Art Collaboration Kyoto’s 2023 Edition Sees Strong Attendance, Steady Sales

Miles away from the hubbub of mega art fairs in Europe and the US, Art Collaboration Kyoto (ACK), an alternative approach to traditional art fairs, launched its third edition at the Kyoto International Convention Centre, which ran from October 27–30.

Held in Japan’s most picturesque, historically rich, and conservative city, ACK has enjoyed a positive reception from attendees across the region since its debut in 2021, primarily because of its promise of a less frenetic platform.

“The Japanese art scene—with rich history that dates back thousands of years—has always been dynamic and thriving, but we are conscious that it has been (re)gaining more international attention in recent years, thanks to the new generation of artists, collectors, and arts professionals that bring fresh and global perspectives to the scene,” Yukako Yamashita, ACK’s Program Director, told ARTnews.

“We are mindful that it’s important to continue this momentum to further elevate the art scene globally, but we must do so in a thoughtful way that does not compromise the quality and sincerity of what we have to offer. This mindset is very much reflected in how we operate ACK,” she added.

In this vein, ACK’s trademark feature involves each Japanese host gallery sharing a booth with an international collaborator of their choice. The last edition presented works by 64 galleries sharing 35 booths, comprising tall wooden walls similar to open crates at a warehouse, rendering an already small showcase even more refreshingly intimate and focused.

This year, ACK welcomed 33 new exhibitors, including leading international galleries like 47 Canal, Almine Rech, Flower Gallery, Karma, and Mendes Wood DM. “We have great ambitions to grow our audiences internationally and contribute to Kyoto’s art community, but we don’t want to rush anything,” said Yamashita. 

The Gallery Collaborations section paired 27 international galleries with 26 galleries from Japan, while ACK’s other gallery section, Kyoto Meetings, featured 11 presentations of works by artists related to the city.

View of ACK 2023.

Photo Moriya Yuki/Courtesy ACK

According to fair organizers, ACK doubled their physical footprint with its latest edition, while maintaining the number of exhibitors, with the intention to make the halls less crowded for both visitors and exhibitors. The expanded space also accommodated programs with partners, like Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group whose “MUFG Kogei Project” showcased artisans who used traditional techniques to make modern-day objects with high levels of craftsmanship. 

While a few collectors from Europe and the US said they found the overall layout less overstimulating than that of other fairs, this year’s increased physical space did not necessarily translate into the fair’s undeniably unique selling point, according to several international visitors and industry insiders who ARTnews spoke with on the ground.

“The previous iteration of the fair appeared to exhibit a more consistent curatorial approach. The smaller scale and a more cohesive curation of the fair space were aspects that garnered success,” said Natalia Dawid, a Tokyo-based director for Pearl Lam Galleries, which did not participate in the fair.

Last year’s Public Program section also took the fair’s layout into account, with the walking space between the booths used to create a more mediative and impactful art fair experience; 60 layers of sound artist Miyu Hosoi’s voice played in an otherworldly manner on speakers running on either side. This year’s Public Program, curated by Jam Acuzar, a Tokyo-based curator from the Philippines, took a different approach. Under the title “Beyond Glitch: Remapping Reality in a Broken World,” a slew of installations, in various negative spaces across the exhibition hall, created a more cluttered experience.

“The presence of engaging surprises last year—such as outdoor installations that invited us to explore, and to revel in the beauty of nearby surroundings and landscapes—was missed this time,” added Dawid, who noted several highlights outside the fair, including a Harold Ancart solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Foundation and a Zazen session led by Vice Abbot Ito Toryo at the Ryosoku-in Temple, which she said “elevated the spiritual quotient.”

View of TKG+’s booth at ACK 2023.

Courtesy TKG+

Nonetheless, a particular standout group display that impressed visitors with its “special circular theme” could be found at the booth of Taiwan’s major contemporary art gallery TKG+ and its host Japanese gallery ShugoArts.

“The circular form at first glance, serves as a window linking artists from both galleries together, which successfully attracted many attentions,” said TKG+ director Shelly Wu, who recently joined the ACK selection committee. “Michael Lin’s round table installation not only symbolizes people coming together but also cleverly incorporates Taiwanese floral patterns, creating a dialogue between cultural memory and contemporary art. Jane Lee offers insights of her Kyoto impression and Japanese culture, creating a unique work surrounding the theme of nature and human interaction.”

However, based on sales highlights shared by fair organizers and the rare few galleries, it does seem that Japanese artists and galleries sold more works than their international counterparts.

In the Gallery Collaborations section, the internationally renowned Mizuma Art Gallery (based in Tokyo and with a location in Singapore) and Australian gallery Sullivan+Strumpf sold several works by Miyanaga Aiko, each priced in the range of ¥385,000 to ¥550,000 (around $2,500 to $3,600). Tokyo’s Kotaro Nukaga and blue-chip gallery Almine Rech sold a 9.5-foot-by-6.75-foot painting by Tomokazu Matsuyamato to an Asian collector, while Misako & Rosen (Tokyo) and 47 Canal (New York) sold four paintings by Trevor Shimizu for a total of $200,000.

Works by Trevor Shimizu on view in the joint booth of Misako & Rosen and 47 Canal.

Photo Moriya Yuki/Courtesy ACK

By the end of the first preview day, Charles Fong, a Hong Kong–based director of Rossi & Rossi, shared that he had not sold any works by Thai artist Mit Jai Inn presented at the ACK booth, but his partnering Japanese gallerist Yoshiaki-san had sold a few photographs.

Galleries presenting local artists in the Kyoto Meetings section, however, saw brisk sales. Art Court Gallery sold several works by Yoshioka Chihiro, each work in the price range of ¥60,000 to ¥70,000 ($395 to $461). Taguchi Fine Art sold 13 works by Shigeru Nishikawa for approximately ¥6.6 million ($43,500) in total. Taguchi Fine Art also saw 14 works by Shigeru Nishikawa sell for an approximate total amount of ¥5.5 million ($36,000). Tezukayama Gallery sold a painting by Atsuchi Tomoko for ¥550,000 ($3,600) and several works by Hirano Yasuko in the range of ¥132,000 to ¥550,000 ($870 to $3,600) each.

In contrast, Karma sold 10 works from its booth to several Japanese, Chinese, and American collectors. Neugerriemschneider sold a work by Olafur Eliasson to a Japanese collector. Back at the Gallery Collaborations section, Taro Nasu and Galerie Eva Presenhuber sold Untitled (Sarvisalo, Finland, Apple Blossom Petals 9) by Sam Falls for $93,500, and PREFER CRYING IN A LIMO TO LAUGHING IN A BUS by John Giorno for $49,500. Tokyo mainstay SCAI The Bathouse and Antwerp’s Axel Vervoordt sold a painting by Bosco Sodi for over $100,000 to a Japanese collector.

Ultimately, it seems the selling point of the fair is not necessarily to actually sell, even for participating art dealers travelling with their wares from across the world.

“With a strong turnout from the region, we were able to gain new clients and introduce collectors to our program,” said Jack Eisenberg, a director at LA’s Matthew Brown Gallery. “With the help of Blum & Poe’s (Tokyo based) team, we had very productive conversations even when there was a language barrier.”

Fong, of Rossi & Rossi, agreed, “This is our second year with ACK, and from my point of view, the main collaboration aspect helps us with connecting with people that we otherwise would not have known—mainly due to the language barrier.”