Tokyo's international art scene gets the Deluxe treatment.

by Monty DiPietro

It was nice and warm in Tokyo last Sunday night, and it might have seemed to many of those watching performance artist Tei Kobayashi all wrapped up in gauze and cellophane and tangled in thick red rope, or to many of those tapping their toes as Colin Leitch and Chris Orange’s fusion band laid down a groove for Marcellus Nealy to rap in, that Tokyo’s international arts community had finally found a home, in the form of a nice new Azabu Juban venue called "Deluxe."

The occasion was a book launch party for Tokyo-based Stephen Forster’s poetry collection, "The Good Mouth," and it brought dozens of performers and hundreds of guests to Deluxe for an intoxicating seven-hour tribute to the North-England-born bard with the thick tongue. But those inspired enough by the evening’s magic ambience to toast the former taxi garage as this city’s much-needed international arts and culture magnet could be in for a rude awakening – by early the next morning, while many participants were no doubt still nursing hangovers, Deluxe had already been cleaned out and restored to its rather less-glamorous role as the postmodern reception and meeting area for an elite team of Tokyo’s top international designers. Maybe if you’d left a bag or a glass slipper behind you could stumble in to claim it, but otherwise, the clock had struck midnight and the meter had run out and Deluxe was an art space no more.

"We are keen to stress it is not a performance space," says Deluxe’s Mark Dytham, "it is a part of our office and all events, exhibitions, and happenings are tied in with what we do or believe in."

Deluxe opened in November, 1998, as a shared home for six Tokyo-based creative companies that are either run by foreign residents or internationally oriented in some other respect: Klein Dytham architecture, who have worked with Virgin Atlantic and Idee; Namaiki, the graphic design duo of Michael Frank and David Duval Smith that counts Sony and Nike among their clients; Spinoff interior design; Nakameguro Yakkyoku, a high end computer graphics outfit; a branch of leading art direction office Noriyuki Tanaka Activity; and the Tokyo Brewing Company, which is attempting to ride a wave of recently deregulated beer suds to success in this country’s fledgling microbrewery market.

All that ambition deserves a big space, and with its 300 square meters of floor and six-meter-high ceilings, Deluxe’s main room has a scale rarely found in Tokyo interiors. And all that area attracts artists – Deluxe has, over the last several months, played host to, among others, Swedish artist Henrik Hakansson, who performed "Monsters of Rock" along with 2000 live, amplified crickets, and to Jack Kimball, who videotaped local poets there for his "East Village Poetry Web" project.

Although Deluxe’s priorities must inevitably fall to the schmoozing of clients, the gang will rent their big room out at a not-unreasonable fee for interesting art events, especially those that promote networking, and that is good news for the Tokyo art scene. The bad news is that even though it is an understandably money-oriented and officially non-art space, Deluxe is still about the best venue the Tokyo international arts community has at its avail right now.

The bottom line is that a relative absence of government support for artist-run spaces has forced those international artists who end up in high-rent Tokyo to come up with some creative ways of creating a community. Many have tried – the producer of Forster’s book-launch party, Adrian Evans, was one of the founders of Asiz in Aoyama, a multi-project bar-and-exhibition hybrid that tried to pay the rent with arts events only to close down last year. About the longest-running meeting place for Tokyo’s international arts community had been a series of almost-weekly house parties thrown by a flamboyant American banker inclined to displays of philanthropy, but even those fun get-togethers have stopped.

So, on the couple of nights each month that they do hold events, slip on your rose-colored glasses, and you’ll probably give the Deluxe A-frame top marks – especially if you’ve had a few of their Tokyo Ales and aren’t thinking about the morning after.

notes: Deluxe, 3505-5330
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