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Interview with Tokyo Gallery President and CEO Toyotsu Yamamoto

Ginza has the image of being a town full of art galleries. However, its history is actually not that old; in 1950, there were only six of them. One of them is Tokyo Gallery, which opened in the same year. It was the first gallery in Japan to handle contemporary art, and was opened by President and CEO Toyotsu Yamamoto's father, Takashi, on Namiki-dori, 6-chome, Ginza (currently relocated to 7-chome, between Ginza-dori and Showa-dori). .

 "Tokyo Gallery" was the first in Japan to handle contemporary art.

Gallery exterior 1958 Yoshishige Saito Exhibition

``Everyone says that modern art is difficult, right? But in reality, it's just like a horse racing ticket. Even when you buy a horse racing ticket, you analyze data such as pedigree, trainer, jockey, winning percentage, etc., and then you buy it. When it comes to art, I try to buy it based on my senses.At least I could understand it if I researched it as much as I would when buying a horse racing ticket.''If you know the history of art and understand the place of the work in its context, you will understand it. Mr. Yamamoto says that the value becomes clear. "It's like someone who has never studied kanji suddenly being told to read kanji. If you do that in art, it's a complete gamble (lol)." If you come across a work at a gallery that you think is interesting, Yamamoto says, ask the staff for a brief explanation of the work. ``What meaning does this work have in art history and in the present? Don't buy from a gallery that can't explain that.This proves that the owner himself has chosen the work based on his own sense.''

Mr. Yamamoto's explanations are clear and easy to understand, and attract people. His speaking style and personality betray in a good way the unapproachable nature of the terms "gallery" and "contemporary art."

A childhood surrounded by contemporary art

After graduating from high school, his father, Takashi, entered an apprenticeship at an antique art dealer, where he dealt in Buddhist art, especially calligraphy and paintings. However, after the war, his values ​​changed drastically due to defeat in the war, and he himself shifted his interest to foreign films, so he became independent in 1948 in Sukiyabashi. Two years later, he opened Tokyo Gallery. Initially, we focused on modern Japanese figurative paintings, but in the 2s we shifted our focus to contemporary art, and in addition to introducing overseas works and artists, we have also been working on discovering and nurturing contemporary Japanese artists. Ta. Yoshishige Saito, who was born in Japan around 60 and had a great influence on the birth of Mono-ha, which is now the most famous avant-garde art movement in the world, Jiro Takamatsu, and the founder of the Gutai Art Association. Tokyo Gallery will feature a number of artists, including Jiro Yoshihara and his student Kazuo Shiraga.


``When my father went abroad to Europe in the late 50s, he witnessed new postwar trends such as Yves Klein, who threw his body directly onto the canvas, and Fontana, who cut the canvas. I decided that the future art would move towards abstraction.''


At the time, Tokyo Gallery, which handled abstract art that was considered avant-garde, attracted many artists, as well as students and designers hungry for cutting-edge information on art. Not just the gallery, but the Yamamoto family itself...


``In the garage, there is a giant ear built by Tomio Miki, and at the dining table, Taro Okamoto is drinking alcohol and dozing while eating.At that time, all the writers didn't have money, so my mother often cooked. I cooked and fed them.It was a house where many strange adults came and went.'' Mr. Yamamoto grew up in an environment where contemporary art was commonplace. ``So, to be honest, when I first became an art dealer, I didn't understand the customers who said, ``I don't understand contemporary art'' (lol).I wonder why they don't understand how interesting this is?'' As a child, Yamamoto saw contemporary artists as, ``What an idiot these adults are!'' However, the adults who were devoted to this mysterious thing were also the ones who created true art. ``My theory is that it is better for children to meet geniuses as young as possible.It is a wonderful stimulus.It is better to think about that stimulus in your head and verbalize it until you are an adult. I had my children read the Analects from the age of 5. Get it into your body first. You can understand the meaning later."

Musashino Art University, where he attended, was locked out for two years due to a school dispute. Mr. Yamamoto, who had experience at the 2 Osaka Expo and 70 Okinawa Ocean Expo, aspired to become an architect, and sought a career in urban development, thinking, ``From now on, I have to work on something bigger.''・I will be Tatsuo Murayama's secretary. During my breaks from work, I read the large amount of books I had in my office and asked questions to Professor Murayama, an expert, studying economics, which I was not able to study at art university.


``When I was in college, my classmates who were active in the student movement told me I was a petty bull, so I read Marx's ``Das Kapital'' for the first time.I found it very interesting.For me, art is something that can be viewed objectively.Art Creating value is a major theme in economic activities.This book was one of the reasons that my base of looking at art from the outside and looking at it relatively became clear. I guess".

Yamamoto says that the value of art can also be explained from the concepts of "use value" and "exchange value" in Marx's Capital. ``The value of a product when it is exchanged with another product is its ``exchange value.'' For example, a painting has almost no ``use value (practical value)'' like daily necessities such as a notebook or rice. When it becomes a product and becomes rare over time, it becomes 'exchange value.'


It has been 30 years since I quit my job as a secretary and joined Tokyo Gallery. It was against this background that she published her first book, ``Art Predicts the Future of Capitalism,'' in 2015.

One of the values ​​of art is its time.

