Relief for Art Week Tokyo galleries as Japan eases travel restrictions

Art Week Tokyo (AWT), organized in partnership with Art Basel, is holding its second edition this month (November 3-6), bringing together more than 50 museums and commercial galleries spread across the metropolitan area, from Roppongi to Tennozu Island. AWT’s soft launch took place last year amid Covid-19 travel restrictions and welcomed over 20,000 visitors. His return comes as Japan opens its borders to individual vaccinated tourists under the Visa Waiver Program.

Since last year, Japan has made concerted efforts to revive its position as an international art hub, a peak not seen since the collapse of the country’s art market in the late 1990s. to attract fairs, auction houses and galleries to its freeport areas, regulations have been relaxed in February 2021 for import procedures, duties and taxes for these areas, which usually amount to millions for high value art.

As expected, a new fair was announced earlier this year. Tokyo Gendai will take place July 7-9, 2023 at the sprawling Pacifico Yokohama Convention Center. His imminent arrival coincides with a significant increase in auction sales, both in the number of works sold and in the increase in auction prices, in particular with the Tokyo-based company SBI Art Auction, which specializes in contemporary works.

“Around 2017-2018, the number of exhibits that would sell out completely began to increase. At the same time, international street art such as KAWS, Banksy, Invader, started to skyrocket in local auctions,” says Satoru Arai, director and co-founder of COMMON gallery in Harajuku. “The prices of young Japanese artists such as Tomoo Gokita, MADSAKI, Kyne, Rokkaku Ayako, Tide have also started to rise,” he adds.

So what’s behind this tectonic shift? Shinji Nanzuka, the owner of Nanzuka Underground, a contemporary art gallery in the Harajuku district that participates in the AWT, describes a massive popularization of art driven by younger generations and centered on the fusion of art and the fashion. It started gaining prominence in 2018, but dates back to the late 90s, he says, when designers from high fashion brands started collaborating with street artists such as KAWS and famous Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. .

According to industry figures, this upsurge of young collectors primarily includes those with lucrative publicly traded businesses, particularly in the computer field.

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They are also part of a larger trend across Asia, where young collectors, heavily reliant on online communication via social media and indifferent to the distinction between viewing art on a screen rather than in person , have driven a shift towards online sales before and since. the pandemic.

Another AWT participant, Sueo Mizuma, whose eponymous art gallery has outposts in Tokyo and Singapore, is welcoming the new wave of collectors. But he also observes that the art they seek to purchase is not necessarily based on prior knowledge of contemporary art theory and art history.

“Many of these collectors are unaware of the important part of Japanese art history like Mono-ha or Gutai works,” he says. “They often base their decision solely on the current trend and popularity seen on social media, which tends to be 2D or illustration style artwork that is difficult to grasp just by viewing it online and most of the time don’t have no strength when actually viewed in person. ”

However, others, like Nanzuka, see this new generation of collectors as part of “the democratization of art in Japan as the once closed art market has become more open”.

Acknowledging that the younger generation’s perception of art as a commodity can lead to the commodification and speculation of art, which could be critical, he believes they also serve as a trigger to break down the walls of Japan’s “conservative and authoritarian art scene”.

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