- Makiko Akiyama
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Gallery deux poissons in Ebisu, Tokyo is a leading jewelry gallery in Japan where people can regularly enjoy exhibitions of contemporary jewelry. Its director, Tomohiko Mori, aims to expand the jewelry field not only through art scene-based channels such as galleries and art fairs, but also through commercial strategies including exhibitions and sales. In this interview, he talks extensively about these activities, revealing the current situation of Japan’s jewelry scene along with new possibilities for individual artists.
You’ve been a director of gallery deux poissons since 2003 and deal with 40 domestic and international artists. How did you first become interested in jewelry and start a gallery?
Tomohiko: I had been in the fashion industry prior to launching the gallery. At the time, I was dealing with the designers of jewelry from collections in Paris and London.
I first became interested in contemporary jewelry when I saw a customer wearing a Christine Albert necklace at a fashion agency I was working for, and it looked appealing to me. I was not familiar with Dutch jewelry at the time and made a stop in the Netherlands during my next trip to Europe. I happened to visit Galerie Ra in Amsterdam and it was there that I first learned about the field of contemporary jewelry. The works all looked unfamiliar but the way the materials were being used and the expressive power and perfection of the craftsmanship all left a vivid impression on me.
I then continued to make visits to Europe, mostly to the Netherlands and Germany in order to acquaint myself with artists and study the history, techniques, and entire jewelry field. Finally, I launched gallery deux poissons in 2003.
gallery deux poissons (ground floor)
What characterizes gallery deux poissons?
Tomohiko: We feature artists not only from the contemporary jewelry field but also from other artistic disciplines. I think that’s what makes us different from overseas galleries. We also handle a lot of pieces produced by artists from other fields, such as Moko Kobayashi in haute couture embroidery, and Yurina Kira, who usually creates wooden wall pieces. We focus on design, wearability, and the aspect of fashion when selecting our artists.
Jewelry is supposed to be worn, so our aim is therefore to be relevant to current lifestyles and fashions. Also, my responsibility extends beyond that of a gallery director to include the roles of exhibit and sale organizer, as well as being an adviser helping to select jewelry for shops. I also collaborate in other fields as well.
Works of Moko Kobayashi (right) and Yurina Kira (left)
I remember your gallery was more focused on contemporary jewelry in the beginning.
Tomohiko: Yes. Its direction was closer to that seen in European galleries. However, I did not intend to specialize in contemporary jewelry from the beginning. I simply wanted to include a wide range of interesting designs and expressions. This has been my goal ever since I began working for the fashion agency, when I had the vague thought that the jewelry field in general would be more free and interesting.
Speaking of not specializing in contemporary jewelry, your gallery handles various engagement and marriage rings of popular artists such as Marc Monzó and Jiro Kamata. Is this because most people in Japan buy rings when they get married?
Tomohiko: I think that the public will be more familiar with contemporary jewelry artists through the wedding or engagement rings that they usually wear.
I asked artists to exhibit the wedding and engagement rings they had created and made a selection to form our collection. These rings are simple and easy to wear in everyday life. They are very popular for their innovative expressions and techniques, which are a unique feature of the pieces made by these artists.
Do the people who buy these rings eventually become interested in other pieces?
Tomohiko: Having people buy these rings from us increases awareness of our gallery, and the couples who buy them may become regular customers who visit us for every anniversary or special occasion, such as wedding days and birthdays.
Rings by Etsuko Sonobe
Do you think the jewelry field has changed since 2003 when you opened the gallery?
Tomohiko: I think people are now less opinionated when it comes to alternative materials. A lot of people used to avoid glass or acrylic jewelry but some people now prefer these types.
Do you know why? Are people finally starting to appreciate jewelry as an art form? Or do more people simply prioritize design or an aspect of fashion other than the material value?
Tomohiko: I think it’s because more artists are succeeding in developing jewelry that is relevant to today’s style while continuing to utilize the characteristics of alternative materials. They have lightness and incorporate colors that cannot be achieved with metal. I think these aspects of jewelry fit quite well with the contemporary style.
You have organized an exhibit and sale called New Jewelry since 2010. Can you explain what this is?
Tomohiko: New Jewelry is an exhibit where individual jewelry labels and artists sell their pieces directly to visitors. We put out an open call in advance in order to make a selection. In the first year we had around 30 participants, but for this year we have chosen around 70 participants from more than 400 applicants.
We deal with a limited selection of works as a gallery. At the same time, however, I see a lot of works that are nice, but which simply don’t meet the required standards for inclusion in the gallery. New Jewelry acts as a place where these works are gathered together. There might be occasions for artists to sell their works directly to the public in other countries. In Japan, exhibitors at art fairs are limited to galleries and apparel seasonal collection shows are only open to buyers and the press, leaving very few opportunities for artists to sell their work directly to customers.
The entrance at the venue of New Jewelry, an exhibit and sale for emerging individual labels and aritsts
What happens if galleries don’t intervene?
