The Intersection of Art and Technology
Art and technology have always shaped our world, evolving side by side with each other since the earliest cave paintings. Just as artists constantly strive to work at the vanguard of creativity, scientists developing new technologies permanently stand at the horizon of our collective future. They both transform acquired knowledge into something new, and the intersection of the two help us imagine new possibilities for ourselves and the world around us.
Artists have consistently utilized emerging technologies for creative expression from 15th century breakthroughs with oil-based paint to the spread of photography in the late 19th century to the dawn of the computer age in the 1950's. But technology also plays an increasingly important role in how art reaches its audience.
Eri Takane is a Tokyo based independent curator, manager, and art consultant who is at the forefront of how technology is being utilized to virtually connect viewers to art. She currently works with a multinational technology corporation, helping to bring their latest technological developments to museums and art institutions.
In addition to this, Takane has a wealth of experience acting as a cultural bridge between Japan and the U.S., pushing for more visibility for Japanese artists in America and for collectors to recognize the value of collecting their work.
Takane and I recently discussed how she built a unique multifaceted career, her experiences as a cross-cultural connector, and her thoughts on the future of art and technology.
Matt: I wanted to start off the conversation chronologically, and talk about how you got your start working in art. You were born in Japan and eventually found your way to New York for your Master's Degree in Visual Arts Administration at NYU. I was hoping you could talk about your early years in New York, before you eventually moved back to Tokyo, and the different projects you were involved with at that point in your career.
Eri: When I went to New York I was eighteen and started learning English at language school. I studied Psychology for my undergraduate at Hunter College, and I was also making my own art. But in New York, there are a lot of talented artists and I thought I wasn't talented enough to become a professional artist. So I decided to be a supporter of artists instead, and that's when I started to learn Visual Arts Administration, or art business, and I decided to go to graduate school.
After I graduated from New York University, I started working at Japan Foundation where I was giving out funding for museums. For example, when Guggenheim wanted to have a show of Gutai, a Japanese art group, we provided the funding. So I was doing exchanges between Japan and America.
M: For people who aren't themselves involved in the art world, they understand that you can go to school to study art practice and become an artist yourself, some may know that you can do curatorial studies to become the person organizing exhibitions, but few are aware of what art management means.
E: Yes, I'm also creating my path by myself, so there aren't really rules or a way that you have to follow. You really need to create your own path. I think the most important thing for me is that there needs to be an artist that I would really like to support. For example, there was a gallery which was always my favorite, called Deitch Projects . It's best to know your favorite artists or galleries, so you know how to create your own art business.
M: With what you do now, in 2020, you do wear many different hats. You curate, you help connect collectors and artists as a consultant, you manage artists, you work with institutions. So at the beginning of your path, studying art management, do you feel like that helped you have a generalist's point of view so that you could be multifaceted? Rather than being pigeonholed into one particular area?
E : It's really like being a matchmaker. You have to be a cupid for artists with collectors, galleries, or exhibition spaces. If you are introducing friends, you might think, "These two could probably get along with each other". You can't have many rules about it, it's more about developing your sense as a matchmaker.
M: How did you start building relationships with artists and develop an approach to working with artists directly?
E: I always do studio visits with artists whose work I am interested in. I coordinate studio visits whenever I visit New York, for example, or Tokyo, and the artist and I start a conversation just looking at their work. We will keep in touch, sometimes over many years, and at some point when I am talking with an exhibition space, I will think about which artist is a good fit. I always start with one project, and then we keep up the relationship by doing annual projects together.
It's really like being a matchmaker. You have to be a cupid for artists with collectors, galleries, or exhibition spaces.
M: Sometimes it can be hard for people to understand what it is that you specialize in when you start to play many different roles. The art world can be like anything else in that way. How have you been able to work in many different areas successfully, and not have people become confused? You have to build a track record for yourself.
E: People understand that my job has some points that are probably unique compared to other people. For example, I'm Japanese and I work with Japanese contemporary artists, but I was in New York for a long time and can speak English. Maybe people understand me in that way.
M: When you moved to New York and you were beginning your career, did you have particular interest in bridging cultures between Japan and the U.S.?
E: Not yet. I was still too young, and I wasn't passionate yet about being a bridge between Japan and America. It happened in a natural, organic way. When I was in the Visual Arts Administration program at NYU, I didn't have any other classmates who were Japanese. I thought I could be a representative for Japan, but I didn't know anything about Japanese contemporary art. So I realized that I have to learn, I have to really know what is going on in Japan. Gradually, I thought I could become that bridge.
M: Everyone has to find their niche, what they are best suited to contribute to. So it sounds like that cultural aspect is what you were able to find. Knowing that you are bilingual and familiar with both cultures, you could carve something out for yourself in that field of the art world. Before making the transition to move back to Japan, what were you doing in New York?
