexist Says:

    keep shakin dat azz…

  2. M. Nestor Says:

    Did you write this on April 1st and not post it till now? It seems like it must be a parody…

  3. M. Nestor Says:

    That is to say, does the ‘world’ look to Tokyo for ‘what’s next’, casually ignoring the lack of structured commercialism, or is it that ‘people’ find what’s already there inspiring? All this talk of commercializing art and educating the common workers seems so thin and condescending to me. Perhaps I should search out other things you’ve written to determine why you feel the inclusivity and commercial sectors are good things.

  4. W. David MARX Says:

    The famous story is that there are only three individuals in Japan who buy contemporary art. I think this is probably a gross simplification, but it’s often repeated within the industry.

    When Ian’s talking about inclusivity, I think he means bringing more small-scale buyers into the market in order to reward the artists who are trying to make a living. I am not sure what is so “condescending” about this.

  5. M. Nestor Says:

    Well, thank you for explaining the possible implication of what ‘inclusivity’ here means in relation to selling contemporary art, though you’ve attached my commentary of condescension to the notion of inclusivity, rather than the generalized conflation of education (of art history and contemporary art) and commercialism, the use of somewhat loaded terms like ‘hovels’ and ‘first world’, or the negative implications of leaving art careers in the ‘dust’ for ‘regular paychecks’, but it’s all fine, it doesn’t change that my comments were hasty and in poor taste due to my broad misreading of this site/that article. A little research, and I would not have bothered. :) My apologies, I’ll respond to what I can agree or disagree on in a more nuanced way in the occasional future.

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