May 9, 2008
Masaharu Sato, Traum, 2007, video
Courtesy of Masaharu Sato
For aspiring artists in Tokyo, the road to success often requires a fistful of yen. Artists here are typically faced with
a catch-22: established galleries (kikaku-garo) will consider representing them only after they have exhibited, but to get exhibited they need to be established. Often the only option is a rental gallery (kashi-garo), which can charge more than ¥300,000 per week in well-trafficked areas like Ginza and Yurakucho.
After learning of the barriers facing emerging artists in Tokyo, Kazuko Aso established Dan/Dans in 2005. The name combines the Japanese character dan, meaning “group,” and the French word dans, meaning “in.” The collective now has almost 100 registered members.
“Dan/Dans is a very free sort of group, without any strict rules,” says Aso. “I tell the artists I can find them a place to exhibit for free and then I give them a theme. If they are interested in the theme, they can apply.”
The 60-year-old long-time painter and art collector arranges the space and has the final word on the works to be displayed. Sales are made by silent auction, in which bidders deposit a form into a wooden box. The box’s clear top allows everyone to see how many people have bid on a single work. “Some artists end up receiving many low bids while others can get one single bid that is very high,” she says. “It’s very exciting to see the results.” Although a minimum price for the works is indicated in the catalogue, bids range widely from about ¥30,000 to over ¥1 million. Amazingly, 90 percent of the sale goes to the artist. The remaining 10 percent goes towards funding the next exhibition.
The first Dan/Dans show was held in August 2005 at a shop in Ginza whose owner lent the space when it was between tenants. A total of 40 artists participated, and the exhibition was so popular that Aso followed up with a second show in February 2006 at a friend’s gallery in Harajuku. The third show, in July 2007, focused on Coco Chanel. “At this exhibition, three or four of the artists were discovered by galleries,” says Aso. “I try to encourage these successful artists to retire from Dan/Dans. This allows new artists to join. We’re now pretty much at capacity.”
Dan/Dans’ next show will be held in model homes near the Grand Hyatt. Titled “The House,” the exhibition includes 48 artists chosen by Aso and another 14 selected by three guest curators. Most of the participants are in their 20s and early 30s and will present works including paintings, sculpture, ceramics, photography, video and installations. “With every exhibition, the works are getting better and better, more expressive and technically more sophisticated,” Aso says.
Training artists to communicate effectively with buyers and visitors is also part of her efforts. “[They] need to be able to express themselves, to talk about their work,” she says. “For many people, buying art is not an easy thing, so the artist needs to know how to bow and show their appreciation. I ask them to personally deliver their work to the buyer and receive the money directly.”
One artist in the 2006 show was so chronically shy that she couldn’t talk with visitors, so Aso had her sit in a corner and knit. “She looked like a performance artist. By the end of the show she was talking comfortably with everyone. It was quite amazing.”