| Art

Magnus Renfrew: Curating Tokyo Gendai

An interview with art doyen Magnus Renfrew

Kengo Kito, cartwheel galaxy, 2020. Acrylic, glitter, glass, spray, cotton, cloth, vinyl on canvas. 194 x 589 x 6cm. Photo by Shinya Kigure. Courtesy of MtK Contemporary Art

Curator and entrepreneur Magnus Renfrew is extending his reach. In the art power lists he’s been a regular addition for a number of years. So why is that?

The reason behind why he’s had such success and what pushes him to find new inspirational horizons remains something of a mystery, however a common thread in all his work is his ongoing interest in how the different places elicit different responses to the art question. With his involvement in the Tokyo Gendai art Fair, we asked him about his vision for the fair and what he saw as its unique offerings, as well as poking a few holes into how he found inspiration. 

Magnus Renfrew 2024
Magnus Renfrew 2024

Magnus Renfrew: We have been working on the launch of Tokyo Gendai since 2016. We wanted to create an international art fair for Japan that could simultaneously put the spotlight on the incredible artists, galleries and institutions in Japan to international visitors, and introduce leading galleries from around the world and their programmes to a Japanese audience that is developing and expanding.

Tokyo Gendai is an international art fair that presents visitors with the chance to connect and engage with Tokyo’s vibrant and well-established gallery scene, alongside offering the opportunity to explore new perspectives and exchange ideas through the fair’s extensive programme celebrating the very best that Japan has to offer.

Tokyo Gendai, 2024. Kishio Suga, System of Surroundings, 1998, Wood, steel pipe, steel rods, courtesy of Tomio Koyama Gallery [Sato ‘Meadow’
Tokyo Gendai, 2024. Kishio Suga, System of Surroundings, 1998, Wood, steel pipe, steel rods, courtesy of Tomio Koyama Gallery [Sato ‘Meadow’]

The fair will showcase presentations from internationally recognised galleries, grouped into three sectors: Galleries, Hana ‘Flower,’ and Eda ‘Branch.’ The Galleries sector presents leading galleries from around the world. In Hana, 25 galleries will showcase either a solo or multiple presentation of artists at an early or mid-stage in their career, while Eda is a sector of the fair dedicated to solo or multiple artist presentations by established or historically significant figures in Asia, or to themed presentations.

Tokyo Gendai also has an exciting programme of events including: Tsubomi ‘Flower Bud’, an exhibition, co-curated by Marina Amada and Soojung Yi, that spotlights four women artists of different nationalities, generations and cultural identities: Jenny Holzer, Sareena Sattapon, Mika Tajima and Miya Ando; Ne ‘Root’, which presents several leading local foundations hosting special showcases of their work; Sato ‘Meadow’ which will feature five large-scale, tailored installations spotlighting new themes in contemporary art; Art Talks, a talks programme that will feature eight discussions about key trends, topics and developments in today’s art world, with thought leaders from the art world and beyond; and new for 2024, IntoArt, a series of daily workshops for children led by Tokyo Gendai exhibiting artists.

Tokyo Gendai, 2024. Taro Nasu booth. Simon Fujiwara, Who’s a Nude Sea Creature?, 2023
Tokyo Gendai, 2024. Taro Nasu booth. Simon Fujiwara, Who’s a Nude Sea Creature?, 2023

What were the challenges you faced in putting the fair together?

Japan has an exceptional cultural offering and strong local art infrastructure, yet the inaugural edition of Tokyo Gendai in 2023 marked the first time in 30 years that Japan has had an international art fair of this scale. Working on Art Basel Hong Kong, Taipei Dangdai and ART SG has taught me that it is important to ensure that the fair serves the local market and is integrated into the Japanese cultural landscape. We also use a selection committee composed of top level gallerists from around the world to ensure world-quality presentations on display. We have been delighted with the positive response and the enthusiasm with which stakeholders and partners have embraced the fair.

What are your key learnings so far?

Following last year’s success we have a strong line up of galleries that are returning for the 2024 edition of Tokyo Gendai, including Almine Rech (Paris, Brussels, London, New York, Shanghai, Monaco), BLUM (Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo), Perrotin (Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, New York, Seoul, Shanghai, Los Angeles), Sadie Coles HQ (London), Taka Ishii Gallery (Tokyo, Kyoto, Maebashi) and SCAI THE BATHHOUSE (Tokyo). This year, Tokyo Gendai has an even stronger international focus and will showcase world-class contemporary art brought together by 70 galleries from 18 countries around the world. We are delighted to welcome a number of important newcomers including Pace Gallery who are opening a space in Tokyo, Galerie EIGEN + ART from Berlin, and Alison Jacques from London.

