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.