Hong Kong Art Week might be over but Yuri Yasuda—known affectionately as Yureeka—is still going at full force. When we met with the Tokyo-based entrepreneur at The Murray, she had just landed in Hong Kong that morning for a dizzying day of meetings before flying out to London that evening, where she’s opened the second location for her art consultancy firm, Tokyo Art Office.
As if three countries in four days wasn't enough, she casually added she was soon off to Baku Azerbaijan and Tulum Mexico to check out new art site openings. Her father, a prominent art dealer in New York, may have laid the roots that sparked Yureeka's passion for art, but it’s clear that she’s found a way to branch out on her own.
Although Tokyo Art Office is barely a year old, Yureeka has already established herself as one to watch in the global art scene—a peek at her Instagram shows the energetic artling hanging out with the likes of Wolfman Tillmans and KAWS, and cites power collectors like Alan Lo, Lu Xun and Hideaki Fukutake as her mentors. Not to mention she was one of three women who spoke at Net-a-Porter's "Women in Art" panel earlier this month.
From advising budding collectors to bridging the gap between art circles in the East and the West, Yuri offers a fresh approach to one of the most established industries in the world.
You’ve said once that being involved in the arts has “nurtured a sense of self-awareness”—how has art enriched your life?
I travel around quite intensely, and 90% of the time it's for art; whether it’s visiting an art site, interviewing an overseas collector or attending an international art fair.
I almost always travel solo so it's not ironic to say that these art-focused trips have been the best way to get to know myself on a deeper level. When you’re put in situations that are foreign and somewhat out of one’s comfort zone -engaging with diverse cultures and individuals of various backgrounds- it really makes you become aware of your own character and projection.
Dealing with art has made me contemplate on content more deeply and communication with others more carefully. Over these decades of being exposed to art, my preferences, especially what I don’t like, has been made a lot clearer. In effect, brutal honesty and trusting my intuition has become my approach to business and relationships, and it has had an invaluable influence on where I am now.
Visiting the dusty studios of Beijing or flying 20 hours to reach an exotic art destination has become more meaningful than spending a day at the spa for me. Art has made me explorative, less judgmental, and definitely more open-minded.
Tell us about Tokyo Art Office, which you founded in summer 2017.
Tokyo Art Office focuses on art advisory, liaisons and VIP relations. It’s quite diverse: I am building collections for a new generation of Japanese collectors, writing for Forbes Japan, while at the same time doing the liaison for Soho House Tokyo that’s opening next year
In anything I do, it’s founded on gaining trust, balancing vision, inspiring fun, and building lasting relationships. That's why advising to one individual, contributing to a magazine, or promoting a membership club can be handled similarly- it’s about their needs and providing it in the most comfortable and approachable way.
How are you working to bring the Asian art market to an international audience?
There’s so much attention on the Asian art market now, but a lot of people just don’t know how to tap into it. I've advised several international galleries on their networking strategy and their day to day itinerary when visiting Japan. I've also worked on the VIP list for fairs, bringing foreign collectors into Asia or vice versa.
A new endeavour for me this year is the role of Asia Ambassador for Asia Now, Europe's biggest contemporary Asian art fair taking place in Paris during the week of FIAC. Instead of having collectors fly into Asia, we’re going to bring Asian art to them.
What advice do you have for first-time or budding art collectors?
That there are so many ways to approach art. Whether it be to fill a home with catchy works, for art patronage, for investment purposes—you just have to find a way or a reason for collecting that resonates with you. For example, a good friend of mine has been thinking about starting an art collection, but she didn't know where to begin.
She just had a baby and I told her that for every birthday, she should buy a work of art for her daughter. When she turns 18, she can pass this collection of amazing, memorable artworks on to her. It's a once a year purchase with so much sentimental value.
I think a lot of people, especially in Japan, perceive collecting as something only high society individuals do. But I want to share that art is not at all like that. Feeling the energy of an artwork and trusting your eye is where it all begins. It takes time and really is a journey—a very personal one at that—but its never too late to start!
What are some must-see galleries or museums that art lovers should check out in Tokyo?
We have some really great art destinations like Naoshima Art Site and Odawara Art Foundation outside of Tokyo, but if you’re in the capital—I would suggest checking out some traditional and contemporary Japanese art at institutions like the Mori Art Museum, Nezu Museum in Aoyama, and Hara Museum of Contemporary Art.
What is next for you?
Besides committing to the arts, I am a proud promoter of Japanese culture and developing my own artisanal brand called Sayuri, launching with a boutique collection of Japanese sake and premium green teas. Having owned a few F&B companies and being a certified tea sommelier, Sayuri has been a passion project that has finally come to life.
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