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KS Cover no. 71 2006 April

APR 2006 :: 071


White space for sale!

Kansai scene takes a look at the world of rental galleries in Osaka

The secret battle of the art world

If you want to see some contemporary art in Japan, where do you go? Most would say Tokyo, but for those not willing to go all that way, what could there possibly be to see in Osaka?
Of course, there are the museums: the National Museum of Osaka in Nakanoshima, the Suntory Museum in Osaka-ko and the Osaka Municipal museum of Art in Tennoji. But enough about funeral parlours, what about the living, breathing, heart and soul of the art scene? What about the young artists scra-pping it out in the trenches for every little piece of momentary attention? Where are they?

Amongst the shadows of the major public collections and museums exists a truly unique system that artists in Western countries can only dream about: rental galleries.
In these places you can see the real grass roots of conte-mporary art in Japan, the up and coming, tomorrow's big names, and the never-to-be-famous who are nevertheless the backbone of the art scene in any city.

And you can just about walk in and exhibit your own work. In western countries, artists compete for the same spaces and opportunities, often having to confront horribly generic rejection letters. Here, a rental gallery is in itself an opportunity to be made use of. It's in these galleries where the young artists battle for attention. This is where raw personal expre-ssion and ideas are on view and uncensored to the world. They are free to the public and they need visitors.


The Japanese word is kashi garou, literally meaning rented gallery, and the business started about 40 years ago when the property value in Tokyo boomed. Higher real estate values meant smaller galleries were put in the position of charging artists to use their space or risk losing their business. On the plus side, they were a refreshing alternative and artists had the freedom to exhibit and perform pretty much whatever they wanted, enabling much freer modes of expression and communication. However, in time the shine rubbed away.

Curators rarely visited them or took the artists seriously enough and the spaces are now seen as the bottom rung of the market. For some artists however, they still represent a necessary first step in order to get started in the Japanese art scene. So, for those with burning artistic aspirations and money to burn how do you put your foot on that bottom rung?

How it works

Surprisingly, the process of renting is actually quite straight-forward. The majority of galleries operate on a weekly basis and cost anywhere from ¥50,000 to ¥170,000 for a period of six days. It is often possible to negotiate a lengthier period of time for an agreed amount but this can depend on personal budgets and the gallery's schedule. As the galleries can be quite busy, with artists having to book somewhere between six and 12 months in advance, a majority of artists will exhibit only for one week. Payment methods can vary from gallery to gallery but most will expect a deposit of at least half the agreed amount before the show starts and the rest should follow when your show finishes.

What to expect

Again, this varies from gallery to gallery, but above all, be careful not to expect too much. It's important to keep your feet on the ground and enjoy the hard work. As they represent the first step, they are not going to break their back for you so don't expect the owner to curate your work and sell it (though if they do, a commission of about 30 percent will apply).

Don't be disheartened if people don't show up, because, realistically, people don't know who you are. All of the galleries have a mailing list, to which they will send exhibition invitations that you provide at a surplus cost to you (usually anything up to ¥20,000) but it doesn't guarantee visitors.

An opening party is always a good idea but be wary of the people who are just looking for a free drink. Show your face around other galleries before and during your show to create some awareness.

The galleries do send each other invitations but because they are bombarded by so many shows that end after a week, it's very easy to get missed. Visitors to rental galleries at other times will probably consist mostly of artists and regular locals and if your show is only for one week, you won't be giving people much of a chance to see what you do. At some galleries, you could get lucky and meet some curators or writers but they might just as likely be there to talk to the gallery and not necessarily see your work.

The best approach is to make interesting conver-sation with your visitors no matter who they are. Show appre-ciation for their visit (whether they came specifically for you or not) and have faith in your work and people's memory. Make a statement with your work and show something that they cannot forget.

Signs of change

If your hopes haven't already been crushed by what not to expect you might be wondering what's the point? In recent times there has been a notable shift in rental spaces wherein curation is starting to creep back in the door. The directors of these galleries are courageously trying to strike a balance between staying in business and creating a market in Osaka for art, collectors and artists alike, making their spaces an ideal place to start for young promising artists.

