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Sign of change

Japan, a geocultural hub in the making

Art Market | At a time when the global art market is built around several local and regional centers, Japan is developing its cultural policy with measures that aim at positioning its domestic market against the main powers; the United States, Great Britain and China.

Vue de la foire Art Tokyo 2017 © Courtesy of Art Tokyo Association
Vue de la foire Art Tokyo 2017
© Courtesy of Art Tokyo Association

As announced by the Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan’s largest newspaper) at the end of January, the Japanese government intends to adopt a new policy dedicated to stimulate and promote the Japanese contemporary creation, starting April 2018. The project would be based on the analysis of foreign markets and on the development of networks with international institutions, while counting with the support of selected curators from the national contemporary scene. Its aim is to create a prospective framework for collaboration between contemporary art museums and the country’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, in order to increase the distribution of national artists’ works in foreign galleries, fairs and collections.

By putting in place these new measures, Japan initiates a deep transformation of its domestic market, which has traditionally been an under-exploited aspect of its global economy. The cultural policy also reflects the government’s will to increase its currently marginal influence as a geocultural hub.

According to the 2017 Art Basel/UBS Global Art Report, the Japanese art market represented less than 1% of the total art sales in 2016 (estimated at $56,6 billion). The country is far behind the leading trio formed by the United States, Great Britain and China, which alone accumulate 81% of the total sales. Nevertheless, this interpretation can be relativized if we consider that the Japanese art market’s structure has always been largely led by galleries. According to the Japanese Art Industry Market Research Report carried out by the Art Tokyo Association, owner of Art Fair Tokyo, in 2016 the market represented $2,4 billion (243,1 billion yen) : galleries and department stores represented respectively 33% and 26% of this total, while art fairs only constituted 7%.

Moreover, the article’s author Eriko Fuchigami aptly highlights how the movements and groups of artists that form Japan’s art history often owe their international acclaim to western actors. The popularity that surrounds artists belonging to the Ukiyo genre (“floating world” in Japanese - 1603-1868) is primarily due to the interest and diffusion of collectors such as Samuel Bing an Emile Guimet, as well as artists such as Van Gogh, Monet, Gauguin or Klimt. As for the Gutai group, considered a provincial movement in Japan in the years following its appearance, it also owes its current status as a major Japanese avant-garde movement to foreign actors, particularly French and North-Americans (the art critic Michel Tapié and the New York gallery Martha Jackson) who were interested in the similarities between Gutai, Informal Art In Europe, and Abstract Expressionism in the United States.

Vincent Kozsilovics
Publié le 10/02/2018
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Vue de la foire Art Tokyo 2017 © Courtesy of Art Tokyo Association

Vue de la foire Art Tokyo 2017
© Courtesy of Art Tokyo Association

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