At the end of the first day at Art Fair Tokyo 2014, it’s too early to pick favorites or draw conclusions about the Japanese contemporary art scene. One thing is for sure, though: with plenty of refreshing young artists around every corner, tradition is never far away. Art Fair Tokyo combines the classical with modern and contemporary art like few other contemporary art shows. While one museum manager told me this is simply the result of the limited size of the contemporary art market in Japan (and the need to fill the booths), the fair’s curators paint a broader picture. In a section titled “Artistic Practice: Modernity, Created by Japan” the emergence of modernity in Japanese Art is chronicled over the decades of the last century, suggesting a continuity between the old and the new. In an interview with BlouinArtInfo, curator Hozu Yamamoto goes even further saying “We need to spread the message in Japan that art is precisely a commodity where historical awareness and knowledge is indispensable.”
With all this historical peer pressure, the contemporary spirit was everywhere. At an evening talk session, it was not a Japanese artist – but Hong Kong based Pak Sheung Chuen – who summed up best the aspirations of a contemporary artist unapologetic about his break with the past. “Real art,” to paraphrase his words is both deeply personal and completely of the moment. As I understood him, it’s about overcoming limitations, not being defined by them.
With that breath of fresh air, I am looking forward to day two of Art Fair Tokyo!