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On the Waterfront of Tokyo


An abandoned warehouse in east Tokyo houses some of the city’s most cutting-edge galleries. Story and photographs by LARA DAY

Published on May 13, 2010

It’s a familiar lament among art lovers in Tokyo: locating galleries can be notoriously tricky. Scattered across the city’s vast metropolitan sweep, they’re often tucked away inside anonymous residential or industrial blocks. But in recent years, a few art enclaves have emerged, with one in particular proving to be a must for gallery-goers. Head east across the Sumida River to Kiyosumi, Koto-ku’s harborfront warehouse district, where you’ll find an unassuming seven-story former warehouse opposite a sprawling concrete plant. There’s little hint of the complex’s artistic contents, but on the top three floors, you’ll find some of the city’s best galleries, showing challenging artwork in lofty, white spaces reminiscent of New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Here’s the lowdown on our five picks for an afternoon of gallery-hopping.

Dealer Shugo Satani, another heavyweight in the Japanese art world, represents international names such as German conceptual artist Carsten Höller and homegrown art stars. Look out for the work of Yasumasa Morimura, famous for his playful self-portraits that borrow iconic images from art history, endowing them with his face and body. Also in November is a show by Leiko Ikemura, a Germany-based Japanese artist known for her dreamy female fi gures.

5th floor, 1-3-2 Kiyosumi, Koto-ku; +813 5621 6434;


A giant in Tokyo’s contemporary art scene, Tomio Koyama launched the careers of Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, two of Japan’s most internationally recognized art stars. In 2005, he moved into the warehouse, bringing along with him Shugo Satani, Taka Ishii and other fellow gallerists. His eponymous gallery enjoys pride of place in the compound, occupying the warehouse’s top floor and encompassing several lofty exhibition areas, including a large, central gallery—a rarity in space-scarce Tokyo. Expect everything from young, emerging Japanese artists such as Makiko Kudo and Hiroshi Sugito to established overseas names like U.S. post-minimalist painter Richard Tuttle. Exhibitions this month include shows by British video artist Marcus Coates and painter Atsushi Fukui.

7th floor, 1-3-2 Kiyosumi, Koto-ku; + 813 6222 1006;

A bright corridor draws art enthusiasts into this impeccably curated space. Originally known for his emphasis on photography—representing such local luminaries as Daido Moriyama and Nobuyoshi Araki—Ishii has introduced Tokyo gallery-goers to the works of international artists such as conceptualists Wilfredo Prieto of Cuba and Germany’s Ignacio Uriarte, whose recent joint exhibition “I Am Making Art” featured a duochrome map installation made of spilled black coffee and spilled milk left to degrade on the gallery’s bare concrete floor.

5th floor, 1-3-2 Kiyosumi, Koto-ku; +813 5646 6050;

It might be small in size, but this gallery’s roster features big international names such as Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly and Florian Sussmayr. The gallery’s Japanese artists are no less prominent, including Jiro Takamatsu, nationally acclaimed for his shadow drawings and paintings, and Yukinori Yanagi, who ruffled feathers with his explicitly political, edgy ant-farm installation works.

5th floor, 1-3-2 Kiyosumi, Koto-ku; +813 5646 2355;


The son of one of Tokyo’s most eminent gallerists, Hiromi Yoshii carved out his own niche by showing edgy, young Japanese artists such as Keisuke Maeda, Yoshitaka Azuma and Hiromix, as well as avant-garde foreigners like Turner Prize–winner Martin Creed. There are also plenty of opportunities for people-watching: openings here tend to attract Tokyo’s hipsters and fashion set.

6th floor, 1-3-2 Kiyosumi, Koto-ku; + 813 5620 0555;


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Hiromi Yoshii art gallery, Tokyo art gallery, Japanese art, Asia travel
  • Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo art gallery, Japan art gallery, Asia travel
  • Hiromi Yoshii art gallery, Tokyo art gallery, Japanese art, Asia travel
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