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!
When I first visited some Japanese galleries at Art Basel a few years ago, a few of the gallerists I spoke with were reluctant to talk about the state of contemporary art in Japan. With traditional Japanese art still strongly rooted in modern culture and superstar contemporary artists from Yayoi Kusama to Takashi Murakami interweaving the worlds of art and fashion, it’s hard to define the clear guideposts in the Japanese art scene. One gallerist even told me, “these are great artists, just not really from Japan.”
For a better perspective on the current state of Japanese art, Project Art Lounge will be spending the next three days at Art Fair Tokyo, self acclaimed as the biggest art fair in Japan with over 150 galleries and partners. We will be talking to galleries, artists and meeting other art enthusiasts to talk about their views. After a sneak peak at yesterday’s preview, it looks like a busy three days ahead. The show runs until Sunday, March 9th. If you would like to meet up, visit the contact page and leave us a message.
Last summer I visited Kapoor in Berlin with my friend and Atlanta based artist Michele Schuff. Conveyor belts and cannons discharging hot red wax projectiles, splattering them on the walls and floors of the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Anish Kapoor’s Symphony for a Beloved Sun. The breathtaking size and scope of Kapoor’s work on display made me ask myself: how in the world can anyone create art on such a scale? As an extremely successful artist with the institutional resources and staff to support him, there really are no limitations to Kapoor’s creativity.
When I asked Michele how she recognizes great art and what appeals to her as an artist, she answered “when it feels authentic.” In a contemporary art world full of successful artists who have turned their ateliers into factories, appropriating the work of other artists and creating amazing art out of everyday objects, it can be hard to differentiate between art and avocation, between the authentic and the deceptive. And what if deception is precisely what the artist intended (see “Exit through the Gift Shop“)…don’t worry, you are not alone in asking: is that art?
Who better to explain the (r)evolution of contemporary art than Japanese artist Morimura Yasumasa, who has been “appropriating” the work of other artists for years and has been appointed artistic director of the 2014 Yokohama Triennale. At Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum annual cocktail party for new members, Morimura gave an honest reflection about the current Andy Warhol exhibition. A teenager at the time of Andy Warhol’s rising popularity, Morimura recalled how obscure Andy Warhol and his pop art was in the mid to late 1960s. In contrast with conventional wisdom that painting is a window to the innermost thoughts and feelings of the artist, Morimura quoted Warhol’s famous saying: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” In other words, it is what it is – take it or leave it. In fact, Morimura concluded, there is much more behind Warhol’s work than first meets the eye. He sees an homage to the concealed advertising artist (Brillo) and the insightful eye of a discerning art director well attuned to the iconic imagery of his day (Marilyn Monroe). Whether you appreciate Warhol for his aesthetic use of color and form on the surface or for a deeper – and perhaps nostalgic – and concealed context, it is impossible to deny Warhol’s authenticity as an artist. Morimura, whose self-portraits also include projections of himself as Marilyn Monroe, knows as well as anyone what it means to test new waters, while paying tribute to the artistic past.
So the next time you find yourself asking “is that art,” it is worth taking a step back for a moment. In contemporary art – as in life – it often makes sense to reserve judgement and simply “take it all in” before drawing a conclusion, because contrary to conventional wisdom, beauty in art is not only in the eye of the beholder, but foremost in its creator.