Hong Kong- As an important work from Toyko-based psychiatrist Ryutaro Takahashi’s collection comes to auction, Stuart Munro discovers how the human mind and Japan’s changing cultural scenery inform his collecting.
Among the art in his collection are works by artists such as Izumi Kato ©Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery/Photo:KIOKU Keizo.
On the map, Dr Ryutaro Takahashi’s clinic appears to be a stone’s throw from Tokyo Bay. In reality, it sits facing a nondescript sea of roads and buildings near the Yamanote rail line that loops around the city. The unassuming, mirror-clad clinic is dwarfed by larger structures, but once inside it is apparent how Takahashi easily integrates his collecting with his position as a leading psychiatrist: art hangs on walls throughout the waiting room and in his office upstairs. This is no ordinary doctor.
Born in 1946 in western Japan, Takahashi studied medicine at Tokyo’s Toho University followed by psychiatry at Keio University. His student years were spent against a backdrop of protests in the late 1960s, when a frenzy of political demonstrations gave rise to a post-war generation of thinkers, writers and artists who became increasingly critical of the foreign culture thrust upon them.
In the Shinjuku neighbourhood of Tokyo Takahashi overheard conversations and mutterings about protests overseas. A crucial moment in his development as a collector occurred at this time, when he encountered photographs of Yayoi Kusama’s “Happening” video, which openly criticised the US involvement in the Vietnam war. This experience stayed with him for years, and in 1997, when he made his first serious art purchases, he acquired works by Kusama and a young Makoto Aida.
Takahashi has always been drawn to outsiders, a minority of artists who “have no choice but to stimulate people in different ways,” as he says. Aida’s work in particular exemplifies this sentiment, challenging conventional views of what art is and what it can be: something more than the product of an abstract sub-culture.
Dr Ryutaro Takahashi’s clinic, Tokyo ©Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery/Photo:KIOKU Keizo
Today, the Takahashi Collection is the single largest collection of Japanese contemporary art, and this past year it was exhibited at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery. Reflecting his dual passions for art and science, the title of that exhibition, Mirror Neuron, refers to the neurons in the brain that fire when animals act and when they observe the same action in another. This function in neuroscience represents how Takahashi sees artists stimulate, influence and imitate each other. It is also a trait he believes represents modern Japanese culture and an idea to which artists like Kohei Nawa, Kishio Suga, Yasumasa Morimura and Tomoko Shioyasu pay homage. A condensed version of the exhibition will travel to the Maison de la Culture de Japon in Paris this October, reflecting the doctor’s view that Japan is both utterly international and extremely individual.
It was what Takahashi refers to as Kusama’s “big soul” that made an early impression on him, yet he had still only seen her video work until he attended an art fair in 1996 and discovered her paintings. In the same year, Takahashi saw and acquired works by Aida at a group show at Mizuma Art Gallery and paintings from Kusama’s first oil ‘dot’ series followed shortly after.While he has previously owned pieces by Western artists like Tom Sachs and Steven Pippin, Takahashi has come to question the idea of buying art from afar.
To be offered at auction in HK this autumn is Nara Yoshitomo’s In the Darkland, 1999 (HK$8,000,000–12,000,000), from the Takahashi Collection.
It seemsan unnecessarily abstract and ultimately detached action and he feels artists make and sell their strongest work in their home country. He focuses his energy on young and talented artists who work locally, and is particularly enthusiastic about a Taiwanese artist, Charwei Tsai, who is a recent addition to his collection.The doctor has also begun to consider the possibility of deaccessioning works. Sotheby’s October Contemporary Art Evening sale in Hong Kong, features TKPaintingName by Yoshitomo Nara, the first work to be sold publicly from the Takahashi Collection.
When asked what advice he would give to new collectors, Takahashi says, “There are two types of collector. One focuses on their own taste, while the other is more social and conscious of the market. If you are the latter, I would recommend against buying from the first gallery show of an upcoming artist. Wait until their third. Buying from auction houses is also much safer. But the best advice I could give is to learn from your own experience and cultivate your own world.” It is advice that is readily borne out by the strength and breadth of Takahashi’s collection.
Modern & Contemporary Asian Art Evening will be on view starting 2 October in Hong Kong. Auction: 4 October. Enquiries: +852 2524 8121.
Stuart Munro is an art writer based in Tokyo