One month later than the Art Fair Tokyo, another fair was held in Kyoto which is the western ancient capital before it moves to Tokyo. We interviewed Mr. Ishibashi who organized this fair and runs a commercial gallery by himself about why he started the fair and how he sees the art industry in Japan.
-Could you tell us how you come to start the fair “Art Kyoto”?
2 years ago, I started the fair named “Art Fair Kyoto” which was a kind of a fair using hotel rooms. I was originally from Tokyo but went to a university in Kyoto and started my career also in Kyoto. Kyoto is a great place to foster young talent however it is difficult to spread their works if we are only based in Kyoto. Frankly speaking, there is little market here. I started an art fair to change this situation. Especially this year, we broadened the exhibition space using a conference center in addition to the hotel space and doubled the exhibitors.
-Why do you think Kyoto is the ideal place?
Although I opened a commercial gallery in Tokyo in 2009, I still have a feeling that Kyoto is my base. There are numbers of artisans and artists based in Kyoto and they are developing their skills through friendly competition. When you see worldwide such as Venice or Basel, the place where art is having popularity, you can see that it does not have to be a major big city to create an art event. Of course, London and New York are also big art cities. However, being connected with the local tradition is an important part of showing art and Kyoto is the ideal place for representing art in that sense. Depth of the history will call many people from all over the world. Kyoto is an ancient capital but we can add the cutting edge art with it. I wanted to combine the old with the new. People who visit Kyoto go there to see the traditional part of Japan but we should show the new at the same time.
-How do you see the art market in Japan?
In Japan, I feel art industry is not diffused at all. Most of the Japanese people do not know about it, even my relatives don’t. Thinking about this situation, we cannot decide that there is no market in Japan. We still need more effort to bring art to wide audience.
It may sound impolite for others who have worked in the art industry for a few decades, but we have too much worked with the western art history, trying to catch up or to be accepted by them. For example, Basel is regarded as a top of the art fair while Venice Biennale is the top of the exhibition platform but these ideas are all constructed by the western side of people. They tried to show what they think in their ways and ended up creating this structure. I see things in a different way. Eastern spirituality or historical concept developed along with our religion or technically artificial works, none of them are reflected in the western art history. Western art is based on conceptualism and strongly tagged with the global money. Japan is said to be isolated but maybe we can take these situation as an asset. Why cannot we put the eastern philosophy or art in the center and spread about our art by ourselves.
But for the first step, it must be shared among the Japanese people. There are some internationally successful galleries or artists, although it was done without getting any conscious by the other Japanese people.
-You called galleries from Korea for the fair. How did you realize it?
I started talking with them at the Daegu art fair (Korea) and they were willing to join our fair. We are eager to spread our partners to Hong Kong and Taiwan for the future too. For them, the biggest obstacle is the cost. They like Japan but when it comes to business, it sounds difficult.
-Then, how did they decide to come?
We prepared a lot of things to persuade them. For example, transportations, accommodations and booth fee etc. We admitted that we do not have a power to promote their art worldwide and we need their help.
-What was the most persuasive thing for Korean galleries?
Although it is said there is no art market in Japan, they still believe that Japanese art market has a potential to grow. Japan is still an economically successful country. Korean drama or music has already succeeded in the Japanese market so they see things positively.
-How was the audience of the art fair this year?
We got around 20,000 accumulated total visitors. I would say half of them were from the art industry but the number was over our expectation. Surprisingly, many of them were from all over the country from Hokkaido (the northern prefecture) to the south. Since most of them came outside of Kyoto, they have more intention to buy art.
-Why did they have more intentions to buy art?
I think people visiting the fair come to do some sightseeing Kyoto as well. They booked a hotel and paid for high transportation fee to visit the fair. People have prepared themselves to visit the fair and this situation makes them feel they want to buy a work during the visit. This is a totally different circumstance compared to the fairs in Tokyo. Tokyo is too convenient and people stop by the fair just along the way they do shopping. It is not regarded as a special experience.
-Right, people usually visit the fair in addition to other occasions.
Kyoto is a place they have visit with long time transportation. And I think this is an important part. Basel is also not the center of the city but the place for vacation. On this occasion, art fair is not the only event held in the city but there are tremendous numbers of events held all over the city which make people feel they want to visit the fair. This is what I want to realize.
-What was the most popular part of Art Kyoto?
There are many things but one of the best events was the reception party. We used international conference center for our exhibitors and its traditional garden and banquet hall for the reception party space. There are beautiful stone path and a pond in the garden and we invited Maiko (ladies performing traditional dance and songs in Kinomo) for the party. And it was really appreciated by many people. One gallerist came up and hugged me saying “This is great! You have to continue this event.”
-What was the core concept of the reception? Did you concern about Kyoto?
Simply, we tried to do our best, the best to give hospitality to the visitors. People must feel how they are welcomed and the good expectations toward our art fair.
-What is your plan for the next year?
We want to improve the art fair and not doing the same fair as we did this year. I do have a vision for the fair but to realize it we need more time. More time to prepare for the new vision. If we have 2 or 3 years for the next fair, we can definitely improve the quality of the fair. That is what we think so far.
-How do you want to improve the fair?
I want to add more international galleries from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia. Not only located inside of the art fair exhibition space, but it could be seen outside of it. Sounds like an Expo. There could be some related events which are just for seeing. But still the art fair which people can sell and buy artworks is the main part of it since I believe that art industry should work out as a business.
-Thank you for your time. We are looking forward to seeing your new art fair in the near future.?
(Interviewed on May 30th, 2012?)
Redefining what we originally had in our history and?re-birthing?it into a new value. This is what is happening in Japan not only in the art world but also in other industries. Especially in the art industry, how we can approach to the people inside of Japan must be the biggest challenge since it is important to build up a new market to sustain our culture. I believe art fairs will have a large potential to change this situations since it is a place to buy and sell art and hope they will succeed in the near future.
text by Rasa Tsuda