Each Thursday on the New Emissary, art consultant and Tokyo art gallery owner Bob Tobin reports on the contemporary art scene in the Asia-Pacific, sharing his unique insights into some of the emerging trends and artists from around the region.
If I had a car, I’d put a sign in the back window that reads: ‘Caution: this car stops at all galleries.’ It would be much like those signs in the backs of many American cars that read: 'Caution: this car stops at every garage sale.'
I just can’t resist stopping at galleries. Why? For much the same reason devoted yard sale shoppers can't pass any sale they come across. I need to see what’s inside and try to find something—it’s like a treasure hunt. And if you look at enough galleries, you’re bound to find something good. (This is a good piece of advice for anyone trying to find some art for their home: Visit a lot of galleries before deciding.) I also stop at galleries because I want to find out what the gallery does, who they show and most importantly, I want to experience its unique taste—or the ‘eye’ of the gallerist.
Even the smallest of cities will have some type of gallery, usually as part of a frame shop. As you might expect, the works on display in such places are mostly posters or watercolors by the owner’s spouse or parent. The displayed works give you an idea of the kind of framing the shop can do, but it’s rare you’ll find any treasures.
There are also the kind of galleries that show just about everything, and their walls are usually packed with art. These kinds of places give me a headache because the layout makes it difficult to enjoy the art. But still, every now and then a particular piece of artwork might jump out at you.
On every trip I make to Bangkok I head to a gallery in the basement of the Silom Galleria. I don’t even know its name, but it’s packed floor to ceiling with paintings of Thai temples and farm scenes, reproductions and prints, and I always manage to find something that I like there. The last time I visited, I found a beautiful work by Thavorn Ko-udomvit, a conceptual artist who teaches at Silpakorn University. The best galleries are, of course, not frame shops or packed with art, but those galleries that work with a set number of artists. These galleries display the art so you can enjoy each piece, and they specialize in works of a certain type or from a certain area.
Among this group, I like the gallerists with an eye for spotting new talent. You might think that every gallerist has this ‘eye,’ but you’d be wrong. There are in fact large numbers of galleries that choose works only with a proven track record; that is, they don’t take the risk of seeking out unrecognized art and artists. There are also many galleries that go out of business, or others that take in any work or artist, or those only looking at the potential for profit.
The best gallerists, in contrast, have an eye for choosing talent that has the potential for greatness. These gallerists love finding a great artist, or even a very good artist, and then working with them to develop their careers and clients.
Next week, I’ll recommend three galleries—one in Hong Kong, one in Bangkok and one in Tokyo that all have a proven track record in finding worthy young talent.
Images: Edwin Lee (top), Nomad Tales / Flickr (bottom).