Online gallery of Japanese contemporary art

Interview with the executive director of Art Fair Tokyo, Takahiro Kaneshima

We contacted Art Fair Tokyo to have an interview with Mr. Kanashima who is the executive director of the fair since last year and could catch him before he flies to his business trip to other art fairs around the world. Mr. Kanashima talked with us about the new movement in the Japanese art market and the new attempts they did for this art fair.

Executive director of Art Fair Tokyo, Takahiro Kaneshima

Executive director of Art Fair Tokyo, Takahiro Kaneshima

Collaborating with major media, fashion and restaurant industry to broaden the audience.

-This year Art Fair Tokyo recorded 53,000 visitors which is the largest number ever. Could you tell us the difference between the past and this year’s fair?

Since last year, we could welcome Deutsche Bank Group as a main sponsor. Thanks to that, especially for this year, we could broaden the space using the whole floor which we could only use the half until last year. In addition to the main exhibition space, we could move the special projects on the same floor.

Moreover, we got TV Asahi as a collaborative partner and Nikkei Shinbun (Japanese newspaper company) as a main media partner to broadcast our fair and that may be another important factor to end up with this great success.

We held more than 10 talk events as a pre-event to pull people to the art fair. Some of them were organized with the partnership of Nikkei Shinbun. In one event, we got 1000 applicants for 80 seats. Nikkei Shinbun could reach young women whom they were not good at reaching and got satisified with our partnership.

From another point, beside art, we also collaborated with restaurants and fashion industries. And this also drew many audiences from other creative fields.

-How was the reaction for collaborating with other industries? For example, you put artworks in the restaurant and was it appealing for the people visited the restaurant?

Regarding to the restaurant, we asked art collectors to put their works in the space. Since their works are exhibited, they spread words among the collectors network. And since it was unique, NHK (Japan’s public television company) came in and broadcast in a television program as one movement of “young collectors are inceasing”. Collectors invites other collectors or artists to see the work and Mori art museum also held a lunch event. So these events were quite successful.

-Why did you put collector’s works in the restaurant instead of bringing works from the galleries?

Collectors are the people who actually bought the works. And we wanted to make the visitors feel collecting art works as a familiar action. If the works were brought from galleries or artists to be on sale, it could be done in a gallery or a museum. For example, in Miami, the Rubells show their collections in their large house.??In Japan, this is difficult to be done. It might be because the house is not large enough to invite visitors or Tokyo is too large to move across. Anyhow, by collaborating with the restaurants, we can show part of their collections. That is why we asked collectors works to put in a restaurant.

-As it is said that there is not a large art market in Japan, how was the sales in Art Fair Tokyo?

We do not declare the number but we can say it almost doubled compared to last year. Since the scheme of art fair is not popular in Japan, there are many cases they buy works after the fair and some are still in process.

Entrance of Art Fair Tokyo 2012, Photo by Munetoshi Iwashita (c) Art Fair Tokyo.

Entrance of Art Fair Tokyo 2012, Photo by Munetoshi Iwashita (c) Art Fair Tokyo.

New Japanese young collectors judging works by their own eyes

-As NHK broadcasted in a television program that young collectors are increasing in Japan, did you feel that movement at the fair too?

Yes, I think so. “Art fair” is known among the art industry but almost all of the people (in Japan) do not know about it. Unexpectedly, in this year, there were many people visited the fair for the first time and they told me that they bought a work for the first time in their life. I realized that art fair gives a really good opportunity for the people who have not bought it before.

-Was there a preference of what young Japanese collectors buy?

They really have their own preferences and never mind of the trend in the art world. They put importance in what they purely like, especially compared to other Asian collectors. Other Asian collectors care whether the work was on the auction catalogue or the artist had an exhibition at a major museum, or is represented by a major gallery. In other words, they care something like “brand”. Compared to that, Japanese people buy what they like. Since I felt this movement, I think it must be important for us to show how we see our art toward the world wide audience.

Japanese contemporary art has been living along with the Western art history and its value is judged within their context. I understand that it is important. But beside it, there must be something buried underneath the ground. For example, we had an exhibition titled “Shuffle II” showing the works from antiques to contemporary in one space. When we see a work which is priced 300,000 yen ( =about $3000) but one is from the ancient and the other from contemporary, it may be questioning what is the value of art or the meaning of value. There is a little opportunity to think of these kinds of questions. I think Japanese people a have ability to answering those essential questions.

-It was an unexpected answer for me to hear that Japanese collectors do not care about the “brand” of art. What do you think?

I guess our parents’ generation (50s to 60s) were like that (=care the “brand”). Many products came from the US. They admired them and tried to catch up with them. But our generation (30s) put more importance on what we have in our own culture. Maybe it is similar to the movement in England of YBA which was not valued at all before the English collector support them but got a global appealing in the end. It must be our mission to create a market by ourselves.

We often say ” its quality is high”, although the actual meaning of it is vague. We might be using it since it was valued by the Western art context but if we could create our own market and show the movement to evaluate the quality, it must be very important. I am not sure yet but trying to think in that way.

Floor of Art Fair Tokyo 2012, Photo by Munetoshi Iwashita (c) Art Fair Tokyo.

Floor of Art Fair Tokyo 2012, Photo by Munetoshi Iwashita (c) Art Fair Tokyo.

Chinese collectors coming in Japanese art market

-You did the press release event at Beijing this year. How was it?

We got more reactions than we expected. This was the very first time for the Japanese art fair organization did a press announcement crossing abroad. We invited Chinese Media to the fair and ended up having many of them to write about the fair. Also we used Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter) and got many follows.

-So you had an account in Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter), that’s interesting.

Yes, we got advices from Ullens Center for contemporary art (Beijing) which is strong with public relations. ?Ullens organized a Chinese art collector tour for us too.

