From business to science, the number of situations where people advocate for the necessity of art is dramatically increasing. Although the world doesn’t look different under the influence of the corona pandemic, people’s minds are changing; under such change, how does everyone’s perception of art transform?
Gallerists, artists, and collectors are now researching and trying to predict what kind of art will appear in the post-corona generation.
The eighth installment features Shunsuke Kimura, director of NEW AUCTION, a new auction house that has introduced profit return system for artists. NEW AUCTION, which was established in Harajuku, Tokyo, is not bound by the conventional concept of auctions, but is operated with the aim of providing new experiences and values and promoting a sustainable circulation of resources in the art market. For the first time in Japan, they introduced so called profit return system where a portion of the proceeds will be returned to the artist. And as a principle, works that are less than two years old will be sold with the approval of the artist or the gallery representing the artist. The first auction, “NEW 001,” was held in November at the BA-TSU ART GALLERY in Harajuku. We talked to him about the background of the establishment of NEW AUCTION and the responses from clients to the auction.
Auctions in Japan have a lot of untapped potential
–What made you to decide to launch “NEW AUCTION”?
Shunsuke Kimura (Kimura): When I was working for an auction company in Japan for about 10 years, I was planning an auction called “Harajuku Auction” focusing on the town of Harajuku, and I was also organizing an auction called “ART+MUSIC” selling music-related artworks. After that, I moved to a company called en one Tokyo, where I was in charge of directing the gallery space “SAI” in Miyashita Park. As I collaborated with artists through exhibitions as the director of SAI, I was often reminded of the characteristics of this place where the gallery is located.
In the past, SAI held an exhibition of photographs taken by photographer Ryuichi Ishikawa, who accompanied survivalist and mountain climber Bunsho Hattori. The exhibition consisted of photographs taken by Ishikawa while he and Hattori were immersed in a self-sufficient lifestyle in the mountains, and the works on display depicted nature untouched by human hands and the internal organs of animals hunted for food.
We eat animal flesh as a matter of course, but in today’s society it has become really difficult to see how they are produced. Therefore, I thought that there would be complaints, resistance, and negative opinions about exhibiting images of raw internal organs in a straightforward manner. However, once the exhibition started, many people came to see the exhibition. However, when the exhibition started, many people came to see the exhibition. About 70% of them probably didn’t know anything about Ishikawa or Hattori, and we received really interesting responses, such as high school girls taking pictures in front of the image of deer brain and a person from oversea who was moved to tears. At that time, I had the feeling that people who just dropped by would take something home with them from this place.
From this experience, I realized that SAI, being located in a commercial facility, is in a sense more open than a gallery or museum, and that it is a place that can impact on many people. Also, the SAI team often talks about how to get more people interested in owning works of art, and I thought an auction was an interesting way to do this. Anyone can purchase the work, and the price is open. An exhibition conveys the world of a particular artist, but an auction requires more explanation of each work for prospective buyers. Since there is still a high hurdle to buying art in Japan, I thought that an auction with an event-like atmosphere would be an effective way. In addition, I saw potential in the fact that the actual artworks would be displayed here at SAI for people to see.
–Please tell us about the strengths of NEW AUCTION compared to existing auctions, such as the introduction of a profit return system to support artist.
Kimura: In Europe, Artist’s Resale Right (ARR) exists, but in the U.S., Japan, and many other countries, there are no laws regarding profit return to the artist. Regardless of whether profit returns are good or bad, in the art market, there are artists who create works in the first place, galleries that support them, collectors who buy the works, critics, and museums that preserve the works for future generations.
I believe that auctions are like a pump that supports the circulation of art, but now, perhaps because auctions have become too powerful, they have too much momentum and seem a bit violent. With NEW AUCTION, we want to make this cycle a little softer than it is now. The redemption money is one of the mechanisms we have introduced on an experimental basis.
–As for auctions, do you think there is still a lot of potential in Japan?
Kimura: Yes, I think there is. It can be said to be an untapped area, so I think there is still a lot of potential, partly because Japanese artists are highly regarded overseas. I feel that Japan as a country is getting more attention in the Asian market as well. The quality of the artists and galleries is high, but the market is not yet that mature. Department stores are still perceived as a main place to buy art. So in that sense, I think it’s important to show a transparency of market through auctions.
–You also made the elaborate and gorgeous catalogs, right?
Kimura: I made a conscious effort to tell the story of each piece, even in short sentences. By sharing the background of the work, it is possible to motivate potential buyers to purchase the work, rather than just making them appreciate it aesthetically. In the first place, the owners have lots to say about their artworks. Thinking about the work is something we enjoy doing, and something we think is necessary. I also think it’s positive that artists of all genres can be seen evenly.
The reason for the high rate of successful bid of 95.3%
–Please look back on the auction “NEW 001” held on November 6, and tell us your impressions of it.