Currently, ``Tokyo Gallery'' has two locations in Ginza, Tokyo, and another, ``BTAP,'' which opened in Beijing in 2002. This was created by his younger brother, Yukito Tabata, and the two of them introduce contemporary Asian art and artists, mainly from Japan, China, and Korea, in both cities. "We had no intention of taking over the family business... (lol). Before we knew it, this was the most difficult yet fun thing for us to do."

Referring to an oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci that was recently sold for approximately 508 billion yen, Yamamoto explains the value of works of art as follows. "That painting remained for 500 years. The price of 508 billion yen is worth 500 years. It's a miracle that it was preserved for 500 years and is here now. That's how important it is to humans. It remained because it had value. In other words, it represents ``time.'' Therefore, if something from the same era gets destroyed in a war, the value of other things will go up. "Time means things break down. Therefore, the value of what remains will naturally increase."

As an art dealer, Yamamoto says that he does not recommend works to customers simply because they are beautiful. ``Whether or not it's beautiful is a matter of taste.I personally don't think of art work as a hobby.The subjectivity of whether or not it's beautiful is left to the viewer, and it's not something I can impose. is". The word "beautiful" is made up of two different languages. Mr. Yamamoto explains that this is both ``unusual'' and ``nostalgic.'' ``When François I first saw da Vinci's ``Mona Lisa,'' he must have thought it was rare.However, as time passed, he must have felt nostalgic for it, and when 2 years have passed, his nostalgia will double. Everything you encounter for the first time in your life is ``unusual,'' but as you get older, it becomes ``nostalgic.'' That's when the idea of ​​``beautiful'' begins. If you don't have curiosity about things that are rare, you won't feel nostalgic, and you won't build up the value of beauty within yourself.'' Mr. Yamamoto jokes that if we do business in this way, our work will sell (lol), but when he explains the value of art in this way, the fog of confusion clears. Verbalize values ​​and communicate them in simple words. That may be the role of a gallery and the talent of an art dealer.


In addition to his work at the gallery, Mr. Yamamoto has been involved in a variety of projects, including the ``Ginza Space Design Competition,'' in which art college students design shop window displays, and the ``Gincha-kai,'' which brings together the five schools of tea ceremony and sencha ceremony. I did. ``The reason why I'm so proactive about things like this is because I want as many people as possible to know about the fun and communication power that art has.I also want to convey my assets to young people. Personally, I feel that what I learned from my seniors in my 20s has become a great asset for me.I'm almost 70 years old, and I want to pass on the essential things I received from my seniors to the next generation. I think that's the word.''

What kind of assets can we leave behind for Japanese people 500 years from now?

Mr. Yamamoto says that what he is most interested in right now is Japan's political economy and society after 2020. He says that from now on, we will have no choice but to transition from a capitalist society to a property-based society.
``The Medici family founded a bank 500 years ago, devised the double-entry bookkeeping system we use today, used the money they made to build Florence, and gave birth to the geniuses Michelangelo and Da Vinci. So, can we leave something that will be eaten by Japanese people 500 years from now? Now that economic growth has ended, the end of capitalism is in sight, and the world is closing down, what assets should we leave behind? ?I'm always thinking about it.''
He also mentioned tax reform as one of his current initiatives. Mr. Yamamoto is also active as the executive director of the National Federation of Art Dealers, and hopes that a tax system will be created to create a social structure in which things move, allowing the tens of trillions of yen worth of artworks in Japan to be liquidated. From now on, I would like to petition the Ministry of Finance together with the Agency for Cultural Affairs.


Mr. Yamamoto recently published ``Collections and Capitalism,'' a book in which he had a conversation with economist Kazuo Mizuno. By combining the perspectives of economics and art, the content is unique and attractive, allowing us to see a world that has never been seen before. ``I feel that Japanese people today have lost interest in thinking.If we can once again realize how interesting thinking is, our lives will be enriched. That's why the problem is that you lose yourself. People who are able to confirm who they are are prosperous. So, if they can get what they think is ``beautiful.'' I think that is also a form of richness."


Art and economics seem far apart at first glance. Mr. Yamamoto is probably the only art dealer in this world who can go back and forth between the two and present an interesting experience.



*The contents and information contained in this article are as of the time of publication.


Toyotsu Yamamoto

The eldest son of Takashi Yamamoto, the founder of Tokyo Gallery, Japan's first contemporary art gallery.
After graduating from the Department of Architecture, Faculty of Art and Design, Musashino Art University, she worked as a secretary to Tatsuo Murayama, a member of the House of Representatives, before joining Tokyo Gallery in 1981 and serving as its representative since 2000. He is a member of the All-Ginza Association Events Committee. He is a senior advisor at Art Fair Tokyo. He is a director of the Japan Contemporary Art Dealers Association. Special lecturer at Musashino Art University Department of Art and Culture.
In addition to participating in art fairs around the world and consulting on exhibitions and urban planning, he is also actively involved in many projects, including the excavation and rediscovery of classical Japanese expression and the development of Ginza.
In addition, he is active in a wide range of areas to revitalize the arts, such as nurturing young artists and giving lectures to students at universities and seminars.
His books include “Art Predicts the Future of Capitalism” (PHP Shinsho) and “Collections and Capitalism” (Kadokawa Shinsho)

Interview by Mio Shimamura Text by Mime Kihara

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