Artsy: 8 Tastemaking Tokyo Galleries to Know

July 23, 2021

John Tran

Read here

8 Tastemaking Tokyo Galleries to Know
By: John Tran

Getting to Tokyo to see Olympic events live will be no mean feat. If you have managed to get through the precautionary measures in place against COVID-19, or already happen to be in town and enjoying a slightly less crowded Tokyo, it may be impossible to get into an Olympic venue, but most commercial galleries plan to be open this summer.

Befitting a city where a sparkling new urban development can appear in the time it takes a London builder to have a cup of tea and a biscuit, clusters of galleries are spread around Tokyo with periodic shifts in the focus of the art scene. While the Roppongi district has, since 2008, aimed to be a global contemporary art hub, more recently the less centrally located Terrada Art Complex and the Kiyosumi-Shirakawa area around the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo are becoming key locations for seeing work by both emerging and established artists.

There are a multitude of small and mid-size galleries in the Ginza and nearby Kyōbashi and Nihonbashi districts, ranging from the stellar to the questionable. Among the latter, there is a particularly high concentration of rental spaces that aren’t too fussy about curatorial direction. With a typical rate for six days being upwards of $2,000, the high cost of these galleries leads to a very fast turnaround; one- and two-week shows are common for rental spaces.

Though it continues to be a thriving area of luxury and culture, Ginza’s reputation as Tokyo’s go-to area for commercial art galleries—and its model of hopeful artists paying through the nose for short-run exhibitions to get gatekeeper attention—has been challenged by an increase in government support for art festivals and an incremental growth of artist-run and repurposed spaces. That said, if you are interested in the Japan-specific genres of Yōga (Western-style painting) or Nihonga (Japanese-style painting), a leisurely stroll around Ginza is de rigueur.

Novelty is a big thing in Japan, but that doesn’t necessarily help when it comes to the development of a sophisticated and sustainable art scene. For decades, gallerists have bemoaned the relative lack of interest in, and collectors of, contemporary art in Japan. However, at long last a tax system more favorable to art sales was introduced this year, so maybe it’s time to stump up for some eye candy. Below are eight contemporary art galleries that make a distinctive contribution to the Tokyo art scene, as their current exhibitions attest.

Blum & Poe

There are only a handful of galleries in Japan owned by non-Japanese gallerists that deal in contemporary Japanese art. With spaces in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and New York, Blum & Poe is well positioned to address transnationalism and Japan within its own ecosystem and outside the context of international biennials and art fairs. Its current shows in L.A. and Tokyo are emblematic of this: The former brings together several of Yukinori Yanagi’s critiques of national identity and Japan’s historical issues with “otherness.” For example, World Flag Ant Farm 2020 (2020), an expansion of a work that was shown at the 1993 Venice Biennale, effectively summarizes the unnaturalness of nationality, as live ants tunnel through and eventually destroy 200 national flags made of colored sand.

The Kazumi Nakamura show at Blum & Poe in Tokyo features vibrantly colored Neo-Expressionist works with repeated motifs that can be appreciated for their abstract rhythm and energy, and for the variations in composition and hue. Compared to the overt social critique in Yanagi’s work, it might seem perverse to read issues of national identity into Nakamura’s paintings. However, as Blum & Poe notes for us, his works combine Asian motifs and reference flattened pictorial space as a traditional Japanese convention through the American modernism of Abstract Expressionism. “Nakamura,” as the exhibition text puts it, “counters the dominant discourse of Euro-American painting by localizing it in a Japanese vernacular.”

The repeated “Y” patterns in some of the paintings reference the Japanese mulberry used for raising silkworms. Other grid patterns echo the isometric perspective used in Japanese scroll paintings, while several pictures feature the semi-abstract outline of a phoenix as an icon of change and regeneration.

Our website uses cookies to improve user experience. Please click here to learn more.
By continuing to browse you are giving us your consent to our use of cookies.
I Accept
Blum & Poe Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo will be closed for the summer from August 14 through August 28.