E: I was working as the Curator and Director of an art gallery in Nolita, called Plus Eighty One , curating shows of both local and Japanese artists. The owner of the gallery was very flexible, and he let me do independent projects as well. For example, while at the gallery, I coordinated symposiums at the School of Visual Arts in New York where I invited Japanese artists to give talks for the students there. I also did a symposium in Tokyo at Roppongi Hills, bringing together Japanese artists and artist managers, which was funded by the American embassy.
M: What prompted you to return to Japan and continue your career there?
E: I actually never lived in Tokyo before, I grew up in Saitama which is just outside of Tokyo. So I really wanted to live in Tokyo to be inside of the art scene there and experience more of Tokyo's culture generally. I now work for a tech corporation to help provide 3D technology for museums and non-profit institutions. And I continue to do artist management and art consulting, but mostly for Japanese collectors now.
M: Earlier, you talked about seeing yourself as a matchmaker, so as that liaison between collectors and artists could you elaborate on what it is you look for to make a good connection?
E: Building a relationship with a collector is about finding commonalities. If we have similar feelings about an artwork, of course it's easier. It's difficult to work with a collector who has completely different taste. But over time, you get to know what they like and it becomes natural. Whenever you find something really interesting, you want to share it with them.
M: I know that you said you are mostly focused on working with Japanese collectors now, but in the past when working with American collectors, what were some challenges that you faced when introducing them to a Japanese artist?
E: I always had to explain much more about the (contextual) background, because they usually had no knowledge of Japanese art history. I really had to build the skills to convince them that it was a great artwork that they should buy.
M: Did you find that there were particular types of Japanese contemporary art that resonated more with western collectors?
E: The collectors might have a lot of abstract paintings, but maybe didn't have the chance to explore more detailed painting, so artwork inspired by manga, for example, was something unique to them.
M: If a western collector was going to buy an artwork from Japan, did you find that they wanted it to be overtly "Japanese" in some way then? You mentioned manga, and that's obviously something they would associate with Japan. I wonder if it was easier for you to convince a collector to buy a manga inspired painting rather than, say, a minimalist painting by Japanese artist, because there is something inherently Japanese in their mind about that work.
E: Sometimes, yes. It depends on the collector, of course, but for those who are more studied and developed in their taste and approach, they will be interested in the artwork itself and not for its otherness.
M: Over time, has there been more awareness, appreciation, and understanding of Japanese contemporary art by western collectors?
E: Having been back in Japan now for five years, I feel like I'm missing the most recent developments in the U.S., but I'm hoping that there is more visibility for Japanese artists now. A lot of Japanese artists still don't speak English, so that is a struggle that we face. If artists can discuss their work in English, their work can enter the global art market more easily.
M: As someone who connects cultures through your work, having to be a translator both literally and in the sense of translating ideas, what have you found to be the biggest barriers to threading that needle?
E: It's really about whether they speak English or not, more so than the country the artist is from. I meet a lot of artists and collectors who speak English and they have a global eye. It's more about how aware they are of the international art market. Even though technology has developed and you can use translation apps, language is still the barrier.
M: Translation is necessary in terms of the concept or the thinking behind the work as well. If the artists' work is referencing something particular to their own culture, sometimes a western collector may not be aware of that, and that would be something that they need translated, to be made aware of that context.
E: With Japanese artists, sometimes I feel that they have the ideas in their heads, but they are not translating it well to make people understand. So sometimes I discuss with artists how to use text in order to help people understand their work. When I was in the United States, especially in New York, artists knew how to talk about their artwork. They have their artists' statements that can illustrate their artwork. When they show their work, it's easy for the viewers to understand why they are making their work.
M: In the West, as an artist you are expected to know how to verbally articulate what your work is about, whereas that tradition is maybe less natural to some artists in Japan.
E: I think so. It's more poetic.
M : To demand that an artist be able to express themselves verbally with regard to a visual medium, sometimes it strikes me as being another example of this western, Eurocentric dominant way of thinking or doing things that doesn't get questioned by anybody, but everyone feels they have to follow.
E: As artist managers, we will sometimes have text to explain to the viewers, and we become the bridge. That's the job we are doing.
The art community boundaries are melting down because of technology, especially in the last five years. There is a clear line between artists and collectors, or between countries, but now, because of technology, there are more people from different backgrounds entering art communities.
M: You have been working professionally in art for some time and, like any facet of life, the art world is prone to trends and changes. Over the course of your career, what are some of the biggest changes you have seen in how people experience and acquire art?
