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7 Artists to Watch at the Tokyo Gendai 2024

Art enthusiasts, mark your calendars, the Tokyo Gendai art fair is primed to make a splash at Pacifico Yokohama this July, from Friday, July 5th to Sunday, July 7th, over 70 leading galleries from across the globe will converge, offering a dynamic exploration of contemporary art.

Image from Tokyo Gendai 2023
Image from Tokyo Gendai 2023

Tokyo Gendai isn't just about showcasing art; it has a bold mission to address a long-standing issue in Japan. Despite being the world's third largest economy with a population exceeding 125 million, Japan's contemporary art market remains surprisingly underdeveloped, capturing less than 4% of the global market share.

This lackluster performance can be attributed to the bursting of the economic bubble in the early 1990s, which significantly dampened Japanese collector enthusiasm. Since then, acquisitions have primarily focused on conservative blue-chip works or traditional Japanese art.

However, a promising shift is underway. A new generation of young, affluent entrepreneurs has embraced contemporary art collecting, particularly during the recent lockdowns. Bidding activity from Japanese buyers has risen at major auction houses, and domestic dealers have reported a substantial sales increase, with a significant portion (81%) coming from homegrown collectors.

Installation view of Retro Africa works for Tokyo Gendai 2024
Installation view of Retro Africa works for Tokyo Gendai 2024

With no major international contemporary art fairs in Japan, Tokyo Gendai which in it's second edition is perfectly positioned to capitalize on this burgeoning trend. This year's edition promises a captivating experience under three thematic umbrellas: Galleries, Hana ("Flower"), and Eda ("Branch"). Prepare to be immersed in works by established and rising stars, encompassing a diverse range of artistic perspectives.

Beyond the visual feast, Tokyo Gendai pulsates with a vibrant program. Talks, curated exhibitions, and captivating installations will delve into the heart of Japan's art scene. Don't miss Tsubomi ("Flower Bud"), an exhibition spotlighting art that tackles pressing social issues. For the young art enthusiasts, IntoArt, the fair's exciting new initiative, offers a daily workshop series to spark creativity.

To whet your appetite, here are seven must-see artists showcasing at this year's fair.

  1. Yusuff Aina I Retro Africa

Yusuff Aina, a versatile artist, primarily engages with acrylics and installation art to explore psychosocial realities. His work delves into themes of alienation, trust, and belonging, examining their effects on both the environment and the mind.

Through his artistic practice, Aina creates alternative spaces and identities, pushing the boundaries of a constantly evolving visual language. Aina’s storytelling is brought to life with cartoon-like figures, motifs, and fantastical landscapes. He will be showing at Tokyo Gendai with Retro Africa.

2. Ai Weiwei I Tang Contemporary

Acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei will showcase his work at Tokyo Gendai in collaboration with Tang Contemporary.

Ai Wei Wei, Zodiac-Tiger, 2018 at Tokyo Gendai
Ai Wei Wei, Zodiac-Tiger, 2018

Weiwei employs a diverse artistic vocabulary, encompassing large-scale installations, intricate ceramics, architectural interventions, and thought-provoking films. This exhibition promises a powerful encounter with the artist's practice.

3. Yusuke Asai I Anomaly

Tokyo Gendai welcomes Yusuke Asai, a Japanese artist known for his unconventional approach. Asai collaborates with Tokyo-based gallery Anomaly to showcase his captivating works.

Yusuke Asai, Bird Memories 9, 2024, Tokyo Gendai 2024
Yusuke Asai, Bird Memories 9, 2024

Unleashing his creativity, Asai transforms ordinary materials like soil, water, dust, flour, tape, and pens into extraordinary pieces. His recurring motifs – a blend of plants, animals, people, and mythical creatures – weave together to form a singular vision of an eco-structure. Asai's art invites viewers to see the extraordinary potential hidden within the most familiar elements.

4. Sophie Barber I Alison Jacques Gallery

British painter Sophie Barber finds inspiration in her surroundings, captures both natural and manmade elements to preserve and interpret their forms.

 Sophie Barber, A Cake For The Party, 2024, Tokyo Gendai
Sophie Barber, A Cake For The Party, 2023

Her works feature tents, bird hides, and word games on large, block-color canvases, creating surreal, folk-like compositions. You can view Barber's work at London’s Alison Jacques Gallery.

5. Seyni Awa Camara I Perrotin

Senegalese artist Seyni Awa Camara creates striking sculptures that resemble totems. Her works often depict scenes of motherhood and fantastical creatures.

Seyni Awa Camara, Untitled, 2010

Camara's art has been featured in both solo exhibitions and prestigious museums worldwide. Art enthusiasts can look forward to seeing her work at the upcoming Tokyo Gendai exhibition with Perrotin.

6. Robert Longo I  Pace Gallery

At the upcoming fair, Pace Gallery will showcase works by New York artist Robert Longo. Longo's charcoal drawings are instantly recognizable for their bold contrast and rich textures.

Robert Longo, Untitled (The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647–1652; After Bernini and White Peonies), 2024

These elements bring to life his fascination with political activism and the imagery that shapes our world.

7. Manuel Ocampo I Veta by Fer Francés

Filipino artist Manuel Ocampo throws a wild party in his paintings. He mashes up historical and religious imagery with dark humor, creating a scene that's both thought-provoking and irreverent.

Manuel Ocampo, Untitled, 2023

Expect to find anything from classical art references to cartoons and even punk rock symbols. Catch Ocampo's work alongside Veta by Fer Francés, a renowned Madrid gallery, at Tokyo Gendai.

By fostering a platform for international exchange and showcasing the best of contemporary art, Tokyo Gendai is set to solidify Japan's role within the global art market.

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7 Artists to Watch at the Tokyo Gendai 2024

July 5, 2024

Obidike Okafor

3 min read

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