New Emissary

Let The Art Talk

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New Emissary

Let The Art Talk

One of the worst things gallery staff can do is talk excessively. It’s key to let viewers and art connect in silence.

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.

Our usual approach when talking with clients about a particular painting is to ‘let the art talk’, i.e., let the art communicate with the visitor. We give everyone time to look by themselves without interrupting their viewing with a lot of talk. Before people want to know a lot of information, they have to decide whether they like it or not.

We give people a lot of space and don’t talk too much, and if they want more information we provide it. Sometimes we ask, ‘Would you like to know more, or ‘Can I show you her resume?’ But not everyone says yes to these questions. Some people tell us, ‘I don’t care, I just know I like it.’

I hate it when I go into a gallery and the gallery staff talks too much. They want to tell me about the technique, the awards the artist has won, the school the artist went too, etc. It’s all important stuff, but I want to scream, ‘stop talking, I’m trying to look,’ and just understand the work on my own and see what I can see.

No one chooses a work only because of technique, or the university the artist attended. They choose a work because it connects with them emotionally.

It’s easy to see when a particular work connects with someone. They just stare and feel. They enter an almost trance-like state. It’s a beautiful, peaceful sight because we can see the art having such a positive effect on someone.

Last week I wrote about the DanDans Exhibition at the Bulgari Lounge in Ginza, and how enjoyable it was to hear the artists talk about their work. I think the reason their talk didn’t bother me was that I expected to hear their explanation. I was quite happy to get extra insight into their works. I also realized that while I’m perfectly happy to go on my instincts when looking at art, it’s always interesting to hear what the artist has to say. And it adds to the enjoyment of the art. Kind of an augmented reality.

It’s because of this potential to add to the enjoyment of the art that we started ArtTalks in the gallery several months ago. At these talks, usually held on Saturday afternoons, our artists talk about their art and the works in the shows. We get a good sized crowd-about 20-30 people who show up, and it’s been a wonderful experience for all. Some of the artists are initially shy talking to the crowd, but they warm up as people ask questions and make comments. The visitors gain valuable insights into our artists’ lives and their work.

Joji Shimamoto

At a recent ArtTalk, photographer Joji Shimamoto, whom I’ve written about before, talked about being a skateboarder. He told us that ‘just carrying a skateboard connects him with people.’ When he goes to Hong Kong, Taiwan, New York, anywhere, he carries his skateboard (and a very small camera) and immediately he’s able to meet other skateboarders who invite him into their world. He gets to go to people’s homes, as well as parks, restaurants and bars that only locals would know about. He can make friends easily just by carrying the skateboard. People carrying briefcases can’t do the same thing. The skateboard opens doors to his world.

Joji got me thinking how I connect with others when I travel. It’s usually with art. In any city, I seek out the galleries, the museums, the artists, the coffee shops and restaurants where I’m likely to see good work and meet people with similar artists. Art opens doors. Twenty years ago when I came to this part of the world, I sought out people in Manila, Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore. Some are friends to this day and some are artists that we work with now in the gallery.

Their work spoke to me, and we’re still connected to this day.


To contact Bob Tobin, send a message to [email protected]

Images: James Saunders (top), Joji Shimamoto courtesy of Tobin Ohashi gallery (bottom).