Archive for January, 2009
Good news came in yesterday via email. We were selected to be one of 35 galleries exhibiting at Art Osaka at the Dojima Hotel this
summer. It will be held August 21, 22 and 23rd and it’s good for us since we will be able to show our artists to people in the Osaka area for the first time. There are only 35 galleries participating and we are hoping that there will be a big crowd. If you are from the area, please visit us–it’s still a long way off.
Lately, many Tokyo galleries are also opening galleries in Kansai-primarily Kyoto. It seems they are going where the tourists are–people visit Kyoto and pass Tokyo sometime, so the gallerists want to get their work in front of the travelers. Most likely it is Japanese tourists as well as foreign tourists. Another reason given for the move is the availability of very good art schools there producing an abundance of talent.
Tokyo galleries are also opening in Shanghai and Beijing, but it may be one year too late. There are tons of galleries there already and the art market in China has taken a big fall. Perhaps people will search for Japanese art in China, but it doesn’t seem likely to me. And will the Japanese galleries form joint ventures with Chinese galleries? In some cases, they have. I ran into one gallerist who is in a joint venture in Beijing and he told me the market is already quite crowded there.
I don’t think we would ever go to Kyoto–there is enough work to do here–or Beijing–who wants to compete with 1000′s of galleries in a shrinking art market.
All of this movement, does make me wonder about the future of Tokyo’s art market.The movement indicates less resources available here in Tokyo to promote art and artists here.
Is Tokyo an artistic wasteland, or too tough a market? What can gallerists do to attract more clients here? Is there any way that gallerists can join together to attract art tourists the way New York and Los Angeles do.
These is the questions gallerists should be asking, but maybe they just find it easier to open up somewhere else.
Update: The papers in Japan reported yesterday that there was a net exodus from Tokyo last year-only a few hundred people but still more people leaving than coming. Must be because of fewer jobs here. Maybe the galleries are following this trend.
There are several questions that we hear in the gallery.
First is how do you find your artists and I will write about that soon. Second is what do you look for when choosing artists and I’ll begin to answer that question here.
We say we choose art that engages the viewer. For me beautiful art is not enough. I want to be blown away by what I see. I want to “not stop looking at the work”. I want to be so engaged by the work that I don’t see anything else.
That is my criteria–I want to choose art that I can’t stop looking at because it is so interesting.
We tend towards abstract work, like the work of James Siena here on the left, and portraits although this is not a hard and fast rule.
We have a young photographer in the gallery now, Joji Shimamoto, and will have a one man show of his work at the beginning of April. His work met my criteria. A lot of photographers came in and showed me their work, but I usually said that we didn’t show photography, but Joji’s work convinced me to change this policy.
The work of Joji Shimamoto has a feel, a smell, a taste. They are not moments in time, they are the kinds of work where you can imagine what is happening, what had happened and even what might be happening next. I bought this portrait from him because it was so strong and really stimulated my curiosity.
There are many artists that can paint a beautiful picture–a tree, a house, but after you look at it, so what? I want art with a story.
Why so much of a focus on abstract work at our gallery? Because it stimulates us, because it makes us think, because it is so damn hard to do. I like the recent quote from abstract artist Josh Smith about abstract painting.
And realistic paintings are not that good. I respect them, but from my point of view, they’re pictures. You look at a picture and you recognize what’s in it, and then more than 50% of the joy is over–you’re pretty much going downhill from there.
Abstract works invite you on a journey of discovery. Joji Shimamoto’s photos and all of the work we have at the gallery do the same.
When we choose, we do not think first, “can we sell it?” We think first, ” is this something special, something we have never seen before, something that blows us away.” Then, we think, “can we sell it?” We need to answer yes to both questions, but the first question is 80-90% of our decision. This is what the best galleries do.
Other gallerists and dealers who base their decision only on selling are in a very different business. It is rare for them to take this kind of passionate view towards the artwork. They buy for selling. We select because we love it.
I say, “we” because I do involve Hitoshi in the decision, but it is me who selects the art. I like this work by Sunaryo that we have in an exhibition at the ANA/Intercontinental Hotel in Akasaka in Tokyo. He is the top artist in Indonesia and this is one of only two prints of his enlarged fingerprint that he did with a Japanese printmaker in Singapore exploring aspects of his own identity.
We divide up the labor in the gallery. Hitoshi works with the artists after they have been selected but it’s me who is always on the prowl looking for art.
It was a big shock when I pulled the latest issue of ArtForum out of my mailbox. It’s as thin as David Bowie when he was a teenager. Usually I need two hands to lift it, but today the publication is as almost as thin as Monday’s Wall Street Journal. I had heard that magazines were in trouble and that advertising was way down, but this really drove the point home to me. Artforum is one-third the size that it was.
