JAPANESE ART COLLECTOR
A Japanese psychiatrist, Ryutaro Takahashi, has become one of the most important collectors of Japanese contemporary art, having amassed a collection of over 1,500 pieces since 1997. And, in an inspiring story we can all take heart from today, he was able to do so largely because of Japan’s long recession.
The Japan Times explains:
The late ’90s were particularly tough for dealers… because the long-running economic downturn had translated into severe funding cuts for public museums. The reason recent art is so underrepresented in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, for example, is that from 2000 to 2004 it had no acquisitions budget. Takahashi was able to snap up dozens of pieces while the nation’s museums went AWOL.
Takahashi emphasises that he did not take deliberate steps to fill the void left by underfunded institutions. So what did motivate this collector and how did he get started?
‘I used to hang around Fugetsudo Cafe in Shinjuku,’ he tells The Japan Times, describing the coffee shop that was a hippie Mecca during the counterculture years. ‘We’d hear about the happenings that Yayoi Kusama was doing in New York. She was like a star to us.’
Takahashi was not an artist himself, but the period left him with a fascination for the avant garde.
‘In 1997 I saw an exhibition of new work by Kusama,’ he says. ‘At about the same time, a show of new work by Makoto Aida was being held at Mizuma Art Gallery. So, in a short time I saw work by someone I thought was a star and also an important up- and-coming artist. That lit the spark within me.’
The spark quickly flared into a wildfire.
‘Once I had bought a few I realized that if I was going to do this, I had to do it properly,’ he says.
He focused on young artists from Japan, spending Saturdays roaming cutting-edge galleries: Mizuma, Ota Fine Arts, Tomio Koyama. Soon he was plowing all his resources into the project.
One of his first major purchases was Aida’s A Picture of an Air Raid on New York City (War Picture Returns), a giant screen-painting which depicts fighter planes forming an infinity symbol as they bomb New York. Since then he has bought about ten more Aida works.
Usually, big paintings by such respected artists would find their way into public collections. But not in Japan, or at least not in the past ten years in Japan. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, has just one Aida, and the five national art museums have none.
The story is similar with other 40-something artists such as Akira Yamaguchi, Hisashi Tenmyouya and Tsuyoshi Ozawa. Each has been given large-scale, midcareer retrospectives at major Tokyo venues, but none is well represented in any public collection. Takahashi’s holdings, by contrast, include several major works by each.
Read more in The Japan Times about
- how Takahashi believes that Japanese art is becoming divorced from the West.
- what he plans to do with his collection.
- where it can be seen now.
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