Kimura: This was our first auction, and I was first of all relieved that we were able to run it smoothly without any system trouble. Also, there were many participants, and above all, the atmosphere of the venue was wonderful. A large number of people participating does not necessarily mean that the auction will be successful. But it also needs to be exciting. Usually, not a few people join the auction via phone or online, instead of coming to the venue, but this time we had the highest number of bids from the venue and the winning bid rate was as high as 95.3%.
One of the interesting things that happened in the auction was that one client, who we imagined that he would be buying pop art like Warhol or Cows, ended up bidding on a Picasso’s piece. As the market matures, I think people will be interested in different artists with different styles, rather than choosing the one everyone else choose. This experience is unique to auctions.
–The total amount of successful bids was 555,477,250 yen (including sales commission). What do you think brought vitality to the auction? And why do you think it was able to achieve such a high winning bid rate?
Kimura: I think it was because we were able to convey the appeal of the works well. Also, the appropriateness of estimated prices was a big factor. This was made possible by the cooperation of the sellers. I also got the impression that the event was more exciting than I had expected because of the variety of people who came to the venue.
— The number of works on display and sale was approximately 130, and the lineup of artists ranged from masters who have appeared in art history to contemporary artists who are now popular in Japan. How did you curate this wide variety of works?
Kimura: First of all, I calculated the limit to the number of artworks to be about 130, considering the limitation of the exhibition space and human resource. Within this limitation, we have collected as wide a range of works as possible so that both those who are familiar with art and those who have never purchased art before can enjoy them.
Based on the general criteria regarding the historical periodization and tastes we set, we negotiated with the sellers to select pieces. Regardless of the price, we tried to collect as many works as possible that we ourselves would want to have.
–How were the responses from the sellers?
Kimura: There were many positive comments about the profit return system, saying that it was necessary. Also, I think the sellers were pleased with the catalog and our branding strategy.
–The piece bought at the top price was George Condo’s “Little Ricky” (2004), which fetched 138 million yen. This was the second highest price among art auctions held in Japan this year. Did you expect this situation?
Kimura: It was the first time that such a major work of George Condo was auctioned in Japan. I am grateful to the Japanese owner for selling it to us. As for the work, I thought there would surely be bids for it since he is one of the most popular artists in the world. But what was important was whether bidder was from Japan or not. The winning bidders were from overseas, but there were also a lot of bids from Japanese bidders. I was able to feel once again the potential of Japan, that even in Japan, excellent artists’ works are bid on.
A system that allows funds to circulate through NEW AUCTION without relying on the existing market cycle
–How do you plan to manage “NEW AUCTION” under the circumstances of the current art market bubble?
Kimura: There are auctions held at the Imperial Hotel where people would have to be dressed in a suit to participate, but “NEW AUCTION” aims to be an auction that is rooted in the town of Harajuku as much as possible. When you go to Europe, you see many people strolling around their neighbourhood and stopping by auctions to buy a piece of work they like. We focus on being a casual place where people can buy our works casually and enjoy them easily. It would be great if we could run the shop in a way that both the clients and us can enjoy.
–In the first half of 2021, the number of art auctions increased by 3% compared to the first half of 2019, according to a report from Artmarket.com. We believe that the vitalization of the online market is a major factor, but what changes have you seen in the auction market under the COVID-19 pandemic?
Kimura: With the establishment of a system that allows people from all over the world to bid easily, the auction houses have quickly moved online. I think an increasing number of people are judging and purchasing artworks based on images. It’s great that our lives are becoming more convenient, but at the same time, the physical art appreciation experience is essential. There are still so many things that are not conveyed well online.
–What kind of market are you currently focusing on?
Kimura: Today, art is attracting a lot of attention as a place for artists from groups of social minority. Kawaguchi, a member of “NEW AUCTION”, was originally based in New York, and he has a friend who curates black artists. We had planned an exhibition curated by him, but it could not be realized due to the pandemic. In addition to the physical transportation issues, I am also concerned about whether people will be able to fully understand the background of the artist’s work, when they are exhibited in Japan. Regardless of whether they sell well in the market or not, we need to think more about whether Japanese people will be able to understand the context well or not, whether we will be able to convey a deeper significance. I think it is our mission to consider this and take on the challenge, even though we don’t know what kind of response we will get.
–Please tell us about the future prospect of NEW AUCTION.
Kimura: I would like to gradually expand our community and make the auction culture more rooted in Japan without being overwhelmed by the surrounding circumstances. We have received positive feedback from people in the fashion industry about “NEW 001”, and we have added another diagonal line to the “W” of “NEW” in the “NEW AUCTION” logo, to convey the message of expanding the community and connecting to the next step.
For example, if there is an idea about publishing a Japanese version of an overseas art book, we would like to propose the use of auctions to raise funds, and we would also like to play a role in the operation of the system. We would like to see pieces of art circulating through NEW AUCTION, and a portion of the proceeds going to every corner of the art market. That’s what we would like to realize.