Aoyama | Meguro, Tokyo

A contemporary art gallery in Tokyo that is not afraid to show 15th century Italian painting, Aoyama | Meguro has dichotomy even in its name. Yet its founder, Hideki Aoyama, knows exactly what he is doing in his space, a building with a glass and steel façade on a busy street of the Japanese city.

Aoyama | Meguro, Tokyo

Who is the founder of the gallery? What is your background?

I am the founder and director of this gallery. I got into the art world at first from a casual curiosity. I began by working in a gallery during my junior year in the university when I studied psychology. But it was not a special decision for me, because since my early teens I have chosen various types of part-time jobs. The main assignment for me was sales activity and the deal covered a wide range of pieces: anything distributed in the market including Japanese antique arts, French modern painting, that was popular at that time in Japan, and contemporary art as well. After being engaged myself in that for about ten years, I was ready to start something on my own independently.

When did you start the gallery, and what motivated you?

In 2007 I found the current building that had a large room on the ground floor that faces on a busy street. Such an attractive space and circumstances at last encouraged me to take on the full operations of a commercial gallery here. In the process of managing this space by making use of its context in the city and its architecture has always motivated me, and this has gradually promoted our activities for the past ten years.

How has the art scene in Tokyo developed since you have been working in it? And in which direction is it evolving?

The number of commercial galleries has increased since I started my career, although not so many new art collectors have emerged. In local regions in Japan, as with the global scene, many art events are influenced by international art exhibitions such as biennales or triennales. In city centers, multiple art fairs are held. More and more people are interested in the profession of curator and try to do something even as independents.

We can’t deny a certain bias in the current trend among artists who are successfull in the commercial market. On the other hand, some artists have opportunities to work in experimental programs in institutions and museums, but find it difficult to continue their activities as they want for in their professional careers maintaining their visibility in the public arena. Sometimes artists organize and manage independent shows and activities on their own.

However, such a extreme situation might actually prolong the growth period for artists to allow them to have a long productive career and enhance the culture and the individual. This seems to be characteristic in the context of Tokyo. And here I feel a rich potential to discover talents to appreciate.

What kind of art do you represent? What is the fil rouge that connects your artists?

Something that can’t be considered only as conceptual art. What attracts me seems to be similar to the uncertainty with which the name of my gallery, “Aoyama Meguro”, can manifest itself, which also might remind you of the title of the film by Wim Wenders, “Paris, Texas”.

This name simply identifies a person in charge – “Aoyama”, my family name – and the location of my gallery – “Meguro”. However, both of these proper names can be recognized as either family name, or town names in Tokyo. So, at first glance, one can’t recognize whether these two words mean two family names or two town names. Further, with no specific info given, one should have no idea at all that this could indicate the name of a gallery. And then the question could arise: what on earth can these two proper names together signify exactly? So “Aoyama Meguro” appears as an ambiguous sign, more than a proper name for an identity. That’s what I intended to evoke in this name of my gallery.

Also in art, I am thrilled at a certain sense of “disorientation” that might be brought by inherent ambiguity or indeterminate aspect that can be seen especially in traffic signs. Even with its simple form or plain definitions in common, once the original semiotic signification is suspended, suddenly the sign turns into anything ambiguous that could not make sense. When some artworks that mark or indicate like a sign, yet contain the great incertitude in it, I expect it would play a role like a currency that continuously renews its values and casts new perspectives and questions to the world.

Though many artists in my gallery live in Tokyo, taking advantage of convenience of traffic and communication, and they are also close in age, nationality and generation don’t really concern me when I encounter such interesting artists, as I can’t help but be involved with. Since we have continued to discuss ideas or concepts to be developed for years, I have found it natural to work together. So I assume the programs we have made together for my gallery are the fruits of such relationships with each of the artists and reflections of the ongoing process.

Hiroaki Morita, From Something to Something else, 2016,Installation view, Courtesy of the artist and Aoyama Meguro

You opened your gallery in an apartment before moving to the current space, which you now share with an architecture office. Can you tell us about your move and your collaboration?

In the first two years of my own gallery, I rented a room of an apartment house with each contract for 12 months and moved from one to another each year. Both of them were open only by appointment and the exhibitions were  on an irregular basis, so that they could not be considered as full-fledged setup for the gallery.

However I didn’t care much about that, since I was thinking, when I have good ideas I can realize them wherever, either in someone else’s gallery, in a shop, in a museum, or in the woods.

In the current renovated building facing to the street with façade of glass and steel, I own a half of space for my gallery and another part is shared with four others: an architect, a musician, a retailer of product design and a food catering company. Sometimes it happens that the presence of others of varied professions in a shared office can bring unexpected ideas.

You are part of the “New Tokyo Contemporaries” group of galleries. What kind of group is this, and what is your aim?

Around 2007 a number of commercial galleries were opened almost simultaneously by people who knew each other privately, so it was natural for us to create a group name. We were not targeting art fairs but putting up group shows at various venues around the city of Tokyo. These concentrated efforts helped us to get a wide response for our artists, also trend-wise, by the art world and international media.

Even after the group had been dissolved, I keep working together with them and also with newly launched ones on a case-by-case basis.

If you could choose to exhibit any artist, even from the past, who would you pick?

I am in the process of developing a plan for an artist from the past and would someday like to have a show of the Italian painter Carlo Crivelli (ca. 1430-1495).

Actually I have been working with artists from the “past” like Tatsumi Orimoto (born in 1946), or Mitsutoshi Hanaga (1933-1999), whose impact I found remarkable and relevant even today. That’s the challenging assignment for me as a “contemporary” gallery, to cast a fresh eye over them; not as something outdated, but as an exciting stimulation to let us discover a brand new value and to investigate a certain phase in the current situations and the possibilities of art. I mean, they can be nothing but the edge to our perspective for “contemporary” art.

In fact, at the end of 2016 my longtime dream was finally realized: an exhibition of the acclaimed Italian artist Fabio Mauri was held at my gallery in coordination with Avivson Gallery in London. Such a great opportunity emerged because of my brief experience in a gallery assistant internship at Avivson, which had represented the artist before his death.

I am very much convinced about the significance of showing his works even today in Tokyo, also as an important opportunity to reflect on our intolerance towards others or the difficulty for people to live together in cultural diversity.