The art world is like many other fields of endeavor, in that there are many people involved; each approaching the topic from a different perspective. Galleries and curators foster the development of artists, acting as producers in providing opportunities for artists' work to be shown. Through such people, the public receives the opportunity to come into contact with numerous works of art.
Furthermore, collectors who gather artistic works, while usually keeping a low profile, nevertheless play a vital role in the art world.
Kenta Oka began collecting art about 20 years ago, and since then, he has viewed and collected many pieces, while polishing both his artistic eye and aesthetic tastes. These days, while still visiting as many exhibitions as possible, he writes articles and columns regarding art topics, both for his own blog as well as for print media. He also participates in various art events, acting as a tour guide, speaker, and even as an auctioneer, using his light and rhythmic style of speech to attract and captivate audiences.
What first opened Oka's eyes to art, however, was not a typical art exhibition; rather it was the experience of redecorating his home.
«left» Leading an auction at ART OSAKA 2008 (c) ART OSAKA Executive Committee
«center» Acting as a tour guide at ART FAIR TOKYO 2008 (c) ART FAIR TOKYO
«right» Visiting Chu Enoki's studio
Q: When did you first encounter contemporary art?
Oka: That's correct. I was never moved to paint myself, nor was I inspired to take up photography. I first became interested in art when I was trying to redecorate my home. I bought some stylish furniture and wanted to add a piece of art that matched it. The print that I initially purchased was a poster done by a certain artist; however, it did not really sit well with the décor. It was at this point in time that I first started paying more attention to paintings. I should point out that I am the sort of person who doesn’t compromise; I tend to search for things until I find what I want. Anyway, being dissatisfied with my initial purchase, I immediately retraced my steps to the same shop and I picked out another painting that I really liked. You could call it an abstract piece. It was a really eye-opening moment when I hung the new print and realized that my home was suddenly transformed, it looked so much different. The new painting changed not just my home but also my views regarding art. I could not help myself from becoming more attracted to art. Until that time, art was something in which I had little interest. I suppose this marked the point from which I started visiting different art galleries.
Q: When did you first encounter contemporary art?
Oka: I started my journey as an art collector by checking out galleries at various department stores. I referred to guidebooks about galleries and continued to visit a wide range of different places. I originally preferred art works that were gregarious in terms of their usage of color. Anyway, after I met a fellow collector whom I now consider to be my "master" with regard to all things artistic, I expanded the range of my artistic searches and began seriously looking at black-and-white works as well.
Yayoi Kusama was the first contemporary artist with whom I truly became fascinated. I came to learn about GUTAI and other contemporary art groups and movements here in the Kansai Region. The most shocking experience I have had was visiting an exhibition held by Yasumasa Morimura, probably one of the most recognized contemporary artists in Kansai. Anyway, in the course of my artistic travels, I have met so many different people, and have been invited to opening parties at numerous galleries, many of which I was previously unaware. I have also had many opportunities to meet and talk to different artists.
Q: What standards do you use when choosing works for your collection?
Oka: In principle, I tend to rely on my instincts. I do my own research and I won't hesitate to ask gallery owners about pieces that interest me. I don't make decisions based on the name value of artists; I consider that to be paramount to buying products based on brand names alone. I select works that really satisfy me, these tend to be pieces for which I can appreciate the full potential of what is being offered.
Gallery owners want to discover and foster talented artists, because these can be people who eventually bring gallery owners profits. At the same time, artists want to sharpen their artistic abilities and get better recognition/exposure for their work. Meanwhile, collectors like me want to find and buy fine works for our own collections. As such, it is necessary that all three parties maintain good relationships with one another, relationships that offer both stimulation and inspiration to all parties.
Q: You often visit exhibitions outside the Kansai Region. As an experienced collector, what are you particularly aware of with regard to the art scene here in Kansai at the moment?
Oka: There have been many cases in which artists who have sold out in Tokyo rarely sell out here in Kansai. It may be because of the limited number of buyers here in Kansai; however, this situation saddens me.
The other issue is that we only have one art college here in Osaka. This means fewer artists holding personal exhibitions. It also means fewer opportunities for people here in Osaka to come into contact with art. I think these factors will eventually impact the art scene here in Osaka.
At the same time, however, many Kansai artists are very talented. When I find young and interesting artists, I try to support them by promoting their exhibitions by word of mouth, and personally introducing them to galleries that I know.
I feel that standup comedy has become so popular in Osaka because of the honest, friendly personality of local people. These are people who stop comedians like me on the street and tell us that they really enjoy our performances. This sort of local identity really plays an important role in the culture of Osaka. I hope that art becomes more invasive in Osaka so that people are further encouraged to know and learn something about it. I am trying to do my part in order that this happens.
Q: Your blog has been popular among art fans who use the blog as a guide regarding the latest art exhibitions.
Oka: I am not trying to cover everything that happens, rather I select exhibitions that "ring my bell" in terms of the interest they stir within me. Art critics would tend to focus on the artistic quality of artistic works, however, I write only about what really interests me from the perspective of being an art collector. I try to encourage my readers to visit top-quality exhibitions, and to consider buying art pieces if they are fortunate enough to come across something that they really like.
I want my blog to serve as a "fuse" that lights peoples' curiosity regarding a wide variety of art.
Oka showed a true commitment and passion for art during the interview. This highlighted the idea that it is not enough for media to flood the airwaves with advertising when attempting to create excitement regarding Osaka's art scene. What are needed are people like Kenta Oka, people willing to enthusiastically communicate their fascination with art.
Kenta Oka Blog (in Japanese only)