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Art Fair Alert: Design Festa in Tokyo
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Art Fair Alert: Design Festa in Tokyo

Picture of Mélissa Leclézio
Updated: 25 January 2016
Tokyo has been at the forefront of cutting edge art and design for decades and it shows no sign of letting up as the 34th edition of the Design Festa proves. The biannual arts and design festival once again offered visitors an incursion into artistic chaos, as Melissa Leclézio describes.

Since its inception in 1994, Design Festa has enchanted, intrigued and at times shocked tourists and city dwellers. The concept is straightforward and eschews pretentiousness or exclusivity: absolutely anybody is able to apply to display and sell their works, as long as they are original. The director Takeshi Araki supports a ‘non-judgemental and non-corporate’ approach that embraces all levels of expertise and talent. In fact, Design Festa does not take any commission on the sales of works and lets out exhibition booths at very reasonable prices.

In brief, anything goes―and it works. More than 10,000 exhibitors, from amateurs to masters, fill the massive halls of the ‘Big Sight’ on every occasion. Each room operates as a creative exhibition space, featuring exciting, up-and-coming local and international artists from a wide spectrum of disciplines, including performance arts, design, photography, painting, street-art, fashion, culinary cuisine and cinema. In 2010, more than 70 countries were represented at the Design Festa, with exhibitors ranging from ‘kids to 80 year-olds’, say the organizers.

The innovative spirit of the event creates an atmosphere which radiates creative energy. Visitors who feel inspired and want to express themselves are allowed to leave their mark by painting, pinning and tagging on the walls of the warehouse. By the end of the weekend, it is common for no part of the bare walls to be spared.

The venue, The Big Sight in Odaiba, was originally an apartment block. It was transformed in the 1990s into an art gallery that has become ‘the focal point of Tokyo’s freestyle art scene’ according to TIME Magazine. The improvised performances and eccentric catwalk shows have nurtured the reputation of Design Festa as a territory for ‘artistic chaos’ and cutting-edge contemporary creations; perhaps a reflection of its host city. The festival remains an unmissable artistic bonanza for both artists and art lovers alike.


By Mélissa Leclézio

The 42nd Design Festa runs this November.