-Could you tell us more about the tour for the Chinese collectors?

Ullens tour went Art Fair Tokyo followed by Naoshima, and also the other Chinese art organization conducted another collectors tour which visited Kyoto, Nara, and Art Fair Tokyo afterwards. We are glad to realize those events and could show that art attracts people from China. We think this is just a tip of the ice burg among the huge Chinese collectors and have to work on it continuously.

-Chinese collectors are said they only buy Chinese works and their import tax is high. Did you feel any obstacles for that?

Yes, it is a fact that some Chinese collectors only buy their own art. On the other hand, Chinese contemporary art is getting too expensive, in some cases, the price of the work by the artists of the same age is ten times expensive than the Japanese artists’. Some Chinese collectors buy Japanese art since they are in good quality with inexpensive price.

Especially for the ancient works, there are fake works existing in the Chinese market and compared to that Japanese galleries are reliable and there are some collectors buying numbers of artworks from the galleries in Japan.

-Right, I heard the same thing at the tour guided by the collector Mr. Miyatsu. How about the age and occupations of the Chinese collectors coming to Japan?

Collectors age ranges from 30s to 50s. Even though they are young, they are economically and politically strong. In China, the numbers of the young people who hold the economical and political power is increasing. They can judge quickly and, in some point, young Chinese are already running above us (Japanese)…

-Can you tell me more about it?

In Japan, upper generation still holds the money and the power. Since they move the economy, some system is not catch up with the new generation. Compared to that there are many young Chinese holding a leader-ship.

-Are those active young Chinese from IT industry?

Not only from IT industry. They are in real estate agency or food industry, many kinds.

"Shuffle II" at Art Fair Tokyo 2012, Photo by Munetoshi Iwashita (c) Art Fair Tokyo.

“Shuffle II” at Art Fair Tokyo 2012, Photo by Munetoshi Iwashita (c) Art Fair Tokyo.

The strength of Japanese antiques to contemporary art getting in one place

-There are many art fairs held in Japan but how do you differentiate it from others?

We are showing the galleries from antiques to contemporary at one place and would like to develop this feature as we did this year. Art fair Tokyo has a 20 year history inherited from the former fair NICAF which has started as just importing the western art fair style in Japan. We are respecting it. I hope all of the art fair in Japan will prosper. Considering the next 10 years, more Japanese especially the younger generation will get use to buy art.

-Since there are many kinds of art in one place, it must be difficult to think of whom to target. What do you think about that?

We think we should not narrow the target. But maybe inside the fair, we should divide the floor section. For example, some of my friends who works in contemporary art industry told me that he would not have a chance to see antique works if they are not shown in Art Fair Tokyo and vice versa. Providing this kind of opportunity is the important part of this fair.

-When we see outside of Japan, there are still many art fairs too. How do you position Art Fair Tokyo in the world?

We think we should do what Basel, Frieze and HK art fair cannot do. We can’t catch up with them by doing similar things. Showing from antiques to contemporary is one of our strength. The exhibition like “Shuffle II” cannot be done at other fairs.

-Right, showing their own antiques to contemporary cannot be done in the US.

From our generation, we do not have to set out to fit in the global standard but to focus on the specialty rooted in our local community and spread it globally. That is why we care of what could be only done in “Tokyo”. On the other hand, when we visit the major fairs around the world, it is getting difficult to see differences among them. Almost the same major galleries are showing almost same super star artists’ works. We want to show the works which has a potential to join those major fairs. This year, we invited galleries from Korea, Taiwan and China and opened our platform to Asia. To be regarded as a place where the most hot Asian art is getting together is what we are aiming.

Although Hong Kong is usually thought as the middle of Asian art market, the name of the galleries participating the fair is quite similar with Basel or Frieze and it is just like bringing some of them to Hong Kong.

In addition to this, Frieze holds “Frieze Masters” this year and the fair “tefaf” in Maastricht is quite popular in Europe. Just showing contemporary art only will not satisfy the visitors.?Showing antique art with contemporary art must be one of the important trends in the world.

Korean Gallery at Art Fair Tokyo 2012, Photo by Munetoshi Iwashita (c) Art Fair Tokyo.

Korean Gallery at Art Fair Tokyo 2012, Photo by Munetoshi Iwashita (c) Art Fair Tokyo.

Communication will be the key for art to broaden the collectors in Japan

-What do you want to focus on the most for the feature?

I want to think of how to create the art market in Japan. Art Fair Tokyo itself is an event.
Art Fair Tokyo was born for the reason of there was nothing like this before and imported the system from other countries in the beginning. Art fair is a method, a method to create a market. Creating the market must be the ultimate goal. When we think about it, art fair may not be only the answer.

-What do you think the obstacle of buying art is? Japanese people like to see art but why they do not buy them?

I think art galleries in Japan have not communicated with others who are outside of the art industry. Foreign gallerists explain about the work very carefully and have broadened their business. Although in Japan, there are still some galleries thinking that it is enough to be understood by the one who already does. As a result, art market in Japan has not been prospered at all. As I am also one of the person working in the art industry, I feel responsible for this situation and we need to communicate openly to others.

-I strongly agree that communication makes more enjoyable to see art. Thank you so much for your time. We are looking forward to going the next Art Fair Tokyo.

(Interviewed on April 26th, 2012?)


I was glad to hear that there are two new movements happening in Japanese art market. One is by the young Japanese collectors and the other is by the collectors coming from outside of Japan, especially China. As art fairs are happening all other the world almost like in every week, it is the most competitive art event ever. I hope Art Fair Tokyo will create a movement which attracts the world wide audience by prospering the Japanese art market with Japanese collectors.


text by Rasa Tsuda