From business to science, the number of situations where people advocate for the necessity of art is dramatically increasing. Although the world doesn’t look different under the influence of the corona pandemic, people’s minds are changing; under such change, how does everyone’s perception of art transform?
Gallerists, artists, and collectors are now researching and trying to predict what kind of art will appear in the post-corona generation.
In this seventh installment, we are joined by editor and art producer Shigeo Goto. Through his gallery/publication house”GP + abp”, he has introduced a lot of up-and-coming Japanese photographers to the world and contributed to the rise in popularity of “Japanese photo” in Europe. He was among the first to thematize essential concepts for surviving contemporary art scene such as “art thinking,” “art strategy,” and “value generation” and has trained and coached young people at the At Kyoto University of the Arts, as well as at the online school A & E developed in cooperation with CAMPFIRE. “I’ve always been interested in people’s talents because the world is driven by all these talents,” says Goto.
As a visionary who has independently considered the current state of the global art scene and has led artists to the future of it, how is he looking at the art scene to come? He speaks to us, citing three keywords.
The Necessity of Infrastructure and Internet Skills for Instant Access to New Collectors and Patrons
――First of all, I think the coronavirus pandemic had a massive impact on the art scene. Simultaneously, it shed light on the problems and contradictions of it as well. How do you see the current situation?
Shigeo Goto (hereinafter referred to as Goto): Firstly, in terms of market aspect of it, it is true that there were many galleries that had to close the real space due to the pandemic. However, overseas mega galleries such as David Zwerner and Hauser & Worth still haven’t lost sales. Why? In fact, for several years, they have been proactive in developing online systems. They have successfully built unique platforms for presenting and selling works online even when the real space is closed. However, many Japanese galleries had not prepared for such innovations.
They had not been able to organize their own business format in response to the fluidization of the art world and the shift of social infrastructure. That is a problem. A keyword for the paradigm of future art scene would be “Net technology.” Obviously, the pandemic accelerated the development of online transactions, SNS communication, and expansion of sales channels developed from before Corona pandemic. Now we are in an era where artists riding the wave of online technology can sell their works directly to collectors. It has confronted the galleries with a need for re-strategization of themselves and has become one of the prerequisites for those who want to achieve a leap in the art scene.
Also, artworks with virtual form of value such as NFT art, AR art, or VR art, have been evolving more and more. The art market has already expanded as a global network and its map has changed. A more amount of capital will be concentrated in regions such as China, Hong Kong, and other Asian countries, which will further lead to the emergence of new collectors and to the formation of a new art world. Now, the auction prices offered in the “Christie’s” in Hong Kong are running up. Due to the coronavirus catastrophe, galleries and art fairs that have traditionally relied on “real” sales are at a loss and vacillating between two different attitudes: Should they evolve their new business format or can they still hope for the recovery of new normal? But in the meantime, new young collectors and patrons will step up their presence as players, and the ecosystem of value will certainly change. Unlike previous generations, new players are open to the new infrastructures and technologies that enable instant access to what they seek.
There is a constant discussion on how to incorporate “art thinking” into business, but that dualism is no longer valid. If both galleries and artists do not aim for a new “value generation” practice, they will be replaced with a new platform.
The art world of the 2020s cannot stand without new “art thinking,” “art strategy,” and “practice.”
――As with galleries, it seems that Japanese artists do not use SNS or digital tools very efficiently.
Goto: I think that if they don’t utilize them proactively, they will be wiped out.
