François Pinault

Rising Japanese stars at bargain prices to be found at Geisai

François Pinault was a judge at the vast but inexpensive Geisai fair


When the Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami launched the first ever Geisai fair in Tokyo in 2001, he described it as “a revolutionary art event of the 21st century that will pave the way for a friendlier, interactive art world”. Since then, the biennial art festival has continued to show cutting-edge Japanese artists in intimate, open-market style settings, supported by Murakami’s company Kaikai Kiki.

Geisai 9, held on 12 March, invited high-profile industry experts such as François Pinault, owner of the luxury-goods company PPR and the auction house Christie’s, and architect Tadao Ando, to join the panel of judges (previous participants include Yayoi Kusama, Yoshitomo Nara, and New York artist David Ellis, among others). The judges’ awards for young artists, who each take their own stands, bring them a step closer to the professional art industry. For others, the day-long Geisai event offers a relaxed environment to mix with the 10,000 or so visitors.

Prices ranged from ¥100 ($0.80) postcards, to sculptures and installations priced at more than ¥100,000 ($850). Second-time Geisai participant Rokkaku Ayako had a small booth overflowing with manga-like acrylic paint illustrations of girls on cardboard sheets, going for ¥3,000 to ¥10,000 depending on size ($25 to $85). “I show my work in Geisai and Design Festa (another biennial art event in Tokyo) because it’s cheaper than exhibiting by myself,” says Ayako. The self-taught 24-year old’s stand attracted many young art fans, as well as the eye of one of the judges, gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin, who was seen buying her work.

The coveted François Pinault award went to the winner of the 2004 Maebashi Art Competition, Junichi Saito, for his risqué sculptures and works of art depicting Japanese school girls. Museum curators and collectors exchanged business cards with Saito and admired his work, ranging from ¥70,000 ($590) for a nude sculpture, up to ¥30,000 ($250) for his female torso, The Whereabouts of Lust which won the award in 2004.

Sculpture, installations and performance art were everywhere at Geisai 9, with a distinct lack of photography. “Through past Geisai events, young artists have realised that the market for photography is extremely small in Japan,” says gallery owner Tomio Koyama. “As a result, many photographers seek work overseas rather than attend domestic events like this one.”

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 168 April 2006