The ads that are there are smaller, so many 1/4 page ads and 1/2 page ads and it looks like most of them are from non-US galleries too.
I am hoping that the absence of ads will mean that people have to go to galleries to see art because they won’t see art in the ads.
What worries me is that less art will be seen during these times and that less art will be made. Yes, less art will be sold-except I hope at our gallery–but the truth is less art will be seen and artists may stop producing as much. Some will produce no matter what, but some will take a hiatus which is not a good thing. No art, no life.
I want to mention that one of our artists, John Fraser, got a great review in Artforum about a year ago for his show at Roy Boyd Gallery in Chicago. John does beautiful abstract minimal constructions of wood and paper.
A collector of Cy Twombly’s work noticed the similarities between John Fraser and Cy Twombly. I think of Agnes Martin when I see John’s work. His work has a beautiful Japanese aesthetic even though he is not Asian and has never lived here. Most people are shocked when show his work and we tell them that he is not Japanese. He is not an artist who will stop during this market slowdown but others may, and of course printmakers will make fewer prints.
Already, Takanobu Kobayashi has postponed his new series of prints until the market gets stronger and they could sell more easily. How about Zhu Wei and his plans for new prints this year?
What if everyone stopped making art? Scary thought.
Woke up early this morning and caught Hard Talk on BBC and also the program called Back Story with Michael Holmes on CNN. It’s a great show and a great idea–let’s people know how the shows on CNN get put together-how the producers decide which stories to cover, how CNN protects its computers against viruses, what people are doing who sit behind those screens and control panels.
I think of this blog the same way, the back story behind what is happening at the gallery.
We decided to offer chocolate at the gallery after I saw the story about Shawn Askinosie on Bloomberg. I am a chocolate lover, but the real reason we went with this particular chocolate is Shawn’s story.
He was a criminal defense lawyer for many years and decided he wanted to do something else. He loved the law but the murder cases were getting to him. He searched around and decided to become a chocolatier–but he didn’t know anything about chocolate. He learned though and developed a great product.
What I like best is that he pays the chocolate farmers and processors fairly–he shares the profits with them, and he also puts the pictures of the farmers from Mexico and Ecuador right on the package. In most countries, chocolate farmers suffer but the ones who work with Shawn have a chance to make a good living for themselves and their family.
When I told Hitoshi about Shawn, he said ‘Shawn was just like us”, since we want to give the artists who work with us, good renumeration for their work. That’s why I thought we were a good fit with Shawn.
When we arranged for the shipment of the chocolate, Shawn said that it was out of the box for them, but “out of the box is what we are about”. I feel the same way.
We are glad to work with organizations that do something to help other people
The gallery is not an NGO but if we can do something in our work to help others, we will. One of these days, I will write about how we found the family that makes our alms bowls and what happened with them and how their life changed after we started selling their bowls–and a story about Sean Connery featured them on BBC.
It turns out the chocolate is also delicious and good for your health. I thought people would come in and buy them for the story, and that is happening, but they also are buying them for the taste. The chocolate was selected as one of the Top 5 Foods in all of NYC by Time Out New York Magazine and is on the cover of the current issue. One of our clients likes to eat the chocolate with brandy. Another with milk.
And in Japan where women give chocolate to men on Valentines Day, some women are coming in to buy the chocolate for their men friends. This custom, by the way, is changing fast. More typically, especially with our foreign customers, guys buy chocolates for women and there is a move in Japan to switch to this custom. One of my former students from Keio, asked me to save two bars for his girlfriend. And quite unexpectedly, our artists are very interested in this product too.
Today, Hitoshi will meet with one of our artists who was supposed to come in this weekend with some new work, but when she heard about the chocolate, she asked to meet Hitoshi today. She and her friends want to try the chocolate. People go nuts about chocolate. Everybody has their thing I guess. For me, it’s both art and chocolate!!
News came today from Boston that the director of one of Boston’s best galleries, Barbara Krakow Gallery, Andrew Witkin, won the Foster Prize from the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art. I don’t know Andrew-except as a name on the emails that I get from the gallery every month-but I am impressed that anyone could run a gallery and be successful as an artist at the same time. Running a gallery takes so much time and committment and the same for being an artist-so I was shocked that he could do it-and do both well.
But why not? We have to stop thinking that people can have only one career at a time and if someone can give the dedication to both fields–why not?
I do know Barbara Krakow from when I lived in Boston and her words also impressed me:
From Barbara: Audrey and Jim Foster, true believers that art can empower.