The world leading Japanese artists such as Murakami, Nara, and Hiroshi Sugimoto have already built a global value, but it seems that all of them have been “Galapagosized” and become introverted due to this disaster. However, what I feel when teaching at university is that young artists have a sense of crisis and are excellent. They are starting to acquire collectors and patrons by actively using SNS, videos, and new technologies, in a fairly self-defensive manner. They believe in “the criticism of net technology” rather than the traditional form of “criticism,” just as Kevin Kelly has analyzed in “THE INEVITABLE” and “Technium.” With their amazing skills in self-branding and self-promotion strategies, they can sell out their works, and build up global connections beyond existing mechanisms. They are excellently smart anyway. Since they know the required quality level of artworks for a successful “value generation,” they have no hesitation in outsourcing and can present their works at the level of TED speech. Also, they pay attention to their physical appearances and are skilled at fashionable behavior. It’s an unwelcome phenomenon for those who have created the gallery system and the context of art so far. However, as the word “disruption” indicates, it must be remembered that the things that cause “destructive creation” have always built new eras. We all know that is a specialty more of art than the business world, don’t we? From Dadaism and Taro Okamoto to street artists, the art world has always been updated by the rebels standing on the margin of it.
――Are such young artists not only skilled at using tools and presentations, but also making good works in the context of so-called fine arts?
Goto: They are also becoming more and more skilful at creating contexts. There are excellent students who are tougher than the teachers at the art university coming on (laughs). Even during class, they immediately google unfamiliar terms and artist names, and check overseas writings with DeepL. They understand that they can’t survive in the contemporary art scene without a commitment to global context and critical thinking, so they opt for a fast and deep approach. They fully understand that it is not enough to say “I’m a painter, I like painting and I’m good at it.” A painting can no longer be contemporary art unless it is critical of a notion of painting as a whole. Without “meta-thinking,” even Japanese painting cannot be accepted globally. The tough young artists know this. The rules of critical thinking are being updated at a rapid pace. Therefore, I have been developing and teaching “art thinking” and “strategic thinking” programs at universities because the old academism doesn’t work for these contemporary art issues at all anymore. The old form of education that deals with young artists in a haughty attitude is nothing but harmful. I head up the GOTO Lab, a correspondence graduate school for working people, which no other art university has yet to work on. Not only that, I have also established a private school/an online salon, SUPER SCHOOL online, “A&E (ART & EDIT),” because I place great emphasis on coaching. For example, Jeff Koons and Bruce Nauman are both top players in the global art world, although they have completely different methodologies and production styles. But how have these artists got to the top? What processes did they use to generate value and get to that position? What is at the root of the market and criticism that values art? In fact, not many other art schools offer classes that properly teach such things.
――What kind of specific examples do you use to teach your students about “art thinking” and “strategic thinking”?
Goto: I use examples to show that art projects are actually more advanced in terms of value generation than business. The simplest example is Christo, who passed away last year. As an individual, Christo passed away last year at the age of 80. However, “Christo” is actually the name of a unit of two people. They were a project unit that anticipated the current era and the future. He and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, are artists who have made history with their huge scale projects, such as the wrapped architecture and wrapped seashore. They have passed away, but in September this year, their project to wrap the Arc de Triomphe in Paris was brought to realization after 50 years from its conception, which became a worldwide sensation. What was interesting to me was the fact that the daily progress of the project was publicly disclosed through Instagram videos. It shows that they are trying to present a whole body of work as a new form of value. It is said that Christo’s budget for each of his 20 projects over the past 60 years of their career was the around 200-300 million yen on average, with the Central Park project in New York costing 2.2 billion yen, and the Arc de Triomphe project costing 1.8 billion yen. What is most amazing was that they have continued to do this without any financial support or subsidies from corporations, public institutions, or private patrons. So how did they monetize the project? His wife took the lead and raised all the budget for the project by selling the models and lithographs they made.
In a way, their projects have a more solid strategy and societal aspect than business have. For example, there is a work called “Running Fence,” in which a fabric fence was installed across 40 kilometers of American pastureland and desert. Christo and his team researched the environmental impact of the installation at their own expense and produced a report. Christo and colleagues have been more serious about creating strategic and meaningful business forms and generating value than corporations. I think pioneers like Christo have given a lot of hope to today’s top artists, such as Olafur Eliasson, who have their own huge studios and work on a project basis.
Technology, Sociality, and Life: Three Keywords Needed for the Next Generation
――What kind of people gather at universities and online salons? Are they artists or wannabe curators?
