Kenta Torimoto: Championing Japanese art in Shanghai

Kenta Torimoto: Championing Japanese art in Shanghai

Shanghai’s first Japanese art curator describes how he hopes to transform the Shanghai art scene
Kenta Torimoto
So much better than the blue canvas your parents called modern art. Kenta Torimoto organizes art exhibitions, like this one, of up-and-coming Chinese and Japanese artists.

Kenta TorimotoThe face of Japanese art in Shanghai: Kenta TorimotoCNNGo: You’re lauded as one of the most active Japanese creators outside Japan. What brought you to Shanghai?

Kenta Torimoto:
I was born in a small town in Hokkaido, the northern part of Japan in 1980. I grew up in Japan’s post-bubble period when economic stagnation overshadowed the whole country. During this time though, China was growing rapidly and rather drastically. I wanted to witness that growth for myself.

I moved to Dalian in 2004 and started visiting galleries in Shanghai on weekends. That was a fascinating experience. I remember seeing locals pop in a gallery and buy expensive art pieces as if they was buying oranges at the supermarket. Some time later, I started working at one of the galleries on Moganshan Lu and since 2006 I have been running an art management office called Office 339.

CNNGo: How does being Japanese affect your job in the Shanghai art scene?

Kenta Torimoto:
I don’t think being Japanese is all that important to being an art curator in Shanghai. I work with artists from many countries. However, there were no Japanese curators based in Shanghai introducing Japanese artists and bridging Chinese-Japanese art before I came here. So, I guess there was some meaning to being Japanese in Shanghai art scene then and to some extent today as well.

[Shanghai] is a “you can make your dream come true” city as long as you keep up your energy. Although a lot of people try and divide their time between Asia’s major cities, you can’t do that with Shanghai, you need to be based here to dealing with the rapid pace of the city’s development.— Kenta Torimoto

CNNGo: Are there any popular artists among the Japanese community in Shanghai?

Kenta Torimoto:
Unlike many Western communities here, the Japanese people in Shanghai still don’t have an appreciation of contemporary art. The community as a whole is just not there now, so you won’t see many Japanese people at exhibitions or gallery openings in Shanghai -- yet. So I guess the answer to your question is, none.

CNNGo: A lot has been said (and written) about the Chinese art market. How do you see the Shanghai art scene today?

Kenta Torimoto:
 People in Shanghai purchasing art pieces as investment have disappeared. Purchasing power was low, almost zero, in 2009. That said, we have hope for 2010 as the Shanghai market seems to be having a bit of a revival which was reflected in recent local auctions of Chinese art. I hope that artists, buyers and sellers learn from this disastrous experience and can build up a healthy art market for future.

CNNGo: What can art do for China and its people?

Kenta Torimoto:
I believe that art can help create a society where people are free to figure out their own dreams. I‘m challenged every day to make that happen. Beyond art’s influences on social, political and economic factors, I believe that it can help more people to pursue their vision in life.

CNNGo: Which artist do you want to work with in future?

Kenta Torimoto:
For a Chinese artist, Xu Zhen (徐震). He always surprises me as he presents his art in all new, different and unexpected forms at every exhibition. As for a Japanese artist, I’d like to work with Taira Inoue (井上平) because of the grand scale of his work and his vision. Kenta TorimotoWhen you're office is an art gallery, you look forward to going to work.

CNNGo: Who are the best Japanese artists that people can check out for themselves in Shanghai right now?

Kenta Torimoto:
Ikumi Nagasawa, Osamu Watanabeand, Ai Ryumon and Megumi Morimoto are four Japanese artists that I highly recommended to people. Their work is being shown at the ANIMAMIX Biennial at Shanghai MoCA through January 31.

CNNGo: What is Shanghai to you?

Kenta Torimoto:
This is a “you can make your dream come true” city as long as you keep up your energy. Although a lot of people try and divide their time between Asia’s major cities, you can’t do that with Shanghai, you need to be based here to deal with the rapid pace of the city’s development. I believe that Shanghai will be the center of the Chinese art scene near future.

getting there

Office 339
Office 106, Bldg 1, 696 Weihai Lu
威海路696号1楼106室
tel +86 21 6267 0176
www.office339.com