Wahei Aoyama on Why His Tokyo-Based Gallery Is Sitting Out the Fairs in Favor of a Pop-Up Exhibition in New York

Yufuku's exhibition, on view through May 7, offers works by leading Japanese sculptors.

Takafumi Asakura, Manifesting the Existential Duality of the Path Ahead (2016). Courtesy of Yufuku Gallery.

Frieze Week is back in New York, but not all the action is taking place on Randall’s Island. Take, for example, Yufuku, a Toyko-based gallery which has come to the city with a slightly different approach.

In the past, Yufuku, which was founded in 1993 to bring Japanese contemporary art and design to larger audience, has participated in global art fairs including TEFAF Maastricht and TEFAF New York. But this week the gallery is making its US return with a pop-up exhibition in New York. The temporary show coincides with Frieze and TEFAF, but unlike the fair booths, it offers a decidedly more private and intimate experience—which is fitting, given the subtle, elegant work being shown.

The exhibition includes sculptures by longtime gallery artists as Sueharu Fukami, Ken Mihara, Niyoko Ikuta, and Shigekazu Nagae, as well as younger names like Osamu Yokoyama, Kanjiro Moriyama, and Hidenori Tsumori.

artnet spoke with the gallery’s owner and director, Wahei Aoyama, about the exhibition and the decision to exhibit outside the hustle and bustle of the fairs.

Wahei Aoyama, owner and director of Yufuku Gallery. Courtesy of Yufuku Gallery.

Can you tell us about what we can expect at the pop-up edition of Yufuku in New York?

We plan to exhibit about 15 contemporary works of art by living Japanese artists in various mediums, including ceramics, painting, glass, and metal, among others. Some highlights will be a stunning new Sueharu Fukami porcelain sculpture, a large four-panel painting by Takafumi Asakura, as well as the latest works by such established artists as Ken Mihara and Niyoko Ikuta, among others. It’s going to be an eclectic mix of media, and we think the works will be visually and technically stunning.

Niyoko Ikuta, Ku-122 (Free Essence-122) (2018). Courtesy of Yufuku Gallery.

How did this exhibition come about? What does the pop-up model offer you that a fair booth does not?

Every year we also exhibit in New York, most recently in May 2017 at the inaugural edition of TEFAF New York at the Armory. Although we hope to return to TEFAF in 2019, this year we decided to change the way we approach our New York City clientele by creating a show in a more intimate setting. This led to the idea of a pop-up, which will be a far quieter event for our clients than the frenetic buzz of an art fair. Being able to use the space of the venerable Kapoor Galleries, located just a block away from the Armory, was a large factor as well.

Hidenori Tsumori, Remains of the Day (2018). Courtesy of Yufuku Gallery.

You’re based in Tokyo but have participated in some of the biggest fairs in the US for many years now. Why is it important for the gallery to be visible in the US market?

The US market is the largest market in the world, and we really enjoy being here. The clients are great and the ability to reach out to a wider contemporary art audience who haven’t yet been accustomed to or even seen contemporary Japanese art is very important to us. We do not cater to traditional tastes, but to a clientele who enjoys cutting-edge contemporary aesthetics made with a reverence for traditional techniques and materials.

We’ve been exhibiting at Art Miami for five years now, and many of the clients we’ve met in Miami have homes in New York as well. For this reason, it seems only natural that we would say “hi” to our friends in New York City. We’ll also be exhibiting for the first time at the Seattle Art Fair in August and we look forward to increasing our presence on the West Coast as well. 

Sueharu Fukami, Esprit (Standing in the Wind) (2018). Courtesy of Yufuku Gallery.

Pop-Up Yufuku NYC is on view through May 7 at Kapoor Galleries on 34 E. 67th Street, New York. The exhibition is open for private viewing May 2-3 and to the general public May 4-7. See the catalogue for the show here.

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