Motoko Kawabata is the founder and curator of the Akira Art Room gallery in Ashiya, Japan. She is a gallerist with a heart. What does that mean in today’s challenging art world and market? She strictly chooses art pieces that speak to her on a deeper level. Following that instinct, she flew to New York, left the corporate business, and never looked back. We were speaking to Motoko about how one painting can change your career path. She explained the difference between the Western and Japanese approaches to art and interior design and how she sees the future of NFTs.
I would like you to start with your initial interest in art. What was it that sparked it in the first place?
It has absolutely nothing to do with art! Since I graduated from college, I have been working for a trading company that deals with steel materials. They are high-quality steel products that Japan is distributing worldwide. On that job, I got to know the dynamics of global business, and I learned a lot. In that same period, I found an art piece on the Internet that blew my mind. That was the artwork painted by New York-based artist Hodaya Louis, and I went to New York to meet her. It was the first time I spoke with an artist about the philosophy and ideas behind her work. Then, I became interested in bringing such beautiful artworks to Japan and sharing their creators’ thoughts and passions. So, one piece of art brought me here from the world of steel. Is this what you call the power of art?
On the right “Gilded,” painting by Hodaya Louis
Where does your passion for interior design come from?
I have never studied interior design, but I have always loved to look at foreign interior design magazines. And, when I watch a Hollywood movie, I am more interested in the interior of houses than the main characters. So I think I always had a latent passion for it.
Can you tell us something about the concept of the Akira Art Room?
The interaction between art, design, and lifestyle has always been important to us. So, instead of displaying art pieces in empty spaces, we showcase them in the living space to give an idea or mere suggestion of how they can stand out in a room, so perhaps the client can imagine it in its own private space, a home.
What type of art does your gallery specialize in?
It is contemporary art by living artists, regardless of nationality.
Can you briefly outline the artists you represent and the criteria for their selection?
There are no specific criteria for the selection. Like the relationship between art dealers and artists in the 19th century, I also want to work with artists whose work and personality I find attractive.
What are some of your favorite decor, design, or architectural elements in your gallery?
The interior design of Akira Art Room is the work of Nobuko Furuichi Interiors. When they were contemplating the style and concept of the gallery, they started by getting to know me and my way of life. They taught me that interior design is more than just selecting curtains and lighting but rather a way of life. In other words, I expressed my beliefs, and they acted toward them.
Akira Art Room
What makes Japanese interior design unique, and on what design principles is it based?
Japanese concepts of aesthetics are based on simplicity, a natural aesthetic, and the philosophy of wabi-sabi.
Which principles have you incorporated in your gallery interior?
The symmetry of the interior was created by having a fireplace as a focal point. It has also created balance and beauty in the space and accentuated an art piece. The white effect used here enhances the art. They were all suggested by Nobuko Furuichi Interiors, and I love them.
Could you explain to us some basic aesthetic differences in terms of interior between Japan and Western countries?
Japanese interior design is the aesthetics of subtraction, while the Western interior design is the aesthetics of addition.
How would you describe the current state of the Japanese art market?
Japan‘s share in the global art market is approximately just 4%. In other words, there is a lot of potential for future growth.
What is needed to introduce lesser-known artists to the Japanese public?
Overseas artists have a different sense of beauty from their Japanese counterparts, and that is what makes them so unique and beautiful. And not only their art pieces but also the stories they weave are very emotional and inspiring. My mission is to transmit the essence of their messages to the Japanese public, which will expand the global network of expression and creativity and enrich our cultures.
How do you attribute the correct value to a painting?
In my opinion, three factors determine the price of an artwork: aesthetic value, rarity, and the balance between supply and demand. But to be honest, the principles of art are very mysterious, and I love that. The first step towards creating a meaningful world is acknowledging unfamiliar values.
What is your process for finding pieces for your collection?
There is no specific process. I collect art pieces that speak to my heart. And I like to say whether you own or rent, a cohesive home art collection makes your space uniquely yours.
Do you have a favorite art piece in your collection?
It is hard to choose one artwork from my collection! So, please allow me to introduce two of the best pieces.
This piece is a collage of silver foil, ink, and Japanese paper by Taiwanese artist Ms. Shu-Hui Hsieh. She uses calligraphy, ink, and washi paper that gives the impression of oriental traditions. I love that she incorporates these traditional materials into contemporary art. Separating and collaging paper to her seems like a human being torn apart and put together again.
The second artwork on the left, titled “Golden Hour“ was created by Ele Pack, England.
“Golden Hour” is the first artwork I have ever commissioned. I bought it when I was preparing for the opening of my gallery in 2020.
You are among the first gallerists to take an interest in blockchain technology and NFT, and soon you will host an educational seminar. Can you tell us something about that?
Yes!! I will host the seminar about NFT on 2nd April 2023. Honestly, many people are skeptical about NFT in Japan right now. But I believe that soon, NFT will be integrated into our daily lives more naturally. I like to make this seminar a step towards it.
You work in spaces other than galleries by relating the artist’s work to diverse environments and events.
Yes. I feel that art is a necessity in all aspects of our daily lives. Many times I heard wonderful conversations made in the art gatherings. I hope to create more such moments in various places.
Has much changed in the way that you work over the years?
Yes, it has completely changed since I started working in the art field. However, the core business principle in Japan is “Sanpo-Yoshi.” It means “good in three directions.” We think commerce should benefit the buyer, the seller, and society. This business concept emerged from the experiences of the merchants who traded with other regions of the country. So, the detailed approaches have changed slightly, but the core remains the same.
What are your future projects?
I will continue to promote NFT art here and invite artists to Japan to hold exhibitions. I would also like to be involved in the Osaka Expo in 2025.
Vesna Filipovic and Vukota Brajovic for Fashionela