A big thank you to everybody who came by to see the drawings and who offered your support. I really do appreciate it. Artists egos are very fickle. I might be confident when my drawings are hanging in a gallery, but I probably will be doubting myself in the studio when working on more drawings. That is just the nature of the beast. Now that everything is packed up, I think I can stop and reflect upon the Stella Nova show at the Artcomplex Center of Tokyo (ACT). Was it a roaring success? Did it surpass my expectations? Maybe not. Was it a moderate success? Did it match my expectations? Yes, I think it did.
I have learned more about the ACT gallery and their shows as I went through the process. ACT is a nonprofit organization and gets some money from the Shinjuku government. This means that they do not have to charge as much as rental galleries that charge hundreds of dollars per day or competitions that charge per submission. After you are selected, they charge a fee of several hundred dollars (approximately $300 in my case) to cover costs for marketing and for the reception. They make the marketing materials, including postcards, posters, and website, as well as signage for all the artwork. They also do all the preparation for a reception and provide boxed wine and light snacks. For an emerging or re-emerging artist, that is an affordable way to step into the Tokyo art scene.
ACT also has open calls for many group shows during the year. I did not realize that they seem to constantly be asking for submissions. I recently learned that they were collecting for their next Stella Nova search a few days after this one ended. They also have an art fair for which they accept submissions. How many art fairs occur in Tokyo every year? Tokyo Art Fair, 3331 Arts Chiyoda, Spiral, ACT, and the list goes on. Overkill perhaps? Even in the show I was in, they had three rooms of “new stars” that they wanted to highlight. They even referred to us as Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3 instead of using the room numbers. In the fourth room on the second floor, they were featuring new printmakers who were possibly new stars as well. And the largest room on the same floor had two or three smaller pieces by artists who I assume were ACT’s rising stars in the past.
Despite not being celebrated in a singular show of note, I still say that the experience was a success. It was a step up from the free-for-all events such as Design Festa and the Yokohama Art Department. It was affordably priced and longer than one week; I did not have to babysit the show every day or make or print any promotional material or signs. These are issues when you rent a space for a show in Japan. The two staff members that I dealt with regularly were very professional: they did not treat me like an idiot and insist on using poor English just because I am not Japanese, unlike the Kuroneko delivery service I used to ship my drawings to the gallery. At least one woman was on hand to communicate in English if necessary, but she did not insist that I use one language or another. Those two understood that I did not want to be referred to by only first name in any promotional material and listed my last name first just like the Japanese artists. Although I had provided the spellings for my name in English and Japanese, they also did not insist on typing my name in ABC like some places do only with the non-Japanese names. I appreciated that very much. Not everybody is willing to do that, as exemplified by the employee who did the introductions at the reception. (She stumbled over the pronunciation of my last name although it was written in a phonetic alphabet and then chose to call me, “Michelle-san”, instead. She probably checked the readings for the Chinese characters in the Japanese names, so why didn’t she check the pronunciation of my name?) I was, however, impressed overall by how organized and thorough they were.
I was also impressed with how they sorted the artwork. Group shows at other galleries, including much larger municipal ones, tend to be a hodgepodge with a mishmash or colours, styles, and media. My senses get overloaded when I go to one of those shows. At ACT, they divided the artists into three categories or three acts.
Act 1 seemed to be representational work that was slightly illustrative. The artwork was a mixture of painting, drawing, collage, mixed media, and digital work. Only one artist did not do any figurative work.
Act 2 was definitely the Kawaii or Cute room. All of the artwork here was very illustrative.
Act 3 was the room I was in. Although the room had a variety of sculpture, drawing, and painting, all were in a category traditionally regarded as fine arts. Chiaki Fujihara’s ice cream might be called kawaii, but the rest was not. I am still surprised that my work was selected by this gallery, because they seem to focus primarily on illustrative or manga-influenced artwork. I was still happy that my artwork was selected though.
The printmaking show in the fourth room was not officially part of the Stella Nova show but it could have easily been Act 4.
I was also glad that I had a chance to show my drawings to my friends in Tokyo even if I only had enough space to show these three pieces.
All of the artwork was on sale. Mine were larger and more expensive than most, and collectors focused on smaller, cheaper items both at this show and at the 3331 Arts Chiyoda art fair. Everybody likes a bargain, but they were still selective. Lots of pieces supposedly sell each show, and the gallery gets thirty percent. I did not do any works on paper, which tend to be cheaper than other two-dimensional artwork, so I am not surprised that mine did not sell. I am also amassing work for a solo show and do not really want to sell anything before that. I will need everything to fill up the space if I get as large space as I want.
Meeting other artists is always a perk when in a group show, too. Chiaki Fujihara (far right in the photo), who did the ice-cream in Act 3, and I clicked almost immediately. Richard Stephen Taylor (far left) and Tosso (between the two women) already knew each other from Yamanashi. Hiroshi Maekawa, one of the etchers from the printmaking show, was glad to share his sake with all of us even though he is very shy.
By coincidence Miki Takahashi, the artist who did the spooky digital paintings in Act 1, turned out to be friends with one of my friends. We only learned this on the final day when my friend came to the show. It would have been nice if we had had a chance to meet and chat earlier.
One of my few complaints is that it would have been nice if the artists all had badges saying, “ARTIST”, and if the artists could have met each other earlier. I guess there were too many artists involved in the three shows to make it possible, but it would have been nice for all of us to do some networking.
I also realized that some people and some galleries might not approach me, since many Japanese people assume that others cannot speak Japanese. I think the person in charge of the show did that, too. I never thought language could be a barrier for visual artists but now I think it might. Some places with English-speaking staff like their foreigners right out of school and off the plane, but many places deal with local clientele and only speak Japanese. (I just choose to write my blog in English, because Japanese would take too long. As it is, the digital aspects take me long enough to do in English.)
All in all it was a positive experience. It was the push I needed to update my CV in English and Japanese, and I also did the same with an artist statement. I know how have those in digital form and in print mounted on foam board for future shows, except I need to add the Stella Nova show to the list. One new drawing was finished in time, and I have plans for more. I have made my artistic debut in Tokyo, one of the biggest cities in the world. Next step, solo show.