Tokyo’s premier art fair opened last weekend for it’s 2011 edition. Art Fair Tokyo has made a comeback after one of the worst natural disasters desecrated the country in March, a catalyst for devastating aftermaths, something Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan called “the toughest and most difficult crisis for Japan…[since] the 65 years after the end of World War II.”
The Prime Minister does not exaggerate. The most powerful known earthquakes in the country’s history to have struck combined with the devastating after effects – including a tsunami – killed nearly 16,000 people and a cost predicted to exceed $300 billion.
\In face of all this destruction is the art fair which shows the country and it’s people’s resilience, a resilience the like of post-war Germany. It also illustrates what Art Fair Tokyo’s executive director Takahiro Kaneshima hopes to convey to visitors, that “art can contribute to the recovery efforts for a society in the midst of a crisis.” In a recent conversation with MutualArt, Kaneshima explained the challenges of organizing such an event, especially in lieu of the circumstances, and details what makes this year’s Art Fair Tokyo truly a unique afair not to be missed.The fair runs from July 29th – July 31st, as opposed to its traditional April opening, postponed due to the various disasters. This is Art Fair Tokyo’s 6th year exhibiting and it is the largest of its kind in Japan, showcasing works of artists worldwide while covering a variety of genres and time periods.
“I feel that Art Fair Tokyo has been firmly established as an annual large-scaled art event in Japan,” Kaneshima says. “It reflect[s] the unique characteristics and potential of Tokyo, where traditional and modern culture co-exist.”
International and domestic galleries exhibiting at the fair will show a variety of work from antique to modern and contemporary art, crafts, Nihonga (the traditional Japanese type of painting), photography and sculpture. Its first year running in 2005 welcomed 83 galleries, with 7 cities represented from overseas; by 2009 the number of participating galleries had reached 143 with 13 from international cities. The 2010 edition of the fair welcomed 50,000 visitors from across the globe.
“I feel that the implications of both works have been intensified as they are subject to universal themes,” Kaneshima says. “I think this exhibition will offer the unique opportunity to explore the Asian sense of nature and alternative sources of energy.” As for other special sectors of the fair, Kaneshima’s favorites include the avant-garde works of neighboring Asian regions such as Korea, China, Taiwan, and India.
There were unique obstacles that arose as a direct result of the earthquake, but Kaneshima remains optimistic. While the postponement of the fair to July did result in the withdrawal of galleries that had originally planned to participate, a number of Japanese galleries have since stepped forward to replace them, bringing the total to 133 galleries – almost the same as the original figure. “I feel that everyone is even more united for the fair during this difficult time for Japan,” Kaneshima says.
The “open art” theme of the fair is embraced by Art Fair Tokyo. The city’s balance of traditional and modern culture is realized in the featured artworks that span so many generations and various genres. The director aptly puts it, “Art Fair Tokyo demonstrates the strength and vibrancy of Tokyo’s art scene carefully, yet dynamically to the world.”
The fair is part of a greater effort to develop the Japanese art market and resurrect tourism. Kaneshima sees art as both transformative and healing:
“I hope to make Art Fair Tokyo not only a trading place, but to be an interactive platform which will contribute to the recovery efforts of society,” he says. “I think it will suggest new directions for a new generation through the power, creativity, and intelligence of art.”