Tomohiko: In this case, participating labels, artists, and customers act to form their own market. Artists sell their works to buyers directly in much the same way that individuals post to a large number of people on Instagram or Facebook. Communication with customers enables artists to think more and customers create a market by purchasing their work.
Don’t you think that letting customers control the market leads to an overall decline in quality? I think professionals are more or less responsible for the quality control.
Tomohiko: The artists are professionals too. And New Jewelry is a juried show. We select individual artists whose works are unique and interesting.
The artists get a better idea about the market by communicating directly with customers, while at the same time customers learn how jewelry is made and can become educated as connoisseurs.
It sounds as though less intervention by professionals like galleries can contribute to a better quality.
Tomohiko: I think it has the potential to grow a different type of market. Also, an increase in the number of applicants can automatically result in better quality.
The exhibition view of New Jewelry 2015
To me, gallery deux poissons and New Jewelry look completely different but what would you like to do through both activities?
Tomohiko: I’d like to expand the market itself. I hope to educate the general public and provide consumers with a wider range of options.
Could some of the people you educate eventually become contemporary jewelry enthusiasts?
Tomohiko: That’s one of my aims. The jewelry industry is not small in terms of its annual sales. However, there are few books on jewelry and people usually buy from jewelry labels in department stores. The parent companies of these labels are mostly gem suppliers and manufacturers with in-house designers. Inevitably, the final products end up as jewelry containing these precious materials. On the other hand, the works made by artists are time-consuming despite them using cheaper materials, and their sales outlets are limited, too.
You just said that the jewelry industry is not small, so why does it appear that people do not have access to broader options?
Tomohiko: I imagine it is due to jewelry being introduced in magazines. Publishers prioritize products from those advertisers who can afford to pay high ad rates thanks to the sale of expensive gems and mass production. A magazine that doesn’t rely on revenue from adverts would probably be launched if more people were to turn to jewelry made by individual artists and use them for their information.
Do you think magazines are influential enough as a medium in the jewelry field?
Tomohiko: I think they are necessary as a source of information.
Three labels from New Jewelry:_cthruit, chiiiiiiico, phenomena collection (from left to right)
You began your participation in Art Fair Tokyo in 2013.
Tomohiko: I had been interested in art fairs and often visited them before I began participating. Art Fair Tokyo is open to galleries of contemporary and applied art as well as antique dealers, so I thought there was also the possibility for a jewelry gallery. That’s why I approached them.
We displayed highly artistic jewelry at the beginning. However, it looked as though the audience was prioritizing wearability over artistry, so we began to introduce more casual pieces. Visitors look forward to our booth every year and our impression is that the market is steadily broadening.
Even visitors at art fairs prioritize wearability?
Tomohiko: In general, jewelry is required to be wearable. I think small scale and wearability are two of the merits of jewelry. Larger items are probably more artistic but people tend to prefer smaller pieces as they are more wearable.
The contemporary jewelry field has been working hard to be recognized as art. Do you have any idea how to overcome this issue?
Tomohiko: I think contemporary jewelry needs recognition in the secondary market in order to become active within the art scene. If this were to happen, the works of living artists would increase in value.
Is it better to focus more on market value than artistic value?
Tomohiko: I think the field of contemporary jewelry has the potential to grow more if we view it from the perspective of art management.
Is that how you envisage vitalizing the entire scene?
Tomohiko: It would be interesting if a jewelry gallery specializing in the secondary market were to emerge. This would be possible because works from older generations continue to be available today. I think this type of gallery would be a way of vitalizing the entire field.
Lastly, can you tell us about any forthcoming exhibitions or events?
Tomohiko: There is a solo exhibition for Akiko Kurihara scheduled at gallery deux poissons from September 30 to October 16. For New Jewelry, there will be New-Jewelry-NEXT at CLASKA from September 2 to 4, and New Jewelry 2016 at 3331 Arts Chiyoda from December 2 to 4.
Works of Akiko Kurihara
About the Interviewee
Tomohiko Mori, born in Osaka in 1978. Enrolled in ESMOD JAPAN (Osaka). As a student, he began work as a buyer in 1996 at 2 POISSONS, an Osaka-based fashion agency specializing in young designers’ fashion labels. He moved to Tokyo in 1998 and launched DEUX POISSONS, an agency for imported fashion labels in Aoyama. Since 2003, he has been a director of gallery deux poissons, a contemporary jewelry gallery. In 2009, he launched an agency for Dutch design label droog. Recently, he has been producing joint exhibitions such as New Jewelry at CLASKA The 8th Gallery (December 2010), NEW DIRECTION IN JEWELRY at Matsuya Ginza Design Gallery 1953 (June 2011), and Art Jewelry Today at Art Gallery Artium presented by Mitsubishi-Jisho (January 2015).
About the author
Makiko Akiyama. Writer and translator. Born in 1979 in Osaka, Japan. In 2013 launched a newsletter for Japanese readers featuring translated articles about art jewelry. Contributing writer for klimt02, Current Obsession, Art Jewelry Forum, and Norwegian Crafts.
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