Japan Is Trying to Lure a World-Class Art Fair to Tokyo With Tax Incentives and a Big Open Art Space. Will the Gamble Pay Off?

Japanese authorities and some eager dealers believe the country's art market could rebound to its former high status.

View of Tokyo. Photo: Hitoshi Yamada/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

For at least a year, Japanese authorities have been vying for a bigger spot in the booming international art market. They have worked to make it easier for galleries to transact at art fairs and free port areas already by easing tax rules and importation duties.

The country now seems to be making an even more concerted push, with Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs inviting international art fair organizers to hold an event in Tokyo, possibly as soon as 2025, according to Japanese media.

The agency is looking at the National Art Center in Tokyo (NACT), one of the largest art institutions in Japan, as a potential fair site. NACT, which is in the Minato Ward of Tokyo, does not have a permanent collection, so its expansive 150,000 square feet of exhibition space is used to host temporary and touring shows. 

Neither NACT nor Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs was immediately available to respond to Artnet News’s request for comment.

National Art Center Tokyo Building. Photo by: Prisma by Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Last year, Pace president and CEO Marc Glimcher predicted that the easing of tax laws could bolster Japan’s position on the international art scene, telling Nikkei Asia: “If Japan truly reopens, it has the potential, once again, to become one of the centers of art market in Asia.” He added that Pace is “considering” opening a location in the country and was already at “some level of conversations.”

According to Nikkei, he praised deregulation enacted last February that would allow art galleries, auctions and art fairs in customs areas without import procedures and payment of duties and taxes. But there have not been any further developments on a Pace location in Japan, a gallery representative confirmed to Artnet News. 

Some industry experts said that, while they had not directly heard of major fair organizers making a play for the region, it would not be surprising, especially given all the uncertainty in Hong Kong. The Chinese port city, a certified arts hub, continues to grapple with ever-tighter restrictions resulting from a national security law that hampers freedom of expression there. 

Another observer noted how hard-hit Japan was in the 1980s, when a frenzy of art buying resulted in a speculative bubble that imploded. The country’s art market has never reached its previous heights in the intervening decades. 

Japan’s current mainstay market event, Art Fair Tokyo, which has been held annually since 2005, has a heavy regional presence, with most of its exhibitors hailing from inside the country. Frieze, meanwhile, is moving forward with the first edition of an international fair in nearby Seoul, South Korea, this September, and there’s no doubt they scouted carefully for potential locations in Asia.

On the other hand, given how beautiful the country is and how much it has to offer, especially with the nascent tax benefits, Japan could be a great alternative for another player, some observers said.

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