Kudos must also go to the ICA and its director, Jill Medvedow, who understand how relevant it is for an international museum to seriously respect the artists within its community and to use their space to honor them.
My wish: That a Tokyo museum or organization would have the same understanding, that a Tokyo museum would support Tokyo artists, that a Tokyo museum would give 10 % of the money that they give to mount exhibitions of foreign artists to mounting an exhibition of local artists. The new beautiful museum near Tokyo Midtown does not even have a permanent collection and mounts only temporary exhibitions.
The easy answer is now is not the time because of the economy, but even when times are good, more money goes into the buildings than the art collection. Japan must do more to support young artists. The best flee and we all lose as a result.
If you are a government official in charge of supporting the arts–is there such a person here?-please contact me immediately on my mobile.
PRESS RELEASE: Chocolates voted tops in NYC one of unique gifts now available in Tokyo at ASIAN COLLECTION near Roppongi Hills.
Unique Valentines Gifits for Lawyers: Chocolates Made By Lawyer
Tokyo lawyers can get a taste of unique chocolate made by Attorney Shawn Askinosie who left the practice of law and became a chocolatier. This unique artisanal chocolate is available only at Asian Collection Contemporary Art Gallery in Tokyo starting January 24 just in time for Valentines Day.
Gallery Director, Bob Tobin, chose these chocolates because of the unique story behind them. “It’s not everyday you find a chocolate made by a lawyer.” But, Tobin added, “they’re also delicious and Shawn pays the chocolate farmers fairly. He even puts the picture of the chocolate farmers on the package.”
Tobin is not alone in his praise for Askinosie Chocolate. Several gallery artists participated in recent taste tests, and the all said oishii yo in a perfect imitation of TV talent. The chocolates have been the subject of feature stories on Bloomberg News, CNBC and numerous gourmet and wine magazines. You can learn more at this website, http://www.askinosie.com It is a real adult chocolate, perfect as a snack, with ice cream, dessert, coffee, brandy or even a glass of milk. Ideal as a gift for yourself or others.
Asian Collection is initially making the Soconosco chocolate bar, made from Mexican chocolate beans, available for Valentines Day at the introductory price of 800 yen each. You can learn more about this bar by clicking here.
There is only a limited quantity available at this price and if the response is positive, this could be a regular item on Asian Collection’s docket.
There is another Tokyo connection. Shawn Askinosie spent a year in Japan as an exchange student at Sophia University.
The Askinosie Chocolate bars, made by someone who passed the bar, go on sale on Friday at 1 PM. The Asian Collection Contemporary Art Gallery is Open Fridays Saturdays and Sundays from 1-7 PM. It is not necessary to show a legal diploma to purchase the chocolates.
This is a chance to make a lawyer’s life a sweet[er] one.
Askinosie Chocolates is only one of the unique Valentines Gifts available from Asian Collection. Other gifts are the beautiful ceramics made by 4-time Japan Tableware Competition Prize Winner Ryota Aoki. Prices begin at 4,000 yen for the white porcelain and 10,000 yen for the silver bowls.
The most requested gift this season-not just for lawyers-are portraits of valentines, children, pets or relatives-painted by one of the gallery artists, Atsushi Takahashi or Masumi Yoshida. If customers bring a photograph to the gallery, Tobin or Hitoshi Ohashi will arrange for the artist to create an original painting.
Prices start at 65,000 yen and will become a lasting treasure. There is more information about the artists at the Asian Collection website or interested people can email Tobin at email@example.com for more information about creating a portrait or for more information about any of these items. There is also more artist information at their website.
Some artful book suggestions are also included, in partnership with amazon.com, at their new on-line book store which opened last month. Click here to see more of their suggested books.
Asian Collection is located in Azabu Juban, just minutes from Roppongi Hills, at 3-10-9-2F Moto-Azabu and is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday from 1-7 PM. There is a map and complete directions on their website. For additional information, please contact Bob Tobin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 080-3150-3610/03-5724-5975 or Hitoshi Ohashi at 080-3252-7782.
Free drinks are not enough to get people to come to the opening of a new show. In Tokyo as in any big city, you could go to openings every night of the week and have some pretty good white wine and snacks. The problem is that you have to put up with the uncomfortable awkward feelings that are bound to surface inside you at these events.
It’s daunting to enter a new space to encounter people you don’t know–or who, in the case around here, may not speak your language-and be surrounded by people who either know the artist or by young gallery staff who stand behind a counter and talk amongst themselves. In order to wanna go, you would have to be a real art lover, interested in the artist, or looking to meet someone or new people. It’s never for the wine and it’s rarely because you think the opening will be fun.