Yasuko Arita of the Early Gallery in Nishitenma is one such director. Her gallery opened in 2004 and regularly holds exhibitions from photography to animation, video and architecture. When she talks of her gallery's aims, “to show young up-and-coming artists and introduce recognized artists to a new audience in Kansai”, it is clear to see how she feels about the develop-ment of local artists and recent graduates; “young artists usually don't have experience with managing their own shows so it's important that they are given curatorial advice in order to develop their professional skills”. About a year and half has passed since the gallery's opening and she has already begun to notice improved professionalism in those artists that hold their second exhibition. As her gallery grows, so will the artists that exhibit there.

Established in 2001, Gallery H.O.T (also in Nishitenma) is another gallery trying to create a market for contemporary art where there isn't one. Also a Pharmacist and Gemologist, the director Chikako Fukuoka is a person who likes to take risks. Meaning 'Happen On Truth', her gallery's name refers to the experience she expects for visitors as well as to the 'hot' arti-sts that she exhibits. Having studied in England, she regards her space as a place of international communication and she believes “the Japanese contemporary art scene can still at times be fairly conservative, so western artists can help keep our minds open and avoid mannerisms”.

When asked about her gallery's future she supports the artists saying “I expect artists who had their exhibition in my gallery to be successful the world over”. Such faith is reflected in the diversity of exhibitions covering a broad range of media from painting, sculp-ture, and installation to video and textile art. However, most distinctively of all about her gallery is her welcoming nature. Almost always on hand to talk about the exhibitions and art (she even has her own small library of art books in Japanese and English), she is by no means afraid to break down the wall of communication that can build up between art and visitor and she will usually do this over a cup of exotic tea.

So, which gallery?

Galleries range massively in variety but your decisions will probably rest on a few major factors: the cost, the space, the gallery's contacts and their reputation. My advice would be to select a gallery that would best suit the presentation of your work. Grouping with other artists to exhibit is a way of saving money and sharing responsibilities but be selective of who you show with; make sure your joint effort is as strong as it can be.

Visit galleries beforehand and make mental notes of the space before approaching them. Almost all of them have gallery plans on their websites so use them to plan how you would exhibit your works.

Arrange an interview or a time to meet at the gallery. Galleries such as the Early Gallery and Gallery H.O.T will expect to see something of a proposal before they agree to show you and almost all galleries will expect to see a portfolio of your previous works. Obviously, they still have a reputation to maintain so simply turning up with a wallet or camera of photographs you've taken just that afternoon won't do. They maybe for rent, but they are still professional.

Only a handful of galleries speak English so this may affect your decision on where to show but with some basic conversational Japanese and some key words, it is possible to get by. If possible, have some-one with you who can translate your intentions and your work when meeting the gallery. When the time comes to show your work, Japanese translations are obviously a must so be sure to have them ready.

The seeds are in place In all, there is hope. In a city hugely outgunned by Tokyo's art scene, there are some people trying to create a market in a place where grass is mythically just as hard to come by. Although the artists pay for a start to their careers, they are at least being helped and in a country where little national help or seriousness is given to artists, a little help from those in rental galleries can go a long way. Rental galleries can be risky but try to see them as a learning experience for making and showing art and enjoy it. In the west, such exhibitions still look impressive on paper.

Rental galleries can be exciting and the best thing of all is that the artists are usually on hand to talk to so even if you are only a visitor to these secret spaces, at least you can meet some interesting people who know what its like to battle for attention.

Text & photos: 28787

:: Online Articles


White space for sale
Art galleries to rent in Osaka


Way out west
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Walking with history
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Convergence: come together
The future is wow!


Leaving on a jet plane
Are you ready to leave Japan?


DJ Cashmere: Sweet like candy
DJ who spins the town

:: Listings


Up to date cinema listings guide so you always know what's on, where and when!

