New kids on the block: Japanese photography gallery IBASHO

Antwerp’s already well-established fine art photography scene can now count IBASHO as its latest and newest arrival. Focusing on Japanese photography and Western photographers whose work it has influenced, the recently-opened space was started by Dutch-born Martijn van Pieterson (34) and Annemarie Zethof (33), both former bankers and solicitors respectively. Their shared passion for contemporary art in general, and collecting more specially, led to the opening of their new space housed in their own home in Antwerp’s Zuid district. We caught up with the self-described beginners to find out what, exactly, drives this promising new entreprise. 

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Can you describe your concept in a few words? What is its core business? What are its driving principles? What, in your eyes, makes it unique?

IBASHO is a new art dealership in Antwerp that specialises in Japanese and International Fine Art Photography, showing photography from well-known Japanese photographers, from younger contemporary Japanese artists as well as from Western photographers who were inspired by Japan. As of the 26th March 2015, IBASHO hopes to show the versatility and beauty of Japanese photography in its gallery space. The international photography complements and deepens the Japanese collection and focuses on ‘Japanese aesthetics’. This main focus on Japanese visual culture makes IBASHO unique within the art scene in Belgium and abroad. IBASHO has already received recognition for this through its selection to exhibit at the prestigious new photography fair Photo London in May and Asian Art in Brussels in June.

Can you discuss the concept’s first steps? When did the idea first take? How did it come about?

We used to work in banking and law but always were, for over 20 years now, passionate about art and avid collectors too. Annemarie at one point switched to photography; she attended the Fotoacademie in Amsterdam and completed a Master’s program in Photography at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. Eventually, collecting of works also moved towards photography, as well as Japanese woodblock prints. These two art expressions culminated in the passion for and focus on Japanese photography. When Martijn decided to leave the financial sector in London, the idea of turning a passion into a profession by becoming art dealers in Japanese photography came up.

Can you talk to us about the concept’s name? What is its significance? How does it relate to the concept’s core idea?

IBASHO means ‘a place where you can feel comfortable and at ease’ in Japanese and it is exactly what we would like to offer our visitors: the gallery is located on the ground floor of our own home and we encourage visitors to take their time to look at the works, flip through photo books and drink some Japanese tea in this homely atmosphere.

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What excites you the most about your concept? What are you the proudest of?

We are very happy with the name IBASHO, since it expresses exactly what we would like to achieve with not only the gallery, but also with our home and lives. We are also very excited about our specific focus on Japanese photography since this it is a field within photography that has been overlooked for quite a long time; but it’s slowly becoming more visible and we want to play a meaningful part in promoting its appreciation.

How and why did you choose the neighbourhood you’re currently located in? What attracted you to it in the first place?

Before we moved to Antwerp we lived in London for six years. We didn’t know Antwerp that well, but knew of the popularity of Het Zuid. The proximity to FoMu, M HKA and the Museum voor de Schone Kunsten were also important factors in the decision. But crucial was finding a building where we could have a gallery and our home in one. After a two-day search we found a beautiful building from the late 1900s in the Tolstraat 67 that offers the space for both a gallery and a home. We’re also very happy that we’re surrounded by nice and popular restaurants and cafes such as Mampoko on the Amerikalei and Fiskebar and Café Baron on the Marnixplaats, which makes the neighbourhood very lively.

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How do you feel you’re bringing something fresh to the neighbourhood? 

We feel that we offer something new and interesting to the neighbourhood by our focus on Japanese photography. Because we will be open on many Sunday afternoons, locals will also have more options in the weekend to experience some visual culture.

Can you talk to us about the other businesses located in your neighbourhood? Do they have any similarities between each other?

As said, we very much enjoy the lively atmosphere of restaurants and bars in our direct vicinity. Also the Kasteelpleinstraat houses many restaurants, such as the exquisite Le John, and a little further away there is the wonderful sushi restaurant Ko-uzi and Japanese tea shop Azumaya, who catered for our pre-opening and will cater on our opening weekend too. Other businesses focusing on aspects of the ‘good life’ are aplenty: for example De Kookwinkel Soly and flower and plant shop De Groene Droom.

What, if anything, do you hope to change with this new opening?

With our gallery we hope to promote collecting photography in general and more specifically Japanese photography. We feel we have a certain mission to make people more aware of the beauty and versatility of photography as an art form and the special position photography has had in visual culture as of its conception. We are certainly not the first gallery in Antwerp with this mission: Gallery Fifty One has done groundbreaking work in this respect. But also Stieglitz 19, Stilll, Ingrid Deuss Gallery and Base Alpha are very active in promoting photography in Antwerp and abroad.

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What did you least expect about starting this business?

We didn’t expect that other photography galleries in Antwerp would embrace us so quickly, but they did: as soon as it was known that we would open a photography gallery in the Spring of 2015 we were asked by Thierry Vandenbussche from Stilll and Dries Roelens from Stieglitz 19 to participate in the Antwerp Art Weekend in January 2015, for which a special photography route was created. It was hands on deck for us to have a presentable exhibition space ready in time, but it was absolutely worthwhile to participate. In short: we feel very welcome in the art scene in Antwerp.

What would you tell the beginner?

We are very much beginners ourselves and in the middle of the overwhelming experience of starting our own business from the ground up. It is important to recognise that you can’t do everything yourself and to find those people to work with, who are extremely professional and with whom you have a good ‘click’. For instance, we work with design duo Uber & Kosher for our branding and website, with whom we feel we have a real connection and who are doing a fantastic job styling IBASHO. The only other ‘advice’ we could give is: follow your passion and intuition, which is what we are doing, and trust that it will all turn out in a good way.

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What would you tell the potential customer?

Consider collecting photography instead of or in addition to more traditional expressions of visual art, such as paintings or drawings, and feel free to visit our gallery to experience the beauty of Japanese photography. We are more than happy to show you our collection and inform you about Japanese photography and photography in general. We offer photographs for every wallet size as well as new and antiquarian Japanese photography books.

Can you name one other concept that proved to be an inspiration? A concept whose moves you follow.

When we arrived in Antwerp we very quickly met Tim van Geloven and Ilse Cornelissens from Graanmarkt 13. They’re wonderful people and have done a fantastic job in creating a unique concept and brand in Antwerp. The passion, drive and ideas of Tim and Ilse and the fact that they have followed and delivered on their dreams in their concept store, restaurant, exhibition space and bed and breakfast show us that Antwerp is a place of opportunity and they are an inspiration to us for developing our business. We are grateful and excited to work together with them on our pop-up exhibition at Graanmarkt 13, which will open on 28 March, two days after our gallery opening.

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What does success look like to you?

Success entails doing something we are passionate about and being able to share that passion with others, being recognized by people from inside as well as outside the art scene and making a valuable contribution to art in Antwerp, Belgium and abroad, whilst maintaining a healthy profit margin to enable us to continue to do so.

IBASHO
Tolstraat 67
2000 Antwerpen
03 2162028
ibashogallery.com