They usually are not fun. I go in with great expectations and am often disappointed. Art openings must have this kind of image with a lot of people because when I invite them to the opening, they give me a look that says, “I’d rather be at the dentist.”
So, although we call them wine openings, people come for the art and to meet people and gallerists must do more to make people feel welcome when they come. it is not easy to get people to come. They don’t have to come every six months–like they do to the dentist–for a check up.
Unfortunately, I think gallerists don’t understand the social aspects and the intimidating aspects of an opening and just leave the art on the walls and don’t make people feel welcome.
This was the case when I went to an opening last Sunday night at a well-promoted event in Shibuya. I had put it on my calendar a month in advance since I was very interested in the theme of the show and figured there would be some interesting people there. An artist, said to be a future super-star, had some new works to show, along with some editioned work and some prints he had done in homage to a now deceased manga artist.
The art was good and it is very popular right now, but the atmosphere was colder than winter in Chicago. I wanted to talk with someone about the art, but in all too typical art gallery fashion, people just walked around by themselves, talked on their cell phones or talked to the people they came with. The young gallery assistants–there were many–just stood behind the counter and chatted. I left early not feeling good about the gallery or the art.
Our gallerists shooting themselves in the foot by continuing this kind of “cool atmosphere”? I think so, especially in this era when art does not fly off the wall like it once did. BTW, the paintings in this gallery started at approx $40,000 US. I think today-always-gallerists must reach out to people and make them feel welcome at these kinds of events.
At our own gallery, we try to make people feel welcome, take their coats, offer them a drink and offer to talk a bit about the art and if people want to be left alone, we leave them alone. But more typically, people want to talk. It’s like going to a movie by yourself–I like doing it, but I miss the chance to talk with someone about it. So it is with art, people want to talk with someone about the art. So we talk with them and we introduce them to other people that want to talk and may have similar interests. People feel good and want to come back.
At our last opening, we had a mix of expatriates who had lived here a while, new arrivals, artists, friends, artists’s friends, clients and potential clients. It was scheduled for 7 PM to 10 PM, but we closed up around 11:30. We had a good time, people got to see a wide variety of art in the gallery and we sold some works. When people left, they said, “I will be back, I had fun”. This is what we set out to do with these openings and how you develop relationships with clients. We want the people to come back. We want a fun atmosphere. We do not want people to feel intimidated by the ” high step” you have to climb in order to enter a gallery. Acting cool is passe, it’s over. Galleries must make all customers feel welcome. Free drinks are not enough.
Eating good food has to be one of life’s greatest pleasures. And Tokyo has the best. I had heard that the NY Times food critic came to Tokyo and called a certain pizza place in Naka-meguro pure perfection and spent almost every night there. I have been there but although the pizza is good, it is nothing special and the service is detatched, the people who work there act as if they would rather be somewhere else.
I like the combination of good food and good service, and for me there is a small restaurant in Naka-Meguro that has got it down perfectly. Frasca-I am not sure what it means, but it does have some meaning, has broadly speaking French and Italian Food. But it’s like nothing you have ever tasted before. It’s got a Japanese taste to it.
Here’s a sampling. Gnocchi with kani-miso sauce. Maguro [Tuna] carpaccio over a bed of greens with a pesto sauce. Mussels that are big as muscles in a delicious garlic broth. You get the idea?
Two guys-friends-run the place. One cooks and one runs the front of the house–and when I say house, it is a small house–ony about 12 seats at tables and 5 or 6 seats at the counter. Lunch is a deal at 1,000 yen and two people can eat very well there for a couple of beers for under 6,000 yen for two. The chef used to work in a hotel and another french restaurant and it is a source of continusous amazement to me that one person can continuously put out such good food so quickly. The service too is superb. They knew my name after my second visit and even remember what I like best. [It is amazing that after all of these years--about five- of going there I still don't know their names] The staff never hovers over you–I am not sure where he goes in such a small place–but you are left alone until you need something–more water, coffee etc. or the next course comes.
I am used to the excellence of this place after all of these years, but one thing Hitoshi and I really enjoy is when we sit next to new comers–people who never went there before. They are in a state of shock-going “amazing, delicious, I love it, how do you make it?” I wish they were talking to me or about me, but of course they are talking about the food and they can’t believe their good fortune to find the place either.
When I introduce friends there, they too become regular customers. Everything works, nothing ever to be disappointed about, only raves. I love it.
I just noticed that I said I love good food. I don’t love junk food–rarely eat it–whatever junk food is. Ice cream is not junk food. The difference between junk food and good food is that you always feel good after good food and you feel crummy after eating junk food. Don’t you?