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Dreamer's House: The art of living and the art of collecting find a perfection in the home of Daisuke Miyatsu

house


dream house (2004)
designed by dominique gonzalez-foerster
courtesy of daisuke miyatsu


(this article first appeared in the may 2005 issue of Art + Auction magazine.)

Cab drivers familiar with the sleepy Shimosa Nakayama neighborhood of Chiba, just outside Tokyo, know "that pink house." It's really just half pink but distinctive nonetheless, surrounded by gray and brown traditional Japanese buildings. The color alone isn't what had the cabbies buzzing for the past year or so. "We drive fashionable people from Tokyo and even foreigners there," says one. "What is it?"

It is collector Daisuke Miyatsu's Dream House. The two-story home, where Miyatsu lives with and his wife, Shizu, isn't huge or extravagant, but it is a monument to the dynamism of contemporary art and an ongoing labor of love. The 41-year-old public relations specialist, who began collecting actively in the mid-1990s, humbly calls himself "just a salaryman." With no income beyond what he receives from a Tokyo high-tech firm, he has acquired over 100 works by a roster of international artists, mostly in their 30s and 40s, and is recognized as a savvy and devoted collector. "Miyatsu buys before anybody else, and although the value of his collection has gone up quite a bit, he never sells, ever," says Shugo Satani of the Tokyo gallery Shugoarts. All of his holdings are either in storage in a climate-controlled facility or on loan to museums.

"I consider myself a temporary owner of the artworks," Miyatsu explains. "I'd like to pass my collection on to the next generation in good condition." At the same time, he wants to live with the art he loves. So about five years ago, he decided to ask artists he particularly admires to create works just for his private residence, and even asked one, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster (who loves pink), to design the house itself. The sunny, comfortable interior is filled with custom-made artworks that are integrated into the design. Ten works are in situ so far, and eight more are planned. The final completion date is open, but after that, no more art, either commissioned or from the collection, will be added.

From the entryway, one immediately sees a wall on which snapshots of couples dancing are affixed, like a wallpaper pattern, by South Korean artist Jung Yeon Doo. These lead up the stairs to a tall mirror by Yayoi Kusama, decorated with her signature yellow-on-black dots. A chair by Thai artist Surasi Kusolwong is covered with stuffed animals. The garden was designed by Japanese artist Shimabuku, who also did the silkscreened wallpaper in the bathroom. "This is my dream come true," says Miyatsu.

As a collector, Miyatsu is recognized for his keen eye. "Daisuke's collecting is passionate and wide-ranging," says David Elliott, director of the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo and a friend of the collector. He notes that Miyatsu recognized the importance of Kusama, whose work was among his earliest purchases, before her market took off. Today Miyatsu owns about a dozen of her pieces. He was also among the first to buy works by Gonzalez-Foerster, Shimabuku and photographer Rika Noguchi, and owns pieces by Teresita Fernandez, Joseph Grigely and Choi Jeong Hwa. "He gets to know the artists, talks to them and brings out the best in them," says Hidenori Ota of Ota Fine Arts in Tokyo. "He is probably the most hands-on collector around."

His early support of many of the contributing artists was crucial to the Dream House project. They visited the site individually to consult with Miyatsu on the location for their own pieces. Although Miyatsu and his wife have lived there since January 2004, the art is still very much a work-in-progress. For the tatami mat room in the second floor, Yoshitomo Nara is committed to draw on the fusuma, or sliding door, panels and Marie-Ange Guilleminot will design a floor lamp. Choi Jeong-Hwa is planning to produce a lighting fixture for the living room, while a bookshelf by Taro Shinoda, one of the biggest pieces yet to be completed, will cover an entire wall. "The house is still in a state of transformation," notes Gonzalez-Foerster. "From the beginning, there was no intention of imposing a strong style or structure."

The Dream House is a product of Miyatsu's friendship with Gonzalez-Foerster, who lives in Paris. They met in 1995, when she showed an installation inspired by Japanese public bathhouses at Gallery Koyanagi in Tokyo. At the time, Miyatsu owned only a couple of artworks, and he fell in love with and eventually purchased the installation. Then he asked the artist to make a photo album of his life. "I didn't even know the word commission," he recalls. He gave her dozens of personal photographs, which she arranged in an ordinary album but in an unexpected way. Miyatsu was "completely blown away" that she had captured the essence of his life -- and created a work of art in the process.

"It has been very exciting to observe, use and reinforce our growing connection, despite a physical distance of more than 10,000 kilometers," says Gonzalez-Foerster. "It has been an ongoing conversation, and the house seemed like a natural continuation, only on a larger scale."

Asking Gonzalez-Foerster to design the house "was an inspired act," says Elliott. "She has such a careful attitude towards space and ambience." In the planning stage, the collector and the artist visited each other whenever they could and exchanged frequent e-mails and faxes. Miyatsu showed Gonzalez-Foerster's designs and sketches to Japanese architects, who amended them to suit the local building code, and then she would work on them some more. Miyatsu also sent numerous wallpaper, paint and other samples to Gonzalez-Foerster, wherever she happened to be. The process has been "like a romance," observes Tomoko Kimata, a former director of Gallery Koyanagi.

The resulting house has a simple, nearly square footprint with a central courtyard and a garden along one side. What could have been a boxy structure is broken up by two second-story balconies overlooking the garden. While it is thoroughly contemporary, there are touches of tradition and family history throughout. Nakagawa Sochi, an artist group led by Masahiro Nakagawa, took old kimonos worn by relatives of Miyatsu and his wife and turned them into a tapestry that serves as a curtain for a large window that opens on the garden. Tsuyoshi Ozawa inscribed a small drawing of Jizo, the Japanese guardian deity of children, in two corners of the courtyard pavement. Each drawing features a Japanese character representing the first syllable of the names of Miyatsu's two grandmothers. One grandmother used to live on the site where the house now stands, and the other inspired Miyatsu as a child to take an interest in art. He has made them both "guardians of the house," he says.

Many of the works have a spontaneous quality. Last fall, when German artist Peter Pommerer came to do a wall drawing in a corridor on the second floor, he forgot his special colored pencils in Tokyo. So Miyatsu frantically called local stores and found similar pencils in the next town. Then Pommerer "took off his jacket and worked nonstop for two hours, with a very intense focus," recalls Miyatsu. "It was wonderful to watch." The new pencils, which were thinner than those the artist normally uses, resulted in a uniquely delicate drawing. Miyatsu embraces these unpredictable episodes as much as the artworks that come out of them.

The Dream House has become a destination for friends and art world travelers. About half an hour by train from central Tokyo, it also happens to be located between the city and the airport. Artists Vibeke Tandberg and Candice Breitz, whose works are in his collection but not in the house, have stopped by on their way to Tokyo for a meal and a bath to relax after a long flight from Europe. Franck Gautherot, director of the contemporary art center Le Consortium in Dijon, has had lunch there, too.

Friends jokingly ask Miyatsu if he will lose his reason for living once the house is completed. Not to worry, he says, because he knows what he wants to do next: As soon as he pays off the house, he plans to build a villa on the beach. He already has a piece of property in Izu, west of Tokyo, and has been talking with Olafur Eliasson about designing it. When one Dream House ends, another begins.
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