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Art Fair Tokyo is Japan’s biggest art fair. It started in 1992 as Nippon International Contemporary Art Fair (NICAF) but coinciding with the burst of the Bubble, it was surely doomed from the start. Collapsing in the late Nineties, it re-launched in 2005 as Art Fair Tokyo, loosing the “c” for contemporary and now inclusive of nihonga, yoga and antiques. The 2008 Fair attracted 43,000 visitors over four days.
It is an independent organization but its leaders include Atsuko Koyanagi and Hozu Yamamoto. Participants include SCAI the Bathhouse, Mizuma Art Gallery and Tomio Koyama Gallery.
It happens annually. This year’s Fair runs from 3 to 5 April.
Japan’s art market is still relatively young and naive compared to its European and American counterparts. It is not just a place for buying and selling, of course, but for promotion and interchange. As one would expect, a series of talks and seminars accompany the exhibiting booths. For those not interested in actually buying or even surfing the latest trends, the Fair is a place to see 650 artists’ work in one venue, for the same price as a ticket to a typical museum exhibition.
It is happening at the Tokyo International Forum, which should give you an indication at least of the scale of the event. This year, there is a second building containing the young galleries, at Tokyo Building Tokia Galleria (@Tokia).
Re-launching the Fair was brave and very welcome. With the inauguration of the satellite fair 101Tokyo Contemporary Art Fair in 2008, April has become a major season for art in Japan. Further, re-launching with new boundaries has meant that the Fair is very universal and can attract a broad spectrum of visitors and partipants. Every year has seen improvement, with this year’s number of galleries up to 148 and some three thousand artworks, including 47% specializing in contemporary art.
The Fair pales in comparison with other global art fairs. Former TABlog editor Ashley Rawlings compared the 2007 fair to bad sex. It is still a predominantly domestic event, with only a handful of international galleries taking part (just sixteen galleries this year, though higher than previously).