Arts Committee Breakfast Series #3 |Panel Discussion

“How do you Make It in Today’s Art World"

Asia Society Japan Center

Asia Society Arts Committee Breakfast Meeting #3

Wednesday, 24 April 2019



Christopher P. Wells:  Asia Society Japan Center Founder Member & Arts Committee co-chair


Jenny Hata Blumenfield, Artist

Yurina Roche, Intern, Gagosian Gallery Hong Kong

Masako Shiba, Director, Asian Cultural Council Japan Foundation/Director of Engagement and Outreach, Asian Cultural Council


Panel Discussion – How do you Make It in Today’s Art World

Following introductory comments on about their individual backgrounds, the three panelists engaged in discussion, expressing their views from the perspectives of those involved, in creating, promoting and marketing art. Discussions covered the status quo of the Asian art environment, including comparisons with the New York art scene, the support available for artists at different stages of their career, the role of established artists and the roles of collectors and patrons.

Ms. Shiba started by introducing the contribution that Asian Cultural Council grants have made in promoting US-Japan and intra-Asia cultural exchange, offering artists opportunities for not only specialized training but also broadening their horizons through communication and exchange with other artists, as well as encounters with diversity. Ms. Blumenfield seeks to expand upon identity through the lens of ceramics, exploring ideas such as denial and acceptance, and functional and non-functional in her art. Photography, prints and paintings have also played into her artwork as a new way to represent ceramics. Yurina Roche started her art education in studio art but works as an in-between for artists with artists, business-minded people, and different cultures.

Asian art environment: Hosting Art Basel Hong Kong, Hong Kong has established its presence as the world’s third largest art auction market after the US and UK. The Asian market is maturing from a time when collectors, proud of their own country’s development, mainly bought modern and contemporary art from their own countries. Asian collectors and buyers - millionaires who have emerged out of the blue - have demonstrated different purchasing patterns from traditional Western collectors whom everyone knew, and this new potential is attractive for art dealers and gallerists.

Japanese art scene is distinct from others because during the bubble economy, the Japanese bought Impressionist art instead of Japanese contemporary art; and therefore, the Japanese contemporary art market unfortunately failed to develop to the full scale that it could have reached. However, successful artists like Kusama Yayoi, Murakami Takashi and Shiraga Kazuo, initially gaining high recognition overseas, have led the market to its highest. Asian Cultural Council supports the beginning of art professionals, and thus is often the first to recognize potential artists. There are many emerging and established Japanese artists yet to be recognized, and Asian Cultural Council aims to provide them with access to the appropriate audience.

Support mechanisms for artists: Once an artist establishes one’s identity, it is easier to cultivate a stronger response to his/her work in the secondary market. The strong connections among alumni of select schools in New York always works beneficially for young artists, but Ms. Blumenfield has chosen to place herself in different dimensions of the art scene, including the non-profit world, where artists can create art without the pressure of having to figure out how to sell their work. Having experienced residencies as well as working for artists and art advisors, she pointed to the different ways to exist in the art world.

Compared to New York, which offers the infrastructure, support mechanism and spirit that for example enable artists to have a day job and still be an artist, Hong Kong tends to be less affordable for artists. Ms. Roche observed that in the long term, whenever M+ opens after the long postponement, the market side and philanthropic side of the Hong Kong art scene would balance out, possibly serving to increase the working artist population.

It is also difficult to make a living as an artist in Japan and artists need to prove themselves before they can gain exposure. Emerging artists can sometimes receive recognition through alternative art spaces or events, but art events such as the Triennales tend to be reserved for established artists. Most galleries are interested in artists who already have collectors or fans and are not yet strong enough to introduce emerging artists to the international platform. While non-profits and museums are important channels for emerging artists in New York, Japan offers less space for their works to be shown. Mid-career artists universally find difficulty in continuing to work as artists universally, but this is more so in Japan. Promising new initiatives to support mid-career artists in Japan include the Tokyo Contemporary Art Award .

Role of established artists: Brand names are still dominant in the Chinese and Hong Kong markets, in terms of both artist and art companies. In this sense, well-known art companies have large potential in promoting mid-career artists.

Ms. Blumenfield pointed out that some artists are not even classified as “emerging” but that despite their plight, most artists regard communicating their work as a large part of defining themselves. On the other hand, Ms. Shiba felt that many Japanese artists might not even know how to present their work. New York has a larger number of good residencies and schools that attract collectors and galleries interested in knowing who has yet to be discovered.

Given the global demand for locality, originality and innovation, some collectors are interested in who ACC is currently supporting so that they can meet future “big names.” Japan has the potential to grow into the country that collectors come to discover unknown names that produce reputationally high quality work at a reasonable price. Japanese galleries need to make bigger efforts to expose Japanese art.

Role of collectors and patrons: Ms. Blumenfield saw art advisors as effective in-betweens connecting prospective patrons with artists, as they would be able to walk collectors through what their interests are. Ms. Roche observed the difficulty for collectors to visit galleries and studios in Japan because they tend to be closed during most of the year. Tokyo also lacks the resources that allow people to explore different galleries, while New York, Los Angeles and Berlin have websites that provide access to individual artists. Studio visits will help collectors reach beyond museums, which still have a strong presence in Japan, to get to know the artists, who can introduce them to a wider network of artists. ACC also seeks to support collectors and is in the process of building a community embracing not only grantees but also other artists and art collectors. Art collection is a reflection of one’s personality and interests and matches present-day trends of self-expression.