TOP 10: Mono Ha

[25 Oct 2013]


Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: Mono Ha

TOP 10: Mono Ha
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Ufan LEE $1,960,800 From Point (1977) 11/26/2012 (Seoul Auction HONG KONG)
2 Ufan LEE $1,900,800 From Line (1978) 09/15/2007 (Seoul Auction Center SEOUL)
3 Ufan LEE $1,700,000 «78083», from Point Series (1978) 05/16/2007 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
4 Ufan LEE $1,618,650 From Point (1970) 07/12/2007 (Seoul Auction Center SEOUL)
5 Ufan LEE $1,200,000 « From Line 790294 » () 05/09/2012 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
6 Ufan LEE $1,090,550 From Line (1975) 11/28/2011 (Seoul Auction HONG KONG)
7 Ufan LEE $1,057,320 From Line (1978) 09/15/2007 (Seoul Auction Center SEOUL)
8 Ufan LEE $990,000 From Point () 03/25/2008 (Seoul Auction Center SEOUL)
9 Ufan LEE $970,200 From point (1975) 06/18/2008 (Seoul Auction Center SEOUL)
10 Ufan LEE $900,000 « From Line » (1979) 11/15/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)

Although little known, the Mono-ha group (literally the « school of things ») marked a turning point in the history of post-war Japanese art with its activities during the 1960s and 1970s. Viewed in terms of Western art history, it bears certain similarities to the Arte Povera and Land Art movements. The artists worked with natural materials and cultural products, exploring their symbolism and specific dynamics, and using them to create installations that could throw spaces into disarray. It all began in October 1968 with the first open-air exhibition of contemporary sculpture in Kōbe and with a monumental work created for this event by Nobuo Sekine entitled Phase-Mother Earth. In the wake of Nobuo SEKINE‘s notable installations, other artists joined the ranks of the Mono-ha movement, including Ufan LEE, Katsuro YOSHIDA, Susumu KOSHIMIZU, Koji ENOKURA, Kishio SUGA, Noboru TAKAYAMA and Katsuhiko NARITA. Their works rarely appear at auction, apart from those of Lee Ufan, the only artist who is really represented on the market.

Lee Ufan
Shaped by the philosophies of East (Laozi and Zhuangzi) and West (Nietzsche, Rilke, Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty), the South Korean Lee Ufan is at once a thinker, writer and sculptor. His story took a decisive turn in 1968 when he met Nobuo Sekine. He works delicately on materials (such as stone, glass, cotton, plastic and metal) and shapes, producing intensity through the effects of slowness and acceleration created by the complicity of form, material and space. Lee Ufan is the only Mono-ha artist to have really taken off in the market. He regularly finds himself listed in the top three most sought-after Korean artists of all time. His works crop up at every contemporary art fair in Asia, and are rarely absent from the pages of Asian sales catalogues. The artist is most popular with Japanese and Korean auction houses (86% of sales) but sales of his work in New York are increasingly attracting interest. At his first New York sale in 2002, Christie’s sold a large watercolour (79 cm x 109.2 cm) for a meagre $2,000 against an estimate range of $5,000 – $7,000 (18 September 2002, Untitled). Just four years later, demand for his works exploded with the boom in the Asian art market. Sotheby’s was the first to benefit from this upsurge of interest, selling a 1982 acrylic for $140,000, twice its high estimate, (the work sold for $168,000 including buyer’s premium, Untitled, 227 cm x 182 cm, 31 March 2006, New York). In 2007, Lee Ufan broke the million-dollar barrier, a record still held by Sotheby’s New York, with a 1978 canvas from his Point series. Expected to fetch $400,000 to $600,000, in the end the painting sold for $1.7 million ($1.944 million including buyer’s premium, « 78083 », from Point Series, 16 May 2007) and this remains a record in New York. Today, Lee Ufan has sold seven works for more than one million (two in New York and Hong Kong, three in Seoul) and holds the top 114 prices for works by Mono-ha artists. So we have to search well down the list to 115th place to find Jiro Takamatsu.

Jiro Takamatsu
Japanese artist Jiro Takamatsu is known to have influenced Mono-ha with works that delve into the essence of things and explore the ambiguity that exists between reality and its representation. Contrary to expectations, the artist’s top sales have not been made in his home town of Tokyo, but in Belgium and France (record price for a wood and painted metal relief entitled « No. 135 », 1966, sold for € 110,000 or $142,000 at De Vuyst in Lokeren on 27 October 2012).

Apart from Lee Ufan and Jiro Takamatsu, works by Mono-ha artists are very affordable in the salerooms, with average estimates ranging from $500 to $5,000. There are still bargains to be snapped up, as the market is undernourished – there is a total absence of lots from Katsuro Yoshida and Katsuhiko Narita; one single sale for Susumu Koshimizu (a sculpture sold for the equivalent of $733 in 2009, The Market, Tokyo) and for Noboru Takayama (record equivalent to $2,081 for a mixed technique on cardboard (Work, Mainichi Auction, Tokyo, 10 September 2011). Ten lots from Koji Enokura have to date been scattered around the salerooms (fetching a record equivalent to $3,088 for a 1990 untitled acrylic, Augur Auction, Tokyo, 13 September 2009) and 43 lots for Kishio Suga (with a recent record equivalent to $5,262 for Kaitai/Work/Behind the Surrounding, Mallet Japan, Tokyo, 29 September 2013).

As for Nobuo Sekine, this key artist has sold works in Europe – where he became known after his appearance at the Venice Biennale in 1970 – and in Asia, but his works still fail to feature in US sales catalogues. Today, his drawings sell for an average of $2,000 to $5,000, and he has twice broken the $10,000 barrier. His record was not achieved in Tokyo but in Amsterdam, for a sculpture in stone and metal. It was given a timid estimate of $1,000 but finally sold for $31,500 in 2011 (Untitled, sold for € 22,000 at Sotheby’s on 19 April 2011).