Art Market

Who’s Big in Japan? 11 Artists to Collect at Art Fair Tokyo

Three days post-Art Basel in Hong Kong—after one of the fair’s strongest years to date—collectors and dealers pack up and hightail from China to Japan for Art Fair Tokyo. All likely come with knowledge of contemporary Japanese artists. Sure, there’s the internationally-beloved , whose solo show at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York opens this week, or Osaka-born appropriation artist whose self-portraits have infiltrated art history—and the homes of collectors from East and West—but who are the Japanese Venice Biennale alumni? Which artists held down the 1960s–’70s avant-garde in Tokyo? And who is upholding the four-century-old Rimpa school of painting? A special section of the fair, devoted to creativity in Japanese art, will answer those questions. Skipping over the obvious choices, we offer a list of work by the 11 Japanese artists you should know before you hit the fair.

Young, half-nude female prostitutes, like those denizens of red-light-district haunts in Edo-period Japan (ca. 1600–1868 CE), are the primary subject matter for Tokyo-born artist Ai Yamaguchi. She’ll show her -meets-manga paintings in the Pop Rimpa focus section of the fair, and though you’ll notice her line-work is flat—recalling woodblock prints—her canvases are not. Yamaguchi is known for working on three-dimensional surfaces, made by covering a wooden panel with a blanket and a layer of cotton (a “futon canvas,” as she’s coined). 

When you get to Arataniurano’s booth, look up. Hiroshima-born artist and sculptor Takahiro Iwasaki is showing a hanging sculpture from his best-known “Reflection Model” series, which is comprised of suspended, intricately crafted miniatures of sacred Japanese buildings—a shrine on the island of Itsukushima, the Byodo-in Temple in Uji, and the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, to name a few—in cypress wood, each building sitting atop its own perfect, reflected inverse. Work from Iwasaki’s other acclaimed series, “Out of Disorder,” is currently on view at Asia Society, New York, where fibers from over 100 vintage kimonos have been sculpted to mimic vistas of the Japanese landscape.

In 1988, then-emerging artist Tatsuo Miyajima was included in a special section of the Venice Biennale, Aperto, devoted to up-and-coming artists. Today, Miyajima (whose work was shown again at the VB in ’99) is world-renowned for his sculptures and installations, which often incorporate computers and LED lights. Miyajima’s work will be featured in the fair’s ode to past Japanese representatives at the Venice Biennale—alongside Mariko Mori, Tomoko Yoneda, and , to name a few.
In spectral, pencil-on-paper still lifes, Yamanashi-born artist Izumi Akiyama captures burning candles, disappearing vases, and ghostly bottles with photorealistic precision. In Still Life XXI (2014), shown by Kobayashi Gallery at the fair, three small crystal goblets vanish into a monochrome background; in Still Life XXIV (2014), a single flame illuminates an otherwise solely gray study.

From Surface to Surface - canvas
Susumu Koshimizu
Gallery Yamaki Fine Art
Uwajima-born artist Susumu Koshimizu, now in his early 70s, is considered a seminal figure in the Japanese Mono-ha movement. On the heels of Art Basel in Hong Kong, where his work was among Tokyo Gallery + BTAP’s Mono-ha display, Koshimizu is included in Art Fair Tokyo’s focus on Venice Biennale alums who hail from the Mono-ha crowd (he showed at the Biennale in 1976 and ’80). 

Footsteps, a swooshing train, wind, a quivering tablecloth, a ringing phone. These are a few of the sounds that echoed through Tsuyoshi Hisakado’s immersive, computer-programmed sound installation at Ota Fine Arts last summer. Hisakado, a founding member of the SHINCHIKA artist collective, is known for making work that fuses sound and sculpture—like the work he’ll show with Ota Fine Arts at Art Fair Tokyo, where a clock and a loupe are met by an audio speaker. 

Kyoto-born artist Aiko Miyanaga, who was granted the Best Young Artist Award by her home city last year, makes work that captures the passing of time. Using fleeting materials like salt and naphthalene (a chemical compound found in mothballs) she creates ephemeral sculptures of everyday objects that deteriorate when exposed to air. In the past, she’s made sculptures of leaves, keys, pairs of shoes, butterflies, and books. Look for her cast-resin tomes in her solo booth at Mizuma Gallery.

Yukinori Maeda is an artist, musician, and fashion designer (he creates clothing under the label COSMIC WONDER). But it’s his artwork, often installations that revolve around light, that gets the attention at Taka Ishii Gallery’s booth at Art Fair Tokyo. Maeda’s practice engages with his personal, day-to-day experiences, as well as with mystical spiritual traditions such as shamanism.

At TALION GALLERY’s booth, Nagano-born artist Sayuri Miyashita’s delicate pencil-hatched drawings, depicting shadows cast by hand, are shown alongside work by Chiba-born Takuma Miyashita whose photographs—engaging with diverse media from painting to film—have been described as “conceptual street photography.”

A television antenna, old shoes, and a light bulb are among the household scraps that find themselves reimagined in Yokohama-born artist Nobuko Tsuchiya’s sculptures, beloved since her first major debut—the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. Her work will be given a solo exhibition at SCAI The Bathhouse’s booth at the fair.

Molly Gottschalk is Artsy’s Lead Visuals Editor.