Tokyo’s Top Ten

[14 Sep 2018]

In our fortnightly series of auction rankings, this week’s Friday Top looks at the best Fine Art auction results hammered in Tokyo since the beginning of the year.

Every year, between 12,000 and 14,000 artworks change hands on the Japanese auction market, the 10th largest national market in the world. Although less upmarket than London, New York or Hong Kong, Japan has a dynamic level of transactions and a particularly low unsold rate of 25% (vs. 31% in the UK and 44% in France) suggesting a healthy relationship between supply and demand. The megacity of Tokyo generates the bulk of the transactions via four main operators: iART Co., SBI Art Auction, Shinwa Art Auction and Mainichi Auction Inc. The latter is the most active, and ranks 20th in the world in terms of Fine Art auction turnover (with approximately $50 million p.a.).

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) 10 116 533 Tête de femme en pleurs 02/06/2018 iART Co., LTD. Tokyo
2 Pierre-Auguste RENOIR (1841-1919) 2 204 077 Deux sirenes 20/01/2018 Mainichi Auction Inc. Tokyo
3 Andy WARHOL (1928-1987) 1 751 308 Marilyn Monroe
21/04/2018 Mainichi Auction Inc. Tokyo
4 Matazo KAYAMA (1927-2004) 1 381 039 Flower 24/03/2018 Shinwa Art Auction Tokyo
5 Yayoi KUSAMA (1929) 976 640 Grapes 27/01/2018 SBI Art Auction Co, Ltd Tokyo
6 Kazuo SHIRAGA (1924-2008) 906 802 Untitled 21/04/2018 Mainichi Auction Inc. Tokyo
7 Yayoi KUSAMA (1929) 783 215 Infinity Nets 21/04/2018 Mainichi Auction Inc. Tokyo
8 Yoshitomo NARA (1959) 721 422 Come On 21/04/2018 Mainichi Auction Inc. Tokyo
9 Yoshitomo NARA (1959) 577 218 Untitled
20/04/2018 SBI Art Auction Co, Ltd Tokyo
10 Taikan YOKOYAMA (1868-1958) 494 735 Mount Fuji 24/03/2018 Shinwa Art Auction Tokyo
copyright © 2018

What sells in Tokyo…

The Japanese were early consumers of French Impressionist and Modern art. They invested heavily in the period’s best signatures between the late 80s and the early 90s, contributing to the speculative bubble of the time. In 1990, billionaire Ryoei Saito acquired Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Portrait of Dr. Gachet for $82.5 million (at Christie’s in New York) and Auguste Renoir’s Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette for $78.1 million (at Sotheby’s). In fact, French Modern art has always been coveted in Japan, especially since the collection compiled by Shojiro Ishibashi’s (1889-1976) who had the Bridgestone Museum of Art built in Tokyo in 1952 to house his Impressionist and Modern masterpieces including works by Monet, Renoir, Courbet, Rodin and Brancusi. Today, French Modern art is still popular in the Japanese megacity: Picasso’s Tête de femme en pleurs and Renoir’s Deux sirènes (1916) fetched $10.1 million and $2.2 million respectively in Tokyo this year.

Of course, Japanese collectors by no means ignore their own art history and are willing to pay high prices for works by their compatriots including Matazo KAYAMA (1927-2004), a major figure of contemporary Nihonga, a Japanese style of painting that drew inspiration from 8th century traditional Chinese painting that was substantially revived in the 20th century by a whole generation of artists. Indeed, it was Matazo KAYAMA’s delicate style that spearheaded the renaissance of the ancient traditions, the technical mastery of which requires many years of study. Other talented artists, including Togyū Okumura (1889-1990), Kaii Higashiyama (1908-1999) and Ikuo Hirayama (1930-2009), also stand out for their international appeal, especially in the United States (New York’s Metropolitan and Washington’s Smithsonian have acquired Nihonga-style works). Although recognized and appreciated worldwide, the art of Matazo KAYAMA elicits little demand outside of Japan and the vast majority of his works have remained within the island nation. None of his works have appeared in a French or American auction room for 10 years. However in Tokyo, collectors wait patiently for opportunities to buy his works. Last March, a drawing titled Flower offered by Shinwa Art Auction set a new record for the artist at $1.2 million, more than doubling his previous record of $501,000 dating back to the 2000 (Jaku (Solitude) at Christie’s New York, 10 May 2000). His highly sought-after cat drawings can fetch over $300,000 on the secondary market, roughly the same level as the cat drawings by his famous compatriot Tsuguharu Foujita. In short… Matazo KAYAMA is a name to remember as his works are both valuable and rare. He is now considered one of Japan’s most important artists of the second half of the 20th century.

Tokyo is also very open to Contemporary art, especially the work of the eccentric Yayoi Kusama who recently inaugurated her eponymous museum in the Shinjuku district. Kusama’s works are highly prized by Japanese collectors who pushed one of them, Grapes, to the million-dollar threshold last January at SBI Art Auction. But the Japanese appetite for Contemporary art goes way beyond Yayoi Kusama,Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami, the spearheads of Japanese neo-pop, brought up on a diet of manga imagery. In fact, Tokyo’s collectors are major consumers of Contemporary art in general… a passion amply reflected in the country’s auction scene with more than 2,000 Contemporary works changing hands in Tokyo between summer 2017 and summer 2018. That volume of transactions makes Tokyo the sixth most dynamic city in the world in terms of lots sold (generating turnover of $14 million, i.e. an average price of $7,000 per works sold). It is being fueled by a new generation of collectors, the most famous of whom is the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa who willingly discloses the prices of his new acquisitions by Picasso, Warhol, Koons or Basquiat. Remember that Mr. Maezawa paid $110.5 million for Basquiat’s (Untitled (1982) on 18 May 2017 at a Sotheby’s sale in New York. This young, rich and passionate collector will no doubt contribute to the growing popularity of auctions in his country.