Tokyo art lovers are suffering from déjà vu all over again, with the city's leading contemporary art galleries changing their addresses and moving into a new neighborhood, just like they did several years ago [see "Report from Tokyo," Feb. 10, 2003]. All these relocations can be an annoyance, but it does provide an excuse to throw a huge party.
The new Kiyosumi gallery building
Tomio Koyama Gallery, Shugoarts and Taka Ishii Gallery, all of which moved less than three years ago into a gallery complex in Shinkawa, an old warehouse district, vacated that building in October 2005. They found a new home in Kiyosumi, yet another old industrial-storage neighborhood. Nearby is the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.
Gallery Koyanagi, which had an appointment-only viewing room in the Shinkawa complex while maintaining its posh gallery space in Ginza, is no longer part of the group. But Hiromi Yoshii, which also has two spaces in the Complex building in Roppongi, moved into the Kiyosumi building as well.
In all, eight galleries -- Koyama, Shugoarts, Ishii, Yoshii, Miyake Fine Art, KIDO Press, Magic Room and Zenshi -- took up the top three floors of the seven-story storage house Kiyosumi. The galleries joined forces and held a joint opening party on Nov. 11, 2005.
Visitors to the galleries take an industrial-size elevator up to the building's fifth floor, where the doors open to the spacious Shugoarts, at which dreamy, colorful paintings by Naofumi Maruyama were on view during the opening. Shugo Satani, the gallery owner, has also worked with Yasumasa Morimura, Ilya Kabakov, Jan Fabre and other international artists.
Next door to Shugoarts is Taka Ishii, who specializes in photography, and shows works by Nobuyoshi Araki, Doug Aitken, Thomas Demand and Naoya Hatakeyama. The gallery opened with a new series of photographs and a film by New York artist Slater Bradley, entitled "Uncharted Settlements." In the past, Bradley has focused his camera on young chess players and aspiring actresses; this time around, it's Star Wars convention participants in costumes.
On the sixth floor is the glass-walled Hiromi Yoshii, which opened with a group show of gallery artists, including a large picture by Soshiro Matsubara that covered one wall, oil paintings by Koichi Enomoto, and works done in gesso, ink and oil by Yoshitaka Azuma. Yoshii says he is scheduled to organize a show with the same three artists at Deitch Projects in New York in June 2006. On its right is KIDO Press, which specializes in prints, particularly etchings and lithographs.
A small, lively gallery next on Yoshii's left is Zenshi, newly opened by dealer Zenshi Mikami with a show of psychedelic paintings by Tim Lokiec, photographs by Tomoko Sengoku and works by Tomomitsu Tada. (See below for more about this new gallery).
Last and not least is Tomio Koyama, the Tokyo art powerhouse known for jump-starting the international careers of Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara. Koyama's new gallery takes up the entire top floor as well as the space next to Yoshii on the sixth floor. The main gallery is a big white cube, which is rare in Tokyo, and opened with a show of paintings by Hideaki Kawashima and Mika Kato, along with photographs by Mika Ninagawa and Mamoru Tsukada, among others.
In his smaller space on the sixth floor, Koyama featured works by French artist Philippe Perrot -- ten unsettling, child-like acrylic and crayon drawings featuring an assortment of vegetables and cartoony animals.
On opening night, the Tokyo art world (including Yoshitomo Nara and photographer Daido Moriyama) packed the galleries to celebrate the inauguration of Tokyo's newest art center. A lot was going on: Shintaro Miyake was roaming the top floor in a bear suit, drawing his famous "Miss Sweet" characters -- a little girl with a slim, Gumby-like body and a football-shaped head (a selection of these cartoons also filled one of Koyama's smaller galleries) -- while a group of young women wearing bright yellow dresses bound up with yellow "keep out" tape was floating from gallery to gallery. The excitement in the air was palpable. We're sure to see a new art star come out of this new complex in the near future.
Tokyo's new young galleries
The contemporary art scene in Tokyo has been dominated by art dealers (including the ones mentioned above, and those in Roppongi's Complex building) who opened shop in the mid- to late-1990s. Once labeled "kid galleries" because the dealers were in their 20s and 30s -- unusually young in the traditional art world of Japan -- this group has (inevitably) grown older, giving way to a second generation of "kid galleries," many founded by people who trained with the first generation of "kids."
The newest of the bunch is Zenshi, which opened in the storage building in the Kiyosumi neighborhood. Owner Zenshi Mikami, who received an M.A. in contemporary art from Sotheby's Institute in 2002, worked at the Roentgenwerke gallery in Tokyo from 2003 through last April. He counts Takeshi Tamai and Youko Kobayashi, whose shows he planned and produced at Roentgenwerke, among his artists.
Mikami, 31, hopes to "discover and present the artists of my generation, regardless of medium or nationality," he says. "I'd like to curate shows that stimulate people's sensibilities and intelligence."
Takefloor might be one of the tiniest galleries in the city, if not in the world (I doubt if it can accommodate more than five people at once), but don't let its size fool you. Kazuyuki Takezaki, 29, worked for a few years with Hidenori Ota of Ota Fine Arts before opening a gallery in his apartment a year ago. An artist and writer, Takezaki specializes in Japanese artists in their 20s, including Yukiko Sudo, Michinori Maru and Jun Makita.
This fall, Takefloor gave a debut solo show to Maru, who covers photos and drawings with transparent resin, as if to contain the stream of time. The works have a unique, pasty texture.
Takezaki's current exhibition is a group show titled "Three Tatami Mats-Room Rock Works on Paper" (the title - "three tatami mats" -- refers to the size of the gallery, which is about five square meters.) The gallery is open on Fridays and Saturdays, and by appointment.
Its just one year old, but Nakaochiai Gallery is in its own league. Unlike Zenshi and Takefloor, director Julia Barnes, 29, is self-taught in art dealing. Barns, originally from New Zealand, opened her contemporary art gallery in a house (which had formerly been a Japanese noodle shop) in a sleepy residential and shopping neighborhood. She had lived in the house for several years, and is community-oriented, making a point of inviting her neighbors to her exhibitions.
This fall, Nakaochiai presented a group show titled "Realms of San Francisco" in partnership with the two-year-old, artist-run Triple Base gallery from San Francisco. Seven San Francisco artists are featured -- Chris Duncan, Tara Lisa Foley, Jim Gaylord, Robert Gutierrez, Xylor Jane, Amy Rathbone and Oliver Halsman Rosenberg. She plans to introduce more Bay Area artists in the coming year.
Last spring, Triple Base and Nakaochiai started an Internet-based, worldwide project called Instant Drawing Machine, for which regional hosts in cities like Barcelona, London, Shanghai and New York took a laptop to the streets (where WiFi is available) and asked passersby to share their wishes. As this was broadcast live via webcam, Crust and Dirt, a San Francisco art team, made a drawing of their wishes, which was displayed to them via internet on the spot. The project will be featured at the Drawing Center in New York in summer 2006. For more information, go to http://www.instantdrawingmachine.com/
More than 20 of Tokyo's best contemporary art galleries, including many mentioned in this report, jointly publish a bilingual (Japanese and English) guide every other month that includes maps and information on their exhibitions. You can pick it up at most of the galleries.
KAY ITOI is author of In Search of Lost Masterpieces (Jiji Press, 2001).