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Tokyo panorama as seen from Roppongi Hills | © Gusjer/Flickr
Tokyo panorama as seen from Roppongi Hills | © Gusjer/Flickr
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Ten Influential Contemporary Art Galleries In Tokyo

Picture of Bethan Morgan
Updated: 7 October 2016
In 1998 Japan passed non-profit laws which allowed organisations to move away from governmental restrictions and embrace society focused initiatives. Non-profit organisations linked to sports, culture, social education, human rights, community development and galleries all benefited from this change in law as they became more diversified and independent. These non-profit galleries have become integral to Tokyo’s contemporary art scene, contributing towards its experimental, open minded and discursive approach.

Arts Initiative Tokyo

Arts Initiative Tokyo (AIT) was established relatively soon after this law was passed and understood Tokyo’s need to re-configure its artistic experience and approach. Six curators set up this space for people to congress and discuss, practice and consider artistic disciplines within a free yet supportive system. The founders are constantly expanding the organisation to an international level with online programmes, as well as regular evening classes and courses which approach areas such as curation, art news, media and the web whilst critically engaging the practical arenas. There are also residency placements, a library and an exhibition space in which to indulge.

Arts Initiative Tokyo [AIT] Office, Twin Bldg. Daikanyama B-403, 30-8 Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0033, +81 3 5489 7277.

3331

The ancient Japanese custom of hand clapping – Edo Ippon Tejime – is a physical expression of happiness and positivity. 3331 is the numerical representation of this rhythm as Edo Ippon Tejime is three sets of three hand claps rounded off by one emphasised clap. 3331 continues this modern representation of art and positivity due to its inclusive mentality; the space is designed and intended to welcome people from different areas of the community. 3331 is a non-pretentious exhibition space promoting and expanding upon the accessibility of the arts. It has not only formed localised links, but is currently broadening Japan’s artistic scope by forming national links.

3331 Arts Chiyoda, 6-11-14 Sotokanda Chiyoda-Ku Tokyo 101-0021, +81 3 6803 2441

21_21 Design Sight

21_21 Design Sight was founded by three pivotal figures in the design industry: Issey Miyake, Taku Satoh, and Naoto Fukasawa. The building, conceived by architect Tadao Ando, furthers this emphasis on design and its importance. The architect’s plan for the building is based on Issey Miyake’s style of fashion, the roof being constructed from only one sheet of folded steel. 21_21 Design Sight includes both an exhibition space and an extensive programme which centres obsessively around the concept of design. Pushing and testing design boundaries is their goal, and students and visitors are constantly revising, engaging and enriching the design discipline.

21_21 Design Sight, 9-7-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, +81 3 3475 2121

Gallery Koyanagi

Gallery Koyanagi is located in the upscale area of Ginza; a high end district of Tokyo known for its luxury and elegance. The price of real estate in this area is testimony to the success of the Gallery Koyangi, which is one of the largest commercial galleries in Tokyo. The space itself is fairly forgettable, but this banality allows one to focus on the mass of contemporary art instead. Gallery Koyanagi represents some of the current leading art figures, both national and international, including Olafur Eliasson who’s large scale installations have been seen in grand establishments like the Tate Modern, London. The gallery’s forward thinking and youthful approach ensures that it continuously exhibits raw, emerging talent.

Gallery Koyanagi, Koyanagi Bldg. 9F, 1-7-5 Ginza Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061, +81 3 3561 1896

Scai the Bathhouse

Scai opened in 1993 after an extensive renovation which saw a 200-year old public bath house transform into a contemporary art gallery. Remnants of its former life such as the tiled roof and chimney are incorporated into its contemporary update. This modern twist on Japanese culture echoes the ethos of the gallery, as they are known for nurturing emerging Japanese artists such as Toshikatsu Endo and Tatsuo Miyajima, as well as representing national artists such as Lee Ufan and Tadanori Yokoo. The gallery’s generous high-ceilings accommodate large scale installations like those of artists Louise Bourgeois and Julian Opie, who regularly engage in projects with the gallery.

Scai the Bathhouse, Kashiwayu-Ato, 6-1-23 Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0001, +81 3 3821 1144

Take Ninagawa

Take Ninagawa’s small space is no reflection of its huge presence in Tokyo’s art scene. The contemporary gallery is recognised for its involvement with international art fairs as well as the esteemed artists it represents, such as Yuuki Matsumura and Shinro Ohtake. Matsumura engages with ideas of perception, transforming psychological concepts into tangible sculptures through his diverse use of materiality, while Ohtake utilises materiality to examine experimental music. Ninagawa’s conceptual, and often obscure, approach is well considered and delivers copious amounts of progressive contemporary art.

Take Ninagawa’s 2-12-4-1F, HigashiAzabu, Minatoku, Tokyo 1060044, +81 3 5571 5844

GA Gallery

Japan’s healthy relationship with architecture has produced influential architects like Arata Isozaki and Yoshio Taniguchi. Set up by architectural photographer Yukio Futagawa and architect Makoto Suzuki, Global Architecture (GA) celebrates this partnership. GA gallery succeeds in comprehensively displaying architecture and the artistic tangents that emerge from the architectural discipline. The gallery not only focuses on different modes of representation but on the processes and methodologies that architects employ on a daily basis. The gallery examines the tangible, conceptual, discursive and experiential properties of architecture, and visitors will likely encounter an alternative perspective to the Japanese architecture they know.

GA gallery, 3-12-14 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0051 +81 3 3403 1581

Taka Ishii Gallery

Two Taka Ishii Galleries can be found in Tokyo: one specialising in photography, and the other presenting more general modes of artistic representation. Taka Ishii Gallery Photography represents and exhibits respected photographers, both Japanese and international. Daidō Moriyama, for example, documents the city’s lost urban spaces and captures the beauty in the unexpected. By focusing on this discipline, Taka Ishii Gallery has helped shape the identity of Japanese photography, advancing its international status.

Taka Ishii Gallery, 3-10-11 B1 Sendagaya Shibuya-ku Tokyo 151-0051, +81 3 6434 7010

Taka Ishii Photography Gallery, 5-17-1 2F Roppongi Minato-ku Tokyo 106-0032, +81 3 5575 5004

Mizuma Art Gallery

Mizuma Art Gallery are pioneers of the contemporary art scene in Japan. They focus on the process and production of an aesthetic that defies criteria and current expectations. Having opened in 1994, the gallery has nurtured Japanese artists by providing a supportive platform which allows them to investigate their own expressive forms of representation. Recently, the gallery has incorporated an international flavour by representing Western artists. Building their reputation on a global scale, they introduce these international influences to the Japanese artistic sphere.

Mizuma Art Gallery, 2F Kagura Bldg, 3-13 Ichigayatamachi Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-0843, +81 3 3268 2500

Gallery Ef

Built in 1868, Gallery Ef began life as a warehouse, somehow surviving two fires and an earthquake. It is a perfect example of Edo architecture, encompassing sliding doors, geometric rooms and the simplified classic Japanese architecture. The gallery opened in 1997 and accommodates various artistic practitioners and craftsmen for a uniquely interdisciplinary approach. It places emphasis on the social aspect of the gallery experience by including a bar and cafe designed by artists, where the public can relax into the active hub of the gallery. These venues see regular music concerts, performances and events, giving a range to what the gallery offers the community.

Gallery Ef, 2-19-18 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0034, +81 3 3841 0442