Online gallery of Japanese contemporary art

Interview with Nanzuka, Gallerist of NANZUKA

Mr. Nanzuka in front of Keiichi Tamaami's drawings

Mr. Nanzuka in front of Keiichi Tamaami’s drawings

NANAZUKA is a gallery found in 2005, introducing artists with novel expression. Some are renown illustrator and fashion designer whom we might have missed to appreciate as an artist. Nanazuka introduces them to place them into the art history. We asked him about how he became interested in art and what motivates him to be as a gallerist.

Interested in the transition starting from Egyptian art into Contemporary art

-How did you become interested in contemporary art?

I guess the first chance was when I was at the art history class in University. It was just a general outline of art history, mainly teaching about the classical art. But at the end, Ellsworth Kelly and Joseph Beuys, I guess, were introduced and I was shocked.

As the course, all art movements starting from Egypt, Greece to Renaissance and 19th century art revolution were lined genealogically and contemporary artists showed up in the end. This transition was surprising for me and it made me think how this could happen.

From that moment on, I got interested in the scheme of art. Who will decide what is art and the process of how that is decided. Naturally, contemporary art became the focus of my interest.

There is one episode that I found interesting. Rinmei Kawakita (Japanese art critique) praised Suma Maruki’s work which was not regarded as fine art in the Japanese art world for the first moment. As the audience knew to appreciate Maruki’s work and followed, his work is now regarded as fine art among the other art professionals as well.

Time and time again, things like that happen in the art history. It seems there is a large gap existing between the audience and art professionals. It makes me wonder “who is defning art?”.

Kosuke Tsumura "Mode less Code" at NANZUKA, 2010

Kosuke Tsumura “Mode less Code” at NANZUKA, 2010

Artists who are regarded as outside of fine art will develop art history

-Why were you moved to open a gallery?

Back in 2004, there were few places to see young Japanese artists’ works in Japan. I wondered how artists are surviving and then became interested in the roll of commercial galleries.

I was young and If it wasn’t for my encounter with Naohiro Ukawa who supported me strongly, I probably would have never even thought about opening a gallery.

We both shared the same passion in the possiblity of outsider art. Artists such as fashion designers or street artists, those who are unconventional but have the potential to create a new art history. That enthusiasm motivated us to open a gallery.

“Contemporary art” was yet to be defined as “fine art”.? It was merely mentioned in the Western art world, which meant it would take another few decades for the concept to come into Japan.? We as gallerists have a responsibility to introduce those unknown artists to the world.

Naohiro Ukawa "A Series of Interpreted Catharsis episode2 -earthquake" at NANZUKA, 2007

Naohiro Ukawa “A Series of Interpreted Catharsis episode2 -earthquake” at NANZUKA, 2007

Talented artists buried under the old Japanese art system

-Outsider art may not get a “main” position of fine art but do you think people will learn toappreciate a broader variety of expressions as “art” in the future?

I don’t really know how it will be in the future… But especially in Japan, Ga-dan (factionary art group) was the firm system for artists to live their lives when we talk about the history of Japanese art after WW II. If the one who wanted to be an artist without belonging to those groups, they had to work as an illustrator or designer to make a living and create works on the side beside. Otherwise, they had to go abroad to live as an artist the way Yoko Ono, Yayoi Kusama and On Kawara did.

We need a curator who is brave enough to talk about these artists who had survived this situation. I think there are many talented artists buried in Japan. Since I am a gallerist I want to promote them of course but there is always a business aspect in my activity. So we need a critique, historian or curator who can talk about these artists too.

In Japan, the art museums are based on their own theoritical Japanese art history. To accept new artists who were outside of their theory would mean to deny what they have done. Moreover, it means to deny their own collection. That is unlikely to happen. We need to promote them internationally not only more than just introducing them domestically.

Keiichi Tanaami "Kochuten" at NANZUKA, 2009

Keiichi Tanaami “Kochuten” at NANZUKA, 2009

-How do you choose the artists you represent?

I chose artists who won’t be shown by other gallerists. When I feel “If I don’t’ pick up this artist, he/she will never be shown up in the history”, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to represent them. Hajime Sorayama is well-known as an illustrator and could have sold artworks without my involvement, but I do want to take credit as the one who put his name in the art world. This is my challenge.

Todd James "Yeild to Temptation" at NANZUKA, 2012

Todd James “Yeild to Temptation” at NANZUKA, 2012

Recession gave me a chance to rethink how to promote the artist deeply

-How do you see your past 7 years?

It is too early to look back, hahaha, but I feel that I was lucky. I could experience the last part of contemporary art bubble when I opened my gallery in 2005. After the bubble was depression. Recession was tough but I became more serious on how to introduce and promote artists internationally. So I think this situation was good for me too. I might have just introduced artists without any deep consideration if the art bubble had last much longer. By introducing the artists properly, I could get chances to join international art fairs like Art Basel and Frieze and that chance led to me meet other important art people and collectors.

-Is there something you want to challenge in the future?

As our gallery got known broadly, we got offers from foreign artists to show their works in our gallery. I appreciate this chance and the exhibition schedule of this year is almost occupied by foreign artists. I am excited to introduce their high quality works to Japanese audience. On the other hand, I still believe in young Japanese artists and am passionate about bringing them to a worldwide audience.

interviewed on August 7, text by Rasa Tsuda


address: 2-17-3 Shibuya Shibuya-ku Tokyo Japan
twitter: @NANZUKAUNG