Kengo Kito, cartwheel galaxy, 2020. Acrylic, glitter, glass, spray, cotton, cloth, vinyl on canvas. 194 x 589 x 6cm. Photo by Shinya Kigure. Courtesy of MtK Contemporary Art
Kengo Kito, cartwheel galaxy, 2020. Acrylic, glitter, glass, spray, cotton, cloth, vinyl on canvas. 194 x 589 x 6cm. Photo by Shinya Kigure. Courtesy of MtK Contemporary Art

Last year we had a lot of positive feedback on our programmes, as they provided visitors with both an international and insider’s perspective into the art world, so we have continued to strengthen our lineup for this year as well, revising our programme so that guests can keep having unique experiences and new discoveries every year.

What makes Tokyo Gendai special?

As mentioned, Tokyo Gendai’s inaugural edition marked the first time in 30 years that Japan had an international fair of this scale, bringing collectors and galleries from Japan together with their counterparts from across the world. In addition to presentations by leading contemporary art galleries, the extensive fair programme provided visitors with an opportunity to deepen their understanding and interest in contemporary art. A few highlights from the 2023 edition included: Japanese artist Ryuichi Ohira unveiling a new large-scale installation entitled ‘The Circuit’, created specially for the inaugural edition of Tokyo Gendai; a special exhibit titled ‘Life Actually: the Work of Contemporary Japanese Women’, curated by Michiko Kasahara (Deputy Director, Artizon Museum) and Yuri Yamada (Curator, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum), exploring how women artists are re-examining their relationship with themselves and their wider position within society; and Art Talks, which provided a rare chance to hear from key figures in the art world and beyond.

There was a sense of excitement on the opening day that was palpable, with collectors and galleries expressing that they felt this represented the beginning of a new chapter for the art scene in Japan. The fair has also helped to spotlight the local culture for an international art audience, encouraging tourism, expanding the domestic market, and celebrating the very best that Japan has to offer.

What should people look out for at this year’s fair?

Personally, I am excited for Sato ‘Meadow’, which will feature five large-scale, tailored installations around the fair spotlighting new themes in contemporary art. Two installations will be created specially for the fair: KOTARO NUKAGA (Tokyo) will showcase The Cowboy on the Grass from Yuichiro Tamura, a performative work in which three bandana-wearing cowboys rest on a huge green bandana-patterned carpet, with the composition based on The Luncheon on the Grass by Edouard Manet; and MtK Contemporary Art (Kyoto) will showcase LINES, an installation by Kengo Kito complemented by a series of video works streaming on a display backdrop.

I am also excited for Tsubomi ‘Flower Bud’, which returns this year to showcase works by four women artists of different nationalities, generations and cultural identities. The exhibition, titled ALL THINGS ARE DELICATELY INTERCONNECTED, presents works that reflect on our relationship with civilisation and the natural environment.

What are some hidden gems and special treasures at the 2024 edition of Tokyo Gendai?

Never-before-seen works will be exhibited throughout the fair. Keteleer Gallery will present a series of works by Austrian artist Lois Weinberger, who last visited Tokyo for a retrospective in 2019, one year before he passed away. During this visit Weinberger created a series of works that have never been shown before, and they will now return to Japan and be the central focus of the gallery’s presentation at Tokyo Gendai. Gallery EXIT will showcase Stephen Wong Chun Hei’s new series of work featuring his four journeys in Japan from 2022-2023, capturing seasonal changes in different regions and cities of Japan, including winter in Tokyo, spring in Osaka and Kyoto, summer in Seto Naikai, and autumn at Nikko. The four journeys symbolise a fresh start and new hope after the hardships collectively experienced globally. Meanwhile, British artist Sophie Barber (Alison Jacques) has created new works for Tokyo Gendai exploring symbols significant to Japan, while simultaneously referencing Western art historical chronologies. In addition, Tang Contemporary Art will present works of Chinese zodiac animals made out of Lego bricks by renowned Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei, based on the fountain heads of the Summer Palace.

Tokyo Gendai,  Pacifico Yokohama from 5-7 July 2024. Next edition 12-14 September 2025.
Tokyo Gendai information. 

Sponsor

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Our weekly newsletter

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.