:: ART

Best exhibitions + listings


Best events + listings


Best gigs + listings


Parties not to miss + listings

:: Also in this month's mag


Falafel Garden
Israeli Vegetarian Café, Kyoto


Wanna get drunk?
Bar, Isn't It?, Umeda


Six days in the Sahara
Alan Ryan on the world's toughest footrace


Art of living
Meditation course of the most wanted peace


Anthony Pappa
A man who made his name from Melbourne to Moscow


Best festivals + listings


New releases and top ten paperback books


Reel reviews of the silver screen


Domestic and international news


Galleries at a glance

Rental galleries may be hidden in Osaka but they are aplenty. The following (in no particular order) is a list of them and their details. Visit their websites or call for information on how to get to them. When you find one, it becomes a lot easier to find others.

mano Gallery
Approx 15m wall space. ¥90,000 for one week. Yodoyobashi/ Minami-Morimachi Subway Stns. Tel: 06 0634 0784. http://www.eonet.ne.jp/~ amanogallery/index.html

Ami Gallery/Gallery Kanoko
Ami: ¥90,000 for one week. Kanoko: ¥70,000 for one week. Nippombashi Subway Stn. Tel: 06 6214 2595. http:///www.ami-kanoko.com

Early Gallery
14.74m wall space. ¥140,000 for one week. Yodoyobashi Subway Stn.
Tel: 06 6362 6313. http://www15.ocn. ne.jp/~earlyee/

Gallery Den
27.86m wall space. ¥120,000 for one week. Higobashi/Honmachi Subway Stns. Tel: 06 6447 7886. http://hb6.seikyou.ne.jp/home/g-den/

Gallery Haku
2F: 19m wall space. ¥120,000 for one week. 3F: 14m wall space. ¥80,000
for one week. Yodoyobashi/
Minami-Morimachi Subway Stns.
Tel: 06 6363 0493. http://www.ne.jp/asahi/gallery/haku

Gallery H.O.T.
19.09m wall space. ¥125,000 for one week. Minami-Morimachi Subway Stn. Tel: 06 6363 2536. http://galleryhot.com/index.html

Gallery R.P.
16.43m wall space. ¥50,000 for one week. Higashi-Umeda Subway Stn. http://retnp.exblog.jp/d2005-09-02

Gallery RYO
16m wall space. ¥150,000 for one week. Higashi-Umeda Subway Stn.
Tel: 06 6363 0230. http://plaza.harmonix.ne.jp/~artnavi/02gal.pak/03gal-tikamiti/03rental-gal/96ryo-hp/96ryo.html

Gallery WKS
27m wall space. ¥150,000 for two weeks. Minami-Morimachi Subway Stn. Tel: 06 6363 2206. http://www. sky.sannet.ne.jp/works/

O Gallery Eyes
16m wall space. ¥168,000 for one week. Yodoyobashi/ Minami-Morimachi Subway Stns.
Tel: 06 6316 7703. http://www2.osk.3web.ne.jp/~oeyes/

Ban Garow
Yodoyobashi Subway Stn. Tel: 06 6362 7057. [email protected]

Cubic Gallery
Honmachi Subway Stn. Tel: 06 6229 2321. http://cubicgallery.cside.com/

Fukugan Gallery
Shinsaibashi Subway Stn. Tel: 06 6253 3266. http://www.fukugan.net/

Galerie OU
Tenmabashi Subway Stn. Tel: 06 6941 5587. http://www.g-ou.com

Kaede Gallery
Tanimachi-6-chome Subway Stn.
Tel: 06 6761 0388. http://www.comint. ne.jp/kaede/

Shinanobashi Gallery
Honmachi Subway Stn. Tel: 06 6532 4395. Email: [email protected]

White Cube & City Gallery
Yodoyobashi/ Minami-Morimachi Stns. Tel: 06 6315 5008 & 06 6316 6663. http://www5.ocn.ne.jp/~cgwhite/