Goto: All kinds of people come. There are people who want to become artists, businesspersons and consultants who want to learn about art thinking, and people who are actually working as curators. There are also people who work at welfare facilities for the handicapped, and people who want to research how art can be used in children’s education as part of TV program production. In particular, there are an increasing number of young people who are interested in the value of art in society and how it can create value. It is a real response to the current situation that shows how they see the future. The business world will need to know about it.
This word “sociality” is a keyword that will become more and more important in the future. There have been some artists who have been dealing with contemporaneous themes of society, such as the harmful effects of globalism. But this Corona pandemic once again highlighted the distortions and contradictions hidden in modern society. More and more artworks that utilize such contradictions as energy or aim to solve problems will be created in the near future.
Many of the artists who are already known worldwide are also developing social activities and influencing the scene outside of art world. The artist I just mentioned, Olafur Eliasson, has created a rechargeable light called “Little Sun” for Ethiopian refugees, and has been involved in projects that drive awareness of the crisis of global warming. Wolfgang Tillmans has also created an alternative space called “Between Bridges” to promote understanding of democracy and LGBTs, and when cultural institutions and clubs around the world were closed down due to the pandemic, he led a project called “2020 Solidarity” through “Between Bridges” as its base. This was a donation-based art project in which artists create posters and distribute them to institutions. The institutions can then sell posters on their own websites for a profit. Thomas Hirschhorn is also working on an “educational” project in a so-called refugee area in France, borrowing artworks from the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and having the residents curate them. People who are interested in art are not just looking for beauty in art, but also thinking how to solve social issues through its power. Such people are participating in my correspondence course.
――Each of them has their own vision, and they use art to develop their own methods and ideas. They are innovative as well, aren’t they?
Goto: Artists don’t just present a delusional vision, but a practical one. Some make social proposals within the capitalistic format, and some try to create a rift in the existing system in the so-called anti-capitalistic manner. The scope of the meaning of the term “social” is quite wide, and there are different ways of doing things to embody this notion. Of course, there are some Japanese artists who are working from this perspective, but at the moment, their range of interest is still narrow. That’s something that irritates me (laughs).
Another key word for the new trend of art is “life.” There are of course what is called bio-art, but the ones that interests me the most are the artists who philosophize about life and the theme of life and present it through art. What I am referring to is not an indirect expression, like a drawing that depicts a form of life, but art as a phenomenon of life.
――What exactly is art that takes life as its theme or art that thinks about life?
Goto: For example, Philippe Parreno is a really interesting artist. He rears squid in his house, and he uses large images of the squid’s body surface for his installations. In the past, humans have taken an anthropocentric approach (especially Cartesian reductionism), which has resulted in the destruction of the global environment and the occurrence of violent weather. Parreno relativize life by exploring how octopuses and squids see the world. Such a vision is linked to the concepts of “multi-species” and “companion species” that have been attracting attention in recent years. Dana Haraway has been selected as one of the top three authors by the British magazine ART review is because such a foresight of her is highly acclaimed. It shows that rather than thinking about the form of happiness, community, and sustainability for humans alone, the idea about the symbiotic state of a wide variety of life can create greater value.
Moreover, one of the exhibitions that caught the world’s attention during the Corona disaster in 2021 was Olafur Eliasson’s “Life” exhibition at Foundation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland. This is a truly symbolic example. Foundation Beyeler is the private museum of Ernesto Beyeler, the art dealer who started Art Basel. In the past, the museum has held highly “distinct” exhibitions such as ones of Gerhard Richter, Jeff Koons, and the collaborative exhibitions between Francis Bacon and Giacometti. In other words, it is the “inner sanctum” of contemporary art. In the exhibition Life, he boldly removed the entire glass façade of the museum designed by Renzo Piano and connected the inside of the museum to the pond in front of it. It is totally open. The theme of this project was also life and symbiosis. This is a strategic and evolutionary project based on the distinctive idea of art that business people would not be able to do. I cannot tell how much of an impact Olafur had on society with this “work.” It can be said that his brand and value as an artist has also been further enhanced.
