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  • Laurens Kasteleijn

New technologies and digital art are pushing Tokyo and Dubai as emerging art markets

June 2022 – by Lavanya Nayar & Laurens Kasteleijn for Art Law Services

Although the global art industry is still largely dominated by the United States (43%), China (20%) and the United Kingdom (17%) [1], an increasing number of countries around the world are striving to get a share of the market. Japan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have most noticeably jumped on the wave of new technologies and digital art to establish Tokyo and Dubai as world-class art market centres.

Museum of the Future, Dubai, UAE

1. Tokyo

The Tokyo art scene came to life in the 2000s, thanks to the success of ‘first-generation’ galleries like Taka Ishii, Mizuma Gallery, Tomio Koyama and Takashi Murakami’s KaiKai Kiki Gallery. Since then, the capital has attracted several leading international galleries, including Blum & Poe and Perrotin. With an annual turnover of around $23 million, ranking Japan 6th in the worldwide art market, and a 20% rate of unsold works, compared to a world wide average of 34%, the country has managed to create a mature, autonomous and dynamic market [2]. One of the reasons behind this growing success is the investment of Japanese collectors in national art. Another is the easement of tax rules and importation duties initiated by Japanese authorities in February 2021, which aims to facilitate art transactions in customs areas [3]. Dealers previously had to pay significant taxes when displaying or selling artwork that was purchased and delivered to Japan from overseas, but taxes can now be omitted if the art transitions through these customs areas [4].

In 2019, the 14th edition of the Art Fair Tokyo highlighted the pioneering role the fair seeks to adopt with regards to new technologies and the democratisation of the art market [5]. The fair celebrated the notion of transversality and welcomed all modes of expression, from traditional craft to cutting-edge technologies, instead of specialising on a particular artistic movement. The fair also allowed students from various Tokyo colleges and university to take full responsibility for the organisation of the ‘Future Artists Tokyo’ exhibition, including the curatorial choices of works, the concept of the exhibition and the logistics, thus bringing a whole generation of young people into contact with the art world. Keeping with the trend, a physical exhibition of NFTs, CrypTOKYO, took place for the first time in Tokyo in July 2021.

Tokyo has now announced that it will host one of its biggest art fairs in decades, Tokyo Gendai, in July 2023 at the Pacifico Yokohama Convention Centre. The fair will bring together 100 international art galleries and aims to develop audiences beyond the location of the fair by targeting both emerging artists and established or historically significant Asian artists, and by focusing on digital art such as NFTs, gaming, and AR and VR [6].

However, although many industry experts expect Japan to rise as a new regional art market centre, this surge will probably not induce the decline of Hong Kong or a competition with Seoul [7].The launch of Tokyo Gendai is meant to complement rather than compete with all the activity going across Asia, and there is still a lot to be done to develop an audience for international contemporary art in Japan.

2. Dubai

As Dubai is slowly establishing itself as a dynamic financial hub for cryptocurrency transactions, the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre expecting over 1,000 crypto businesses to register in 2022 [8], and NFTs have become popular speculative asset for investors, the city has a significant potential to attract the global art market. Moreover, Dubai’s strategic position between Africa, Europe and Asia enables it to appeal to non-Western emerging artists. Dubai has indeed sought to promote artists early on and attract creative talents to the region with incentives such as the introduction of Golden Visas in 2019, approving resident stays for 10 years rather than the standard three years [9]. Moreover, by bringing new buyers - i.e., crypto investors - into the art market, it is creating new opportunities for artists to find a larger audience and collector base.

Dubai’s flagship input to the art world is the Art Dubai Fair, which, during its 15th edition earlier in March, attracted around 1000 galleries from 44 nations, more than 30 of which were first time participants [10]. The main innovation this year was the creation of a section dedicated to digital art, the Art Dubai Digital Pavillon. Visitors were invited to buy artworks and NFTs from galleries in the physical world, with the possibility to purchase them using cryptocurrencies, and to explore galleries in the metaverse as well. The project achieves a double-purpose: teach the physical world about the digital world and offer institutional validation to works coming from the metaverse.

Another innovation developed by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority and Art Dubai has been the setting up of Dubai’s first institutional art collection through the borrowing instead of the purchase of artworks [11]. Whereas most national art collections and museums in Europe have built their collections since the late 19th century, by purchasing or being gifted works, Dubai aimed to accelerate the process and avoid extensively relying on government funding. The project includes a digital museum and the organisation of annual physical exhibitions of selected works to maintain public engagement in person, the first of which will be held at Dubai's Etihad museum later this year. Contributors are invited to lend digital works to the Dubai Collection for a period of 10 years, while remaining legal owners of their pieces, but physical artworks will only be loaned for the times they are on display. 87 works have already been selected in the first curation process, including pieces from Abdul Qadar Al Rais and Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim.

Dubai’s ambitions were also recently materialised through the inauguration of the Dubai Museum of the Future, in the heart of the city’s financial district [12]. The museum contains a variety of virtual and augmented reality, big data analysis, artificial intelligence and human machine interaction displays and installations, and it will also host innovation labs dedicated to several sectors, including health, education, smart cities, energy and transport, in partnership with research institutes and universities. Moreover, the building was conceived with an environmentally conscious eye: it is a low-carbon project, whose design integrates a passive solar architecture and low-energy low-water engineering solutions.

However, art market professionals remain concerned about the risk of being controlled and surveilled under national soft power in return for governmental aid [13]. Moreover, there is no arts funding for independent art space and in practice only a small proportion of young Emiratis have been able to afford project spaces and participate in artist collectives and grassroots initiatives.

Do you want to sell your artwork at Tokyo Gendai or lend a piece to the Dubai Collection? We at Art Law Services can help you navigate these new soaring art markets and complete a variety of international art transactions.

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[10] Ibid.

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