Holed up in Tokyo for a day or two with no idea where to go? Want to see art, but something a little livelier than the 18th-century screens and netsuke collections? You might have heard that the Japanese stock-market and real-estate crash almost 10 years ago dealt a heavy blow to the art market here, a setback from which the scene has yet to recover.
It used to be so simple. You could just go to Ginza, which, with its tony department stores and dozens of art galleries, was for many years Tokyo's fanciest shopping and art district. But that was then and this is now. Discount stores and karaoke bars have replaced the old-fashioned restaurants and stores, and traditional galleries have gone out of business or slowed down considerably.
But all is not lost. As befits any major city, Tokyo does have a string of adventurous and surprisingly international galleries. They have just settled out of Ginza, dotting Tokyo with mini art centers.
Younger dealers in their 30s and 40s simply saw no reason to stay in Ginza, where real estate prices became unbearably high. What's more, they could open their spaces closer to their audience, which resides in hipper neighborhoods like Shibuya and Shinjuku.
For traditional mainstream dealers, the business was always a one-way thing, in which they catered to a handful of big-name, Western-art-loving, deep-pocketed Japanese collectors. Many of today's young gallerists used to work for these established galleries, and are now striving to broaden the traffic by bringing to Tokyo foreign art that is little-known in Japan while at the same time supporting exciting new domestic talent and taking Japanese artists overseas.
Don't let their modest spaces and unlikely locations fool you. These young galleries are worth visiting, though it might mean that you'll have to ride on the train and make several changes or climb up the dangerously narrow and steep stairs. Here's a quick and dirty guide to the Tokyo galleries that count.
One of the current mini art centers is next to Shibuya, Tokyo's busiest and youngest shopping towns. Named Aoyama, the fashion district where Gucci, Gap, Bennetton and Max Mara have their flagship stores, the area offers a number of notable galleries. One is Röntgen Kunstraum, run by Tsutomu Ikeuchi, who has worked with edgy artists like Takashi Murakami, Kenji Yanobe and Hideki Nakazawa.
Mizuma Art Gallery, the space of dealer Sueo Mitsuma, features funky young artists like Izuru Kasahara, whose work is on view there, Apr. 17-May 12, 2001, plus Makoto Aida, Kaoru Motomiya and foreign artists including Nguyen Minh Thanh and Nguyen Van Cuong.
Another third stop worth making is the NADiff bookstore, which boasts one of the richest Japanese and foreign art books inventories in Tokyo, including museum catalogues and artists' books. The store features a small exhibition space and a cafe.
In Ebisu, a residential area a single train stop away from Shibuya, art is thriving. Ota Fine Arts, a tiny, one-room gallery on the second floor of a shabby building, generates a lot of buzz by showing a mix of old and new, foreign and Japanese. Yayoi Kusama has had her annual show here, as have Yoshiko Shimada and Tsuyoshi Ozawa, whose works are currently on view (through Apr. 21). Ota, who used to work for the prominent Fuji Television Gallery, has also brought to Japan such foreign artists as Dennis Oppenheim and Vito Acconci.
Yet another little gallery in another shabby building in Ebisu is Masataka Hayakawa Gallery, which has a following for the dealer's devotion to conceptual artists, including Olafur Eliasson, Maria Eichhorn, Marie-Ange Guilleminot and Teresita Fernandez. Hayakawa, a former associate at the Satani Gallery, which closed its Ginza space last year, also represents such Japanese artists as Naoya Hatakeyama and Katsuya Komagata.
In West Shinjuku, the home of Tokyo's famously ugly City Hall and numerous high-rises (office buildings and hotels), an unpretentious apartment building houses two little galleries on the ground floor. Kiyoshi Wako of Wako Works of Art represents Gerhard Richter in Japan, and is considered one of the most commercially successful young dealers in town. He also publishes booklets on his artists, authored by cutting-edge art critics such as Kentaro Ichihara and Minoru Shimizu.
Next to Wako is the Kenji Taki gallery. Taki, originally from Nagoya in central Japan, where he still operates a more spacious, two-story space, has shown Korean abstract painter Keun-Joong Kim. Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar had his first solo shows in Japan at both Taki galleries, in Nagoya and Tokyo.
Sagacho, Tokyo's old warehouse district, is not necessarily convenient or fun to visit. But a ragged, former rice storage building makes the area special and worth checking out. Tomio Koyama, who has made his name for his dedication to bringing Japan's pop artists -- Takashi Murakami, Chiezo Taro, Yoshitomo Nara -- to overseas markets, has a gallery on the second floor. A regular presence at international art fairs like the Armory Show in New York, Koyama, who used to be with the Shiraishi Contemporary Art Inc., also shows Western artists such as Italian Gianni Caravaggio.
Next to Koyama on the same floor is the Taro Nasu Gallery, which represents artists Henry Bond, Alessandro Raho and Isao Sato. Nasu is a former associate of the Ginza-based Nishimura Gallery.
On the building's top floor is Rice Gallery, which opened in January 2001, replacing the much-loved Sagacho Exhibit Space, which had occupied the building for 17 years and closed in December 2000. Operated jointly by Gallery Koyanagi, a respected contemporary art dealer based at the edge of Ginza, and dealer Shugo Satani of the Satani Gallery, Rice will show both well-established and up-and-coming artists. Its opening exhibition featured works by Mariko Mori, Yasumasa Morimura and Tony Oursler, among others.
Away from the glitz of the downtown Tokyo, Taka Ishii is known for his exhibitions of photographs by such artists as Nobuyoshi Araki and Daido Moriyama. His sleek, high-ceilinged gallery is in Otsuka, a low-key, residential neighborhood. A former California artist himself, Ishii is among the most internationally minded of these Tokyo dealers. Like Tomio Koyama, he often takes a booth at foreign art fairs like ARCO in Madrid and the Armory Show in New York City. He is also involved with the Low gallery in Los Angeles.
These galleries publish a simple monthly list of their exhibitions complete with maps, in both Japanese and English. Pick it up at one of these places and you are ready to go. Happy hunting.