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Art Fair Tokyo 2023: from contemporary art to ancient Japanese earthenware

Art Fair Tokyo 2023, the largest art fair in Japan and the oldest in Asia, showcased the state of art in Japan, from antiques to modern and contemporary art.

by Daria KravchukPublished on : Mar 28, 2023

Art Fair Tokyo, the largest art fair in Japan and the oldest in Asia, has been a leading force in the Japanese art market since its founding. The fair's origins date back to 1992. It offers a unique opportunity for both professional collectors and art lovers to view and acquire works from a diverse range of artists and galleries, while also providing a vibrant space for critical discourse and exchange within the art community.

A sculpture of a frowning woman at the fair | Art Fair Tokyo | STIRworld
A sculpture of a frowning woman at the fair Image: Courtesy of Art Fair Tokyo 2023

Art Fair Tokyo 2023 was a spectacular showcase of contemporary and historical artworks from prominent Japanese and international galleries. The fair attracted 56,000 visitors over four days, a significant increase from previous years. The event featured 143 galleries in three sections: Galleries, Crossing, and Projects.

A Famille-Rose ‘Longevity’ Cup, Qing | Art Fair Tokyo | STIRworld
A Famille-Rose ‘Longevity’ Cup, Qing Image: Courtesy of Art Fair Tokyo 2023

The Galleries section was Art Fair Tokyo's main section, bringing together the most unique contemporary and historical artworks. The artworks on display ranged from contemporary art masterpieces to ancient Japanese earthenware and Edo-era woodblocks. This section showcased diverse selection, with galleries and artists striving to create visually stunning booths to draw visitors in. Masahiro Maki, the member of the Art Fair Tokyo’s committee, comments, “A useful asset of Art Fair Tokyo is that people can see Japan’s art history flowing continuously from antiques to modern and contemporary art."

STIR would like to point out several highlights of the Galleries section. The number of overseas galleries at the fair increased to six, up from the 2022 edition's three. These include the Shanghai and Hong Kong-based Pearl Lam Gallery, which brought such artists as Zanele Muholi, Leonardo Drew and Mr Doodle among others, the Taipei-based YIRI Arts and Paris, Hong Kong, New York, Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai and Dubai-based Perrotin. The 2023 fair saw the return of Nishimura Gallery after nine years, Kaikai Kiki after 15 years, and Gallery Ichibanboshi after 12 years. Other exhibitors included galleries with a long association with the fair: Tokyo Gallery + BTAP, Tomio Koyama Gallery, Taro Nasu, Kosaku Kanechika, GALLERY GYOKUEI, Gallery Nagoya, Kobayashi Gallery, Yoshiaki Inoue Gallery, ShugoArts, Taka Ishii Gallery, taguchi fine art, Mizuma Art Gallery, GALLERY KOGURE, and Art Gallery Tannaka. These and all the other galleries taking part in the fair pursued their own unique approaches while adapting to the times as appropriate, creating new values within the global trend for embracing diversity.

The Crossing section was a specially curated section that focused on the edge of the ultra-modern art scene, delving into the storied cultures and traditions of regional arts and crafts bodies. It was an exploration of Japanese culture through the lenses of tradition and modernity, offering a diverse and intersecting set of aesthetics and values on display. Exhibitions on display included booths organised by art institutions and alternative spaces that play a significant role in the Japanese art scene.

Finally, the Projects section announced the artists that should be noticed in the upcoming art scene in individual exhibition format. Projects showcased solo shows from upcoming and emerging Japanese artists. In this section, artists curated by top galleries were invited to show their talents within a five sqm booth, offering their own unique and condensed vision of the world.