――In terms of these three keywords “technology,” “social,” and “life,” that you have just mentioned, can you tell us your thoughts on how people involved in the art scene should shift their mindset for the ages to come?
Goto: It’s imperative to acquire “art thinking” and “art strategy,” but what’s important is what kind of value we “realize” and “put into practice” as a result of this process. Most of the time, business people aim for the acquisition of the evidence, such as “developing an aesthetic sense” or “becoming an art collector.” However, since the “value” gained through art is diverse, the “strategy” of how to “connect” it well must be appropriate. Do we want to “become” Steve Jobs as an entrepreneur, or do we want to aspire to an Art de Vivre (art of living) with a collection of pictures? We need to clarify the strategy. The key would be an independent attitude. Even if you don’t have money or come from the middle of nowhere, you can start something with art and create the future with your talent. That belief and attitude are the key. Hans Ulrich Obrist is one of the world’s top curators, but the “starting point of his activities,” as he always says, is his first exhibition, “Kitchen Show,” which was held in his home. World-famous artists such as Peter Fischli & David Weiss were interested in and participated in it. At first, everyone was a nobody. This proves that even if you work locally or don’t have a career, if you can have “art thoughts” and grasp “art strategies,” you can create exceptional value. Unlike in the past, we have powerful communication tools like social networking sites, so we can update what we can do as independent artists. In the age of AI, I’m not worried about singularity in the slightest because art will become more and more important as a place for mind-shifting in which we can train ourselves to improve the speed of our ability, to deepen our capacity and to polish the openness of us.
This fall I am publishing a new book, “Art Senryaku 2/Art no Himitsu wo Tokiakasu (Art Strategy 2: Unraveling the Secrets of Art)”, which is a sequel to the book I published three years ago, “Art Senryaku/Contemporary Art Toranomaki (Art Strategy/ Contemporary Art Text Book).” Unlike the previous book, this one contains 46 interviews with artists that I have been conducting for magazines since 2000, and newly written pieces of texts to contextualize these interviews. What would normally be a “collection of artist interviews” has been re-composed as a book on “art thinking” and “art strategy.” The art world is no longer driven by big isms, theories, and histories. There are people who say that the art world is chaotic, that anything goes, that there are no rules, that you can do whatever you want. But they are totally wrong. “Art thinking” is something real that is going on in the mind of the artists, and it is really innovative. It is also independent, alternative, and timeless. It is fundamental to research great artists who are surviving inside and outside of the art world and are generating value. This is a book that you should definitely pick up.
Lastly, I like “talent”. Whether it is a young photographer or a master like Kishin Shinoyama, I have made it my mission to amplify the talent of the artists in society. It doesn’t matter if it is an opportunity for client work or not. It is fundamental to be independent. That’s why, I’ve been doing my own publishing activities to bring talent to the world from a young age. Since the days when there was no such thing as a book label or any other fashionable term (laughs). I launched G/P gallery, which introduced the likes of Taisuke Koyama, Mayumi Hosokura, Daisuke Yokota, and Kenta Kobayashi to the world, as the commercial gallery division of an editorial production company called artbeat publishers. In 2019, I teamed up with Fuji Xerox to publish a series of photo books called NEOTOKYOZINE, and in a little over a year, I’ve produced about 30 artists. In a way, the Corona disaster gave us a chance to focus on online sales. And from this winter to the next spring, I’m also starting a “new art magazine” in collaboration with the fashion brand “Mihara Yasuhiro”.
DX is drastically changing the form of artistic imagination, the production system, the presentation format, and even the way business is done. Those who cannot make the shift will be dumped into the dustbin, even in the art world. NFT art, a hot topic these days, is an inevitable phenomena. We must not be conservative. We must move forward without fear. The revolutionary Mao Zedong once said, “Learn how to swim while swimming.” That attitude is exactly what we need now. I would like to continue to work on developing the concepts of “art thinking”, “art strategy” and “practice”.