E: The art community boundaries are melting down because of technology, especially in the last five years. There is a clear line between artists and collectors, or between countries, but now, because of technology, there are more people from different backgrounds entering art communities. Social media has helped include more people. There is increased accessibility and inclusivity. Museums and art institutions who are not good at it, they might have a difficult time reaching out to wider audiences. But if you don't have internet access, that is still a boundary that exists.
M: People always say that the internet has democratized the experience for everyone, but that isn't completely true. In your opinion, how has this change affected the dynamic of seeing art physically in person versus virtually? As somebody that now works with institutions to create virtual art experiences, how conscious are you of the traditional way of experiencing art versus the virtual way?
E: Technology is just a tool to get a sense of art. You can't have the same experience as seeing art in person. A virtual exhibit is amazing, but once you see it virtually, it should make you want to go to those museums or institutions more than ever. Eventually, you always need to see it physically.
M: So the virtual experiences you help coordinate and create for institutions are not meant to replace the physical experience.
E: No. That's actually impossible. It's a supplemental tool. Before you travel somewhere, for example, you might want to look at Google Maps to check out where you want to go. It's very similar in my opinion.
M: Part of your role is to help museums and institutions connect with each other and to develop methods for them to use technology in order to showcase either their existing collections or an exhibition they currently have up. With these museums that you are now working with, typically, when you approach them, what are their motivations for embracing new technology? What are their goals?
E: Because of COVID-19, people can't visit museums. So the museums want to showcase their collections virtually.
Even though they are doing exhibitions throughout the year, they have tons of artwork in storage and they don't have the chance to showcase any of it. By digitizing the collections, it allows people to finally access them. That's one of the main reasons museums often want to take up new technologies.
M: After COVID-19 started and I saw everyone starting to do virtual walkthroughs of exhibitions, not even in 360 view since most galleries and smaller spaces don't have access to the technology that you're working with, it struck me as very uninteresting. I almost would rather just read about it than have such a removed experience from the tangible. So it sounds like with the museums you are working with, a lot of their requests have been reacting to a very practical problem. Especially during the pandemic. They can't have people in the museum, so how can they show the exhibitions? They are thinking very practically, which, of course, they need to. But what are some ways that you have tried to push them toward greater possibilities or ways of using technology that they aren't thinking about?
E: I'm really focused on convincing museums to create stories around their collections. Not only showcasing them, but telling the stories behind the collections. 360 views are interesting to use as a tool, but you want to know more about the artworks or the museum itself. That's what I have been focusing on now.
Technology is always changing, but museums are not. So the two need to have a close relationship.
M: Do you feel like what you are doing is creating new ways of viewing art? Or do you really see it as a non-substitute, but helping preview the art experience?
E: Yes, it's a supplement or a preview. Even if I sell an artwork online, showing pictures, the collector will receive the actual artwork eventually. So it's a great tool, but the goal is always to make them want to see it in person.
M: Say we successfully come out of this pandemic, hopefully in the near future, and everyone is free to wander the halls of MoMA again or the Mori Art Museum - at that point, what is the ideal relationship between the virtual experience and the traditional art viewing experience?
E: Maybe it's a little off topic, but I think there were too many art fairs and exhibitions before COVID-19. Now, with virtual exhibitions, we can select what we want to see. I think that will be important after COVID-19. There was too much information, too many art fairs, and you don't remember most of it. You can't digest everything. It's nice to narrow down what you want to see, and have more meaningful art experiences.
M: What are some things you see happening in Japanese contemporary art right now that you are excited by?
E: The collector base is growing. A lot of people from different backgrounds have started buying artwork and going out to exhibitions, and even though they might be just starting, they will develop over the next ten years and continue collecting. Maybe in ten or twenty years we will have more collectors in Japan who are buying not only Japanese artists but international artists as well.
M: With the creation of these new technologies that help people experience art virtually, how has that helped particular communities that may not typically be able to access art in the way that others do?
E: I've worked with organizations for people with physical disabilities and the virtual exhibitions have been a great alternative for them to be able to experience that which they may not have been able to before. I've also interviewed elderly people who cannot go outside of their community in order to write articles for our online platform about the art or craftwork that they do. They have always been there in the countryside making art but the information has never been in English, so it increased interest from other countries even.
M: You are in a really interesting position at the forefront of an industry that will determine what the future of viewing art will be and how museums engage with their audiences. What do you see the future of art and technology being? What do you see ten, twenty years from now?
E: Technology is always changing, but museums are not. So the two need to have a close relationship. We have no idea what is coming up in ten years. 360 video was only invented ten years ago. We now have AR, VR, and so many other things happening. We will use more AI generated services in general. There could be something that we don't even have now that dominates our lives. The exciting part is the unpredictability of where things could go.