Annual ranking for Japanese artists

[23 Dec 2016]

Discover the best sales every Friday! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. Discover the most expensive works of Japanese artists, whose prices went through the roof in 2016.

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Tsuguharu FOUJITA (1886-1968) $5 082 600 Nu Au Chat 2016-04-03 Sotheby’s Hong Kong
2 Yoshitomo NARA (1959) $3 103 911 “The Little Ambassador” 2016-10-02 Sotheby’s Hong Kong
3 Kazuo SHIRAGA (1924-2008) $2 684 192 “Chikisei Sesuisho” (Shan Tinggui – The 108 Liangshan heroes in the Water Margin) 2016-05-30 Christie’s Hong Kong
4 Yayoi KUSAMA (1929) $2 539 936 Cloud Considering 2016-05-28 Christie’s Hong Kong
5 Kazuo SHIRAGA (1924-2008) $2 387 746 “Uchoten” 2016-06-07 Sotheby’s Paris
6 Yoshitomo NARA (1959) $2 292 500 “Wish World Peace” 2016-11-17 Sotheby’s New York NY
7 Kazuo SHIRAGA (1924-2008) $2 259 391 “Koujouka” 2016-02-10 Sotheby’s London
8 Yayoi KUSAMA (1929) $2 253 171 “Infinity-Nets (Howaz)” 2016-10-02 Sotheby’s Hong Kong
9 Kazuo SHIRAGA (1924-2008) $2 228 979 Untitled (Red Fan) 2016-02-11 Bonhams London
10 Yoshitomo NARA (1959) $2 173 253 “Eastern Youth”Untitled (Red Fan) 2016-11-26 Christie’s Hong Kong
copyright © 2016

Hong Kong is the most dynamic market place to sell the top Japanese artists at the highest prices. The annual ranking reveals that six of the Top 10 sales of the year were made by the two market leaders, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, in Hong Kong, the go-to place for all major Asian and, to a lesser extent, Western collectors. In this year’s ranking, first place goes to Foujita, ahead of his compatriots Kazuo Shiraga, Noshitomo Nara and above all Yayoi Kusama (who passed the $5m mark twice last year, in 2015). This is the unexpected twist for Japanese art this year.

Tsuguharu Foujita fairs better than Yayoi Kusama this year

At the crossroads of influences, the art of Foujita (1886-1968) is imbued with the history of Japanese and Western art, the Italian Renaissance and the Parisian Avant-Garde of his era. Arriving in Paris in 1913, Foujita was quickly exhibited by Modigliani’s and Soutine’s art dealer at the Galerie Chéron (1917); his work was influenced by the creative breakthroughs of his friends, especially Modigliani. However, one can also see the influence of traditional calligraphy, which is visible in the subtlety of his brush strokes, the use of space and blocks of colour reminiscent of Japanese prints. Foujita’s work is based on hybridization, mixing tradition and modernity, East and West. His influence is indeed worldwide and his works are as much in demand in Asia as in the West. A quarter of a century ago, in 1990, Tsuguharu Foujita emerged as the most highly regarded Japanese artist in the world, with a million dollar sale at Sotheby’s in New York forEnfant égarée (which sold for $1.14m). After a few years of relative neglect (his last wife, Kimiyo, having forbidden all reproduction and even exhibitions of the work of her late husband), his market recovered, boosted by the 130th anniversary of his birth, celebrated both in France and Japan. In 2016, an absolute record was set of more than $5m, for the beautiful Nude with cat (Sotheby’s Hong Kong on April 3rd, 2016) bought by the Long Museum of Shanghai (private museum founded by Liu Yiqian, president of the Sunline group, and Wang Wei). This subtle and majestic work (more than 1.6 m) had already made a sensation in the sale room in 2014, selling for $1.9 million. With the price more than doubling in two years, the Foujita market took on a new impetus and 2016 was a historic year, the best ever recorded in turnover for the artist, with more than $16.5 million worth of sales, compared with $5 million last year.

In addition to the strong results in Hong Kong, France remains the centre of the artist’s market (31% of his sales were made in France over the last 10 years) and major works by the artist will be exhibited in Reims in the near future. The city has indeed received a donation of 663 works, the best of which will be exhibited in the new Museum of Fine Arts, which is due to open in 2018.

Taking the lead in this annual ranking, Foujita sends a strong signal regarding his ongoing revaluation. This year, he is ahead of the leading artists in the world’s art market. Kusama is indeed one of the most highly valued artists in the world, with a record set at $7.1 million on 12 November 2014, for her work entitled White No. 28 (Christie’s New York), and the $7m figure was reached again last year for No. Red B (Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 4 October 4 2015). The best annual result for the Princess of Polka Dots, Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) rose to $2.5m for Cloud Considering (1991-1992) sold at Christie’s in Hong Kong in May 2016. This large canvas (162cm x 130cm) from the early 90s is one of the artist’s Top 10 sales at auction. In 2008, at an auction organised by The Market in Tokyo, the same painting was sold for around $85,000… The value of this work had increased by more than $2.4m in less than 10 years! This is the “Kusama effect”, whose prices are truly explosive, up more than 720% since 2000!

Kazuo Shiraga and Noshitomo Nara dominate with the seven best sales

Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008), one of the founders of the Gutaï group, a radical movement of the second half of the 20th century, has seen his prices rising since 2013, the year of the major retrospective Gutai: Splendid Playground organised at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (15 February – 8 May 2013). Since then, his large gestural canvases have been sold for millions of dollars in Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Munich. In 2016, 11 of his works sold for more than one million dollars at auction in Asia, the United States, the United Kingdom but also in France, which is as important as Hong Kong for the sale of his works, with similar figures between Paris and Hong Kong (over the last 10 years).

The youngest artist in the ranking is Noshitomo Nara (born in 1959) who confirms his popularity with four million dollar sales as part of his personal Top 10 this year. By the end of 2015, Nara had enjoyed a spectacular rise, going from 76th position among the most sought-after artists at auction, just behind the American Richard Prince. Four new auction records were broken in 2015 compared to the previous year. His absolute top sale still peaks at $3.4 million with The Little Star Dweller (2006), sold at Christie’s New York on 9 November 9 2015. The 2015 vintage was the best of his career, with total sales of $29 million (twice the amount of the previous year), with major exhibitions at the Pace Gallery in Hong Kong (Stars, 13 March – 25 April 2015), and at the Blum & Poe Gallery in Tokyo (Shallow Puddles, 2 October – 14 November 2015). The explosion of his sales prices is comparable to that of Kusama, with an increase of +715% since 2003.