Sculpture in focus: Headworker |Art Fair Tokyo 2023 | STIRworld
Sculpture in focus: Headworker Image: Courtesy of Art Fair Tokyo 2023

Tokyo launched an online talk session Dialogue. It was supported by Arts Council Tokyo and Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture. Dialogue aimed at cultivating and promoting art business, art markets, and intercultural exchanges in Japan and the world. It analysed the current art market trends and situations and tried to predict the future. The session was curated by Nicola Trezzi, Director, and Curator at CCA Tel Aviv-Yafo, who advised on the overall themes of discussions. Nicola Trezzi, commenting on the Dialogue session, says: “It is my pleasure and honour to coordinate the digital public program of this year’s edition of Art Fair Tokyo. Art fairs play such a pivotal role in the field of contemporary art. They increase exposure for art and allow galleries from all over the world to reach a broader audience, which consequently brings great benefits to their artists. Specifically, I see my involvement with the leading Japanese contemporary art fair as the beginning of a long-term commitment to a scene I have been admiring and wanting to be more connected to for a long time. This digital public program takes a comprehensive approach involving all the key participants in the field: artists, curators, critics, gallerists, and collectors. The program highlights very specific topics—artists working with communities, artists who collect, etc.—and asks leading figures in the industry to share their very personal views. Taking place on Zoom and with simultaneous interpretation, this public program offers insights into the current state of the art world from its true protagonists.”

Crowd gathered in front of a large-scale painting | Art Fair Tokyo | STIRworld
Crowd gathered in front of a large-scale painting Image: Courtesy of Art Fair Tokyo 2023

One of the sessions, titled Making Arts vs Collecting Arts, included curator Andrea Neustein and Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. They discussed why an artist starts to collect works by other artists and the thoughts and feelings behind such a decision. The session was an insightful exploration of the complex relationship between art, artists, and collectors.

Another session was a dialogue between Emmanuel Perrotin and Nicola Trezzi, discussing why Emmanuel Perrotin decided to open a branch in Tokyo and the difference, in particular, from other countries. French gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin talked about short and long term strategic plans, while the dialogue also discussed the pros and cons of being globally active in the field of contemporary art.

The third session was devoted to Collecting Art in Asia, moderated by the Arts Journalist from Singapore, Reena Devi. The panelists, Jae Myung Noh (South Korea), Ning Chong (Singapore), Kevin Poon (Hong Kong), and Koji Nakao (Japan), discussed how collectors in Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea are making collections in the Asian South, the Chinese continent, and other regions. Each collector shared how they built their dream collection while touring art fairs, galleries and studios.

View of the Art Fair Tokyo 2023 | Art Fair Tokyo | STIRworld
View of the Art Fair Tokyo 2023 Image: Courtesy of Art Fair Tokyo 2023

The 2023 fair’s visual identity employed a light blue colour inspired by the theme of change. The fair has now been held 17 times. Just as water and sky are always shifting, our world is always in a state of flux, and the exhibitors at the fair likewise continued to seek out new values and change their ideas.

A visitor observes small-scale sculptural figures | Art Fair Tokyo | STIRworld
A visitor observes small-scale sculptural figures Image: Courtesy of Art Fair Tokyo 2023

Art Fair Tokyo 2023 was a resounding success, proving to be a significant contribution to the expansion of the Japanese art market. It was an excellent example of how art fairs can facilitate intercultural exchanges, promoting not only the art but also the wider cultural heritage of Japan. The Fair was a place to experience firsthand how the Japanese art market achieves a consistent and genuine change in the contemporary art industry. Complemented by the antiques and crafts on display, the fair also included notable pieces by giants of modern and contemporary art. This year saw a significant number of sales to collectors in their thirties and forties, a trend that will continue to attract attention in the future.

A visitor paying close attention to the sculptural piece | Art Fair Tokyo 2023 | STIRworld
A visitor paying close attention to the sculptural piece Image: Courtesy of Art Fair Tokyo 2023

As we look forward to the next edition of the Tokyo Art Fair 2024 (March 7-10), we can expect even more innovative and creative works from both Japanese and international artists.

Visitors gathered around the work at the fair | Art Fair Tokyo | STIRworld
Visitors gathered around the work at the fair Image: Courtesy of Art Fair Tokyo 2023
Curating the show | Art Fair Tokyo | STIRworld
Curating the show Image: Courtesy of Art Fair Tokyo 2023

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