Japan's Must-Read Magazine

Art Me Up! January, 2009

Art & the Global Economic Crisis

Turn on the TV news and you’ll soon hear about the greatest economic meltdown in 80 years. What does this mean for the art scene and its denizens? With the Asian art market largely deflated, and the global market crashing faster than a PC, this month Art Me Up! takes a look at the possible repercussions for Japan’s artistic community. 

The money’s gone, baby!

We can expect funding cuts to museums, arts and culture programs, etc.; basically a cardinal rule in bureaucratic thinking. Cut the arts and rescue the economy. Some government-run galleries are already in the process of closing down or relocating to cheaper, out of the way locales. For the private gallery establishment, these are scary times indeed. The strong art market led to an overwhelming number of galleries propping up in the last few years, with supply outstripping demand for quite some time. Many of these have already gone quietly into the night, and other arts venues may suffer the same fate. Younger and newer artists are opting for alternative ways to show their work, anywhere from temple flea markets to high-end cafés and restaurants. The Japanese gallery system is undergoing a major restructuring, which will result in a leaner and much more innovative industry. More galleries are offering really cool workshops and planning more interesting exhibiitons. As these businesses pursue different survival strategies, you can expect a lot of changes and opportunities to pop up all over the place.

What does it mean for the artists? 

In short, it means that the market’s a lot tougher, and that sales figures will be a lot lower that in previous years. Is this bad news? Quite the contrary, actually. It’s a great opportunity for new and unknown artists to sell cheaper pieces and build a following. The current crisis and its effect on society – for better or for worse – will be fertile ground for artistic inspiration. There will be more initiatives by independent artists to seek exposure, and you can bet that guerrilla art will make more headlines as we head deeper into recession. Already, many galleries are ofering big discounts, or even free exhibitions, to artists in an effort to remain relevant during this economic downturn.

Art Collectives and NPOs

Another great product of economic recessions is the creation of art collectives – groups of individuals that band together to share studio and material costs, set up artist-run centers, organize avant-garde happenings, and take art out of its current commercial context into new, exciting and unpredictable directions. Already established in Osaka are a number of these collectives that work to promote art and their members in a variety of ways. Some of these include Terere, Potato Chips, Peace Summer and Osaka Arts-Aporia.

Terere‘s a video and film collective that promotes video and film at cafés and other venues throughout the city, and on J-Com’s channel 9. It’s been around since 2003, and you can get more details at http://www.terere.jp.

Potato Chips is another art collective that brings together artists, galleries and art lovers to take part in a variety of events and competitions for children and adults. In operation since 2001, this group also prints and sells a book featuring works from competitions, art information and other personalities and events. Check them out at http://www.potatochips.co.jp/index.html.

Osaka Arts-Aporia is an NPO engaged in presenting and researching issues and questions in contemporary art. They have an awesome set-up used for work in sound-art, visual arts and other events. They also have a research library and a gallery. They’ve been around since 2000. More info at http://www.arts-center.gr.jp.

Besides these examples, there are many more collectives and NPO’s making headway on the local art landscape. There’s also a surge of arts planners taking centre stage to create new, relevant, interesting and engaging exhibitions. These economically trying times are bringing much needed reform, and a great deal of opportunities for not just Japanese but also gaijin artists. There’s never been a better time to get into art in this town!

Hot Picks

Transnational Art 2009

Osaka Contemporary Art Centre

January 26th to 31st

Free admission

Osaka’s SoHo Art Gallery and Shanghai’s Ligare Gallery join forces to bring together 28 up-and-coming and established artists from around the globe, with a primary focus on 2D and 3D works in a wide range of media. The exhibition is inspired by the transnational context of contemporary art and artists. Opening reception and performances on Monday, January 26th.

Featuring a host of artists, including Gary McLeod, Julius Njau and Kazuhiro Mori. 

More details and map at http://transart2009.blogspot.com

Gary McLeod: Transnational Artist

Since arriving in Japan in 2003, Gary has spent much of his time collecting pieces of visual information such as video clips or digital stills, which have been acquired over long periods of time, catalogued and then exhibited in various forms. This act of collection is central to Gary’s practice, and is Victorian in essence, yet it is never entirely objective as his works can be traced back to his perspective and cultural position, which he describes as, “always roaming between any two designated points”. He was awarded an Arts & Humanities Research Council grant in 2006-08 for his research of the HMS Challenger’s visit to Japan in 1875, and his work can be found at the Natural History Museum in London as well as various other private collections. Having employed an antique Victorian lens with a digital camera since 2007, currently he can be found “roaming” between London and Tokyo, whilst researching the role of eikaiwa teachers.

This January you can see McLeod’s work at the Transnational Art 2009 contemporary art exhibition. Gary’s entry into this show is GO (2006), a video installation with glass chess pieces. Presenting 64 of Osaka’s traffic lights as a video Chessboard, GO is a playable version of Chess without the ‘gentlemanly conduct’. Having removed the element of taking turns, players must rely on and patiently wait for the traffic lights to change colour before they can move a piece. The rules of the game are essentially the same, but the manner in which the game is played has been fundamentally changed.

This piece is an earlier work by McLeod and it explores issues of control and movement, adding a new level of complexity to the ancient strategy game in which speed and efficient play are key to success. By introducing new variables into the game play, McLeod bridges a gap across time between the original game (itself designed under the rules of battlefield movements from centuries ago) and the conditions to which we are subjected in our modern world to move between destinations.