Each week 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.
I wish every art viewing experience was like the one I had last week at the Bulgari Ginza Tower in the upscale Ginza district of Tokyo. The venue isn’t the kind of place I go to very often. In fact, I don't think I'd been to Ginza in about two years.
I was there to see the 7th DANDANS exhibition organized by Kazuko Aso and her team. These exhibitions aim to develop Japan’s young artists and bring them to the public. It’s different than a museum or a gallery, where you walk around on your own or obtain information from brochures and staff members. In these annual exhibitions, which are held in the best locations, most of the artists are right there to talk about their works. The artists talking with visitors allows guests to find out directly about the art from the artist. DANSDANS creates an environment where barriers come down and different worlds connect.
In the current tight business climate, where retailers must create unique experiences for customers in order to survive, DANDANS has succeeded in creating environments that make viewing art a rush.
Here’s an example of how:
A friendly, beautifully dressed woman welcomes you at the special side entrance of the Bulgari building. She ushers you into the private elevator, which brings you right into the elegant lounge where no one other than the head of the DANDANS organization, Ms. Aso herself, is there at the front desk to greet you.
As you might expect, the lounge setting of the Bulgari Tower is a luxurious spot where you’d like to imagine having a drink with friends. There are comfortable sofas for you to lounge on while you look through catalogues and admire the art that surrounds you. It’s an understatement to say it’s like a living room.
Actually, it’s like the living room I wish I had.
I’d seen some of DANDANS’s prior exhibitions—in model homes in the modern Roppongi district and in the hotel and grounds around historic Chinzan-so in Mejiro—but this location and the choice of artists was so far the best for me. The prior exhibitions I’d seen were larger and the works were more conceptual. This time I could imagine having many of the works in my home.
The works are clearly labeled, and the artists really try to engage you. They encourage you to interact with the works, they explain their techniques and they don’t falter in their speech. It appears as if they’ve been coached to overcome any shyness they might feel. It was a joy to talk with them.
Several artworks stood out for me. I overheard a talk by Shugo Kikuchi about his mixed media piece that incorporated an oil painting, acrylic, oil, water and paraffin. The painting was encased in acrylic and was further submerged in a water tank that contained oil and water. It looked different from every angle and made me think about how I see things. What was I looking at—a painting or a fish tank? I expected to see a fish in a tank and was surprised to see a painting. Thankfully, it was an abstract one, not a painting of a fish.
I also liked the ‘Layered Tower’ from Kazumasa Noguchi. It was a thin tower almost a metre and a half high made from acrylic, wood and lacquer. What you saw changed depending on the viewing angle. Images appeared and disappeared depending on where I stood. It wasn't just the visual imagery that made this piece interesting. It was also a stunning sculpture that you could imagine having in your living room. I also liked the ceramic sculpture from Hisako Matsumoto that looked like it was a pocketbook for sale in the Bulgari shop below. On closer inspection, I could see that it was actually a ceramic sculpture with several sides.
Japan needs more exhibitions like the DANDANS' that bring artists and the public together. And Japan needs more champions like Kazuko Aso who are relentless in their passion to promote Japanese art. It’s a tough challenge that she's taken on and she knows it. In the introduction to the catalogue, she mentions the vibrant and flourishing art scenes in China, Hong Kong and Singapore. She doesn’t hold back in talking about the art scene in Japan: lacklustre at best. In her words, ‘despite the efforts of many artists and art enthusiasts to breath life into the arts at large, the market remains sluggish.’
DANDANS and Kazuko Aso have managed to get great venues and to break down the barriers between artists and the rest of the public. It’s an important step in trying to give Japan the art market that a country with such a rich and vibrant culture should have.
The works in the exhibition are purchased via a simple bidding system. Fill out a slip, place it in a box, and if you're the highest bidder at the time the show ends on January 27 (today), the work is yours.
And on a related note, if you’re interested in engaging more with artists and are in Tokyo, drop by to hear the next ArtTalk by contemporary Japanese artist Mario Tauchi, who'll be speaking about his work at the Tobin Ohashi Gallery on Saturday, January 29 at 5:00pm.