Who are the founders of the gallery and what is their background?
The gallery was founded by me, Jeffrey Ian Rosen and my wife, Misako Rosen. Prior to opening our own space we each worked as directors for first-generation Tokyo contemporary art galleries; myself with Taka Ishii and my wife with Tomio Koyama.
Neither of us has a formal art background (I studied philosophy and Misako psychology) but we both essentially grew up with contemporary art; Misako began working for Koyama at age 19 and I started working with Taka at age 21.
When did you found the gallery and why?
We opened in December of 2006. It became apparent that there was a generation of artists working in Japan that did not fit with any of the existing contemporary galleries. For us it began with the artist Shimon Minamikawa; clearly a talented artist yet also clearly totally out of place anywhere in Japan. We were also inspired by the exhibition space TAKEFLOOR, a gallery started by artist Kazuyuki Takezaki in his apartment. TAKEFLOOR was the smallest size tatami mat room available in Japan – it served as Takezaki’s home and studio and gallery and was fearless in terms of programming and, well, just in terms of existing. We since went on to represent Takezaki as an artist and his gallery turned into a partnership and eventually became a solo project run by our friend, Atsuko Ninagawa and is now called TAKE NINAGAWA.
What is the program of your gallery? What kind of art do you represent?
We represent 26 or so artists from Japan and abroad. We favor artwork that is literal-minded, rooted in the everyday and, hopefully, imbued with some semblance of a sense of humor. We favor art that is impossible to ignore – if only for its modesty.
Can you make some examples by briefly explaining the work of some of your artists?
Artist Ken Kagami recently presented a retrospective exhibition at the PARCO Museum. This is actually an exhibition space within a shopping mall; however, Ken decided to use the context to make a serious, retrospective exhibition and it worked. It was both funny and comprehensive. Daan van Golden, our hero, visited Tokyo in 2014 for a solo exhibition with the gallery; some of his most important work draws upon Japanese wrapping paper and fabric design, while some of his work is photographic in nature and highly personal yet at all sentimental. Margaret Lee inhabits a rather ambivalent space in which design is both accepted as an inevitable attraction and something that which equally must be carefully considered and engaged – ultimately, her work reintroduces the body into the conversation albeit in a circuitous manner.
What kind of space have you chosen for your gallery and why?
We occupy a small but tall near cube in the residential district of Otsuka in Tokyo, Japan. We live near the gallery and believe in the importance of rooting contemporary art in everyday life. The gallery functions both as an exhibition space and (modest) reading room and is meant to exist as an open, casual space in which to experience the aspects of contemporary culture that we find valuable and worth sharing. We run the space on our own so it is appropriately modest in scale but sufficient for our needs.
What is the current situation of the Japanese art market? How has it developed and what do collectors look for?
The market still hardly exists and it seems as though this will never change. We posit that this is due to simple practical matters…some which are by and large positive. Standard of living is very high across the board within Japan and this extends to visual culture. We are surrounded with visually sophisticated objects though these are very intimately linked to a highly consumerist culture; in order to appeal to a wide audience these goods must be of a high quality but also relatively inexpensive. Luxury is a province of the few and is almost entirely out of step with the contemporary. There are a few devoted collectors of contemporary art – they generally look for a bargain (!) out of necessity but they are also highly attuned to what is relevant and fiercely supportive of our efforts.
Can you tell us more about the gallery scene in Tokyo?
This is an exciting time in Tokyo with a third generation and even fourth generation of spaces opening. People like XYZ Collective, KAYOKOYUKI and 4649 have moved into residential neighborhoods similar to our own. There is no longer a sense that we need to suggest that we are luxury brands by being located in the appropriate neighborhood, by hosting clients in a certain way, etc… The younger generation is firmly focused on the art and supporting it with a much care as possible; consequently, there’s a greater number of relevant exhibitions in Tokyo now than I can remember since moving to the city in ’02.
What are the challenges of a young gallery today, and your strategies to overcome them?
How to embrace a non-profit driven model of running a business while at the same time maintaining a foothold within the power structure of the art / culture world. How to run a business in a manner that we believe in – that is caring, supportive and adventurous while at the same time not being trampled upon. How to be patient and persistent.
Can you tell us about your project for Paris Internationale?
We are sharing a space with our younger colleagues, XYZ Collective. Our gallery is making a presentation entirely of works on paper. We are showing as wide a range as possible of the gallery aesthetic and trying to make work by artists both emerging and established accessible to a broad audience. Somehow working with XYZ we always manage, also, to end up with a presentation that is fun – and difficult to ignore. We are looking forward to this..!