The Theory of Art and Design

Interview by Luo Jingmei
Photography by Jovian Lim

Three years ago, Japanese curator Yoichi Nakamuta decided to leave his homeland of Japan and sink his roots into our sunny shores. Nakamuta had built a reputation abroad uncovering talent—the likes of Tom Dixon, Michael Young and Christophe Pillet—and collaborating with them for his furniture manufacturing company E&Y before they became international names.

Theory of art and design Art Stage Singapore 2015

Yoichi Nakamuta

Since arriving in Singapore, his design acumen and foresight has helped raise the profile of local creatives through various projects. In 2012, he curated the book Creative Cultures: The Singapore Showcase—the first of its kind here. Produced by Underscore magazine, it presented a curation of homegrown creatives from the music, design, fashion, architecture and art scenes at the forefront of their craft. In 2014, he took on the role of International Curator for Singapore Design Week’s fringe event SingaPlural, spearheading several innovative installations and exhibitions, as well as launched Industry+, a furniture brand that promotes Asian designers and manufacturers.

As if his portfolio were not impressive enough, Nakamuta is also the founder of Tokyo-based Clear Edition & Gallery, which he established in 2007. The trailblazing platform, which promotes art beyond the usual genre to include photography and design and other non-traditional sources, exhibited at Art Stage Singapore 2015 in January. Despite his packed schedule, Nakamuta managed to find some time to share with us his ruminations about art and design then, now and in the future.

Briefly describe your journey to becoming a curator. What got you interested in art? Where there any art influences from your youth?

My journey to becoming a curator, or collector, began in 1981 in NYC where I was based. My first purchase of an art piece was Tom Dixon’s Bull chair. I did not have much money, I could not afford expensive paintings but I found something that was equally beautiful as art and sculpture. I had never met Tom Dixon, but I was so happy to get it. I lived two years in SoHo in the early 80s where I went to art openings every night and met a lot of intriguing personalities. I still remember the smell of the freshly painted walls for the opening nights. That made me aspire to be a gallerist one day.

How does Clear Edition & Gallery continue, or diversify your journey from E&Y, the furniture manufacturing company you set up in Tokyo?

After I returned to Japan in the mid-80s, I wanted to open a contemporary gallery but I did not have enough money to open one. So I changed my mind and started my own design label E&Y in 1985. I was selling art furniture by Tom Dixon, Danny Lane, Andre Dubreuil, Ron Arad, etc. At the same time, I was working on furniture production for Rem Koolhaas, Steven Holl, Marc Mak, Michael Graves and many other western designers and architects. I handled the press for an Aldo Rossi project and photography exhibition with Shigeru Ban who had just come back from The Cooper Union in NYC. So my early stage in life was full of encounters with foreign designers and architects. I received good education by selling design!

Art Stage Singapore 2015 theory of art and design

Clear Edition & Gallery was set up much later when I finally decided to open an art gallery eight years ago. Owning E&Y as a design label, my interests in photography, design art and street art still keeps expanding. It’s happening all in once. So I feel sorry for my hardworking staff, doing so many different projects at the same time.

Clear Edition & Gallery’s ethos is to combine art and design in its selection of works. There is a fine line between what is considered art and what is considered functional design. What guidelines do you use to curate the content for your Gallery?

Of course market-wise, art and design are quite different. However, in recent years, we tend not to completely divide the two when it comes to gallery programs. What is good is good. What or who we consider good are the ones challenging the boundaries.

Read more in The U Press N˚9 (Singapore edition).