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Posted on Mon, Oct 19, 2009 : 5:38 a.m.

Japan's first outdoor art fair draws inspiration, artists from Ann Arbor event

By Jennifer Eberbach


Accordion book by Julie Fremuth. The Ann Arbor-based artist's works will be featured in the Yokohama International Open-Air Art Fair, believed to be the first event of its kind in Japan, Oct. 30 - Nov. 1.

Lon Horwedel |

Yokohama, Japan is hosting its first-ever open-air art fair, Oct. 30 - Nov. 1 - featuring a dozen artists from its inspiration, the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, including local artist Julie Fremuth.

The Yokohama International Open-Air Art Fair 2009 plans to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the local port with art from Japan and the United States, workshop tents, a kickoff party and session time with artists. Not only is the Yokohama Art Fair believed to be the first of its kind in the country, but it also aims to shape the culture of art in the local community and Japan at large.

The Yokohama Art Fair is co-hosted by International Arts and Crafts Promotion, a non-profit association formed in May of 2009, in cooperation with the City of Yokohama. The IACP is a community organization that “aims to bring art to everyday life and foster the society that cherishes development of creativity.”

Great art and design comes out of Japan; however, one perspective is that the Japanese art market can be somewhat limiting for many professional artists and potential buyers. For example, in Japan, art is generally sold through galleries and exclusively shown in museums. Without more open-format selling opportunities, such as public art fairs, artists do not have as many opportunities to sell their own work, and the public is exposed to a smaller range of artists.

Event creator Midori Ueda-Okahana, who planned the fair with partner Takashi Yamashita, explains, “My partner and I do feel we are bringing something very new and exciting to Japanese people (not only Yokohama), as well as to the art scene.”

Ueda-Okahana studied fine art at Glassboro State University in New Jersey before returning home to Japan. In the past several years, “I’ve decided to give a serious effort to go back to the art scene after a long absence... meaning living as an artist, painting and selling the work,” she explains. In the summer of 2008, she visited the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, one of four that make up the Ann Arbor Art Fairs each July, because she was considering applying. “When I felt the energy of the artists in Ann Arbor, something struck me inside, something moved me to coordinate and bring a whole new art scene in Japan,” she says.

After setting plans for the Yokohama Fair in motion, Ueda-Okahana returned to Ann Arbor for the 2009 fair. During this second visit, she met with recently retired director Shary Brown and invited artists to participate in the Yokohama fair in person. Brown helped arrange for expert jurors to help screen artist submissions, and helped Yokohama Fair planners communicate with the overseas artists.

“I just felt we, Japanese, need the power and the energy of the (Ann Arbor Art Fair) artists and the fair in Japan to change not only the art scene, but also the people, the society, and to free rigid minds by experiencing a variety of art work created by many individuals,” Ueda-Okahana says.

The IACP takes the stance that “art should be among people, not only in museums, not just in galleries,” according to the association. Ueda-Okahana adds, “This should, we believe, not be based on the name value of the artists, but rather on the individual’s likings.” By bringing many diverse artists into the open air, Ueda-Okahana hopes the Yokohama Fair will create a “causal” atmosphere, where buyers can communicate with artists directly, and buy reasonably priced art to take home with them.

Ueda-Okahana also hopes her inclusion of American artists from the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair will have a positive impact on Japanese artists, who “will have a chance to experience and know the wider art scene,” as well as gather “insights on being an independent artist, marketing one’s artwork at art fairs and communicating with prospective buyers him/herself.”

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Julie Fremuth of Ann Arbor is among the Street Art Fair artists participating in the event in Japan.

Lon Horwedel |

The Yokohama Fair should also be a unique experience for the Ann Arbor Art Fair artists who are participating, as well. Local Ann Arbor artist Julie Fremuth was “blown away,” when Ueda-Okahana walked up to her art fair booth with Shary Brown and offered her a spot in the Yokohama Fair — as well as compensation for her travel and shipping expenses. “It was incredibly meaningful to me in deeper, personal ways,” she says. “I live in a box. I have all of these patterns of behavior,” and “never ever did I think I would go to Japan ever in my life.”

Fremuth - who is married to photographer Lon Horwedel - works in mixed media, painting, book art, paper-mâché, collage, printing, gouache, pencil, and other media. She is bringing about 40 artworks to the Yokohama fair, including a combination of new works and works similar to those she sold at the 2009 Ann Arbor Street Art Fair that originally sparked Ueda-Okahana’s attention.

Many of her artworks are portraiture, and she is greatly inspired by old documents, like journals. “I feel a need to honor the everyday human being who is not honored because our society only seems to honor those people who are big, extra smart — people who somehow excel at something,” she explains. Fremuth is more interested in “everyday heroes,” because “I like to look into their human effort.”


Cone couple by Ann Arbor artist Julie Fremuth, who showcases her works in Japan later this month.

Lon Horwedel |

Fremuth is curious “how my art will appeal to people in Japan,” as well as what the art scene is like over there. However, on a deeper, more personal level, participating in the Yokohama Fair is an opportunity for her to “break out of the box of my daily comfort zone,” she says.

The Yokohama International Open-Air Art Fair aims to break people out of their comfort zones, in a manner of speaking, by facilitating new experiences for the general Japanese public, local artists, and visiting American artists. For us Ann Arbor dwellers, it is nice to think that our cultural events can impact international art. In this case, all it took was a couple of visits from a creative thinker who decided to take a piece of our town’s culture home with her and grow it into something of its own.

Jennifer Eberbach is a free-lance writer who covers art for