Living Japanese artists in 2012



Friday is Top day! Every alternate Friday Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the ten highest bids for living Japanese artists in 2012.

After enduring the vengeance of the Allies with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the Japanese Empire remained until 1951 under the control of the United States, which set up a democratic constitution and provided the country with financial aid. The economy rapidly recovered and Japan reached a cultural and economic peak between 1950 and 1980. The avant-garde Gutai movement emerged in this paradoxical context of a country devastated during the Second World War, which rose to its feet soon afterwards in a state of total inflation. In general, only photographs, videos and eye-witness accounts of Gutai works remain, as the paintings were usually destroyed immediately after undergoing various acts of violence (slashing, tearing, burning, etc.). Occasionally underestimated, the Gutai movement fundamentally influenced North American and European contemporary art, particularly performance art and the Fluxus movement, which were experienced as a revolution in Japan.

The Japanese were key players in the art market during the speculative bubbles of 1987 and 1990, investing in the major names of impressionism and modern art. As we know, the world record for a bid came from a Japanese businessman, Ryoei Saito (for Vincent VAN GOGH‘s Portrait du Docteur Gachet: $75 million, Christie’s New York on 15 May 1990). When art prices collapsed shortly afterwards, the Japanese sought to sell off their collections at all costs. For a number of years, Japan has stood out for its artists, now famous the world over – particularly photographers, who represent many of the most sought-after contemporary names, such as Kimiko Yoshida, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Nobuyoshi Araki and Yasumasa Morimura. However, the most speculative trend in Japanese contemporary art has above all been established by a creative wave imbued with popular culture, manga, Pop Art and video.This Top 10 takes stock of 2012: which living artists posted the highest bids?

Top 10 : highest bids for living Japanese artists in 2012

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Takashi MURAKAMI $3700000 The Castle of Tin Tin (1998/2003) 11/13/2012 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
2 Yayoi KUSAMA $1367300 INFINITY-NETS WHXOTLO (2006) 02/25/2012 (SBI Art Auction Co, Ltd TOKYO)
3 Yoshitomo NARA $1223600 Untitled (2007) 05/26/2012 (Christie’s HONG KONG)
4 Takashi MURAKAMI $1100050 Open Your Hands Wide, Embrace Happiness! (2010) 02/15/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
5 Yayoi KUSAMA $1068000 Pumpkin (1990) 03/21/2012 (K-Auction SEOUL)
6 Takashi MURAKAMI $1000000 Kanye Bear (2009) 05/10/2012 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
7 Yayoi KUSAMA $850000 “Red Nets, No. 19” (1960) 09/19/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
8 Yayoi KUSAMA $838500 “Pumpkin” (1990) 11/25/2012 (Ravenel Art Group HONG KONG)
9 Yoshitomo NARA $774000 Untitled (2008) 11/24/2012 (Christie’s HONG KONG)
10 MARISOL $660000 Andy (1962-1963) 05/08/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)


With an entrance ticket of over $770,000, the Top 10 was split between only three artists – unsurprisingly, the Japanese ‘Pop-stars’ Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama and Nara Yoshitomo. But although Murakami held the number one position, he was largely surpassed in terms of transactions by Yayoi Kusama, who alone accounted for five places in the ranking. As we know, the pair have a significant point in common: both have collaborated with Louis Vuitton! In 2012 it was the turn of Yayoi Kusama, who thus stole the limelight from Murakami.

In first place in the ranking, thanks to the $3.7 million obtained by the acrylic The Castle of Tin Tin, Japan’s best-known artist Takashi MURAKAMI is no stranger to records. However, this was a long way from the excesses of 2008, when Sotheby’s New York registered a record bid of $13.5 m for My Lonesome Cowboy, positioning Murakami as the highest-priced Japanese artist on the market. Despite a considerable drop in his rating, the Murakami craze is not over yet. In 2011, the volume of his transactions rose some 55% compared with 2010. And there will be no let-up in 2013, when the Californian gallery Blum & Poe and Perrotin Hong Kong both will host a solo show by the artist.

2012 will go down in the annals as the year of Yayoi KUSAMA, the clear winner in the ranking – to nobody’s surprise. This was partly due to her travelling retrospective, which stopped off in some of the world’s most important museums, including the Whitney Museum in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Tate Modern in London. Given that the exhibition sponsor was Louis Vuitton, and that he had launched his new handbag line in collaboration with the artist at the same time, it was difficult for people as yet unaware of Yayoi Kusama not to come across her name. Meanwhile she is in a strong position on the art market, having posted the finest result ever achieved for a work by a living female artist in 2008 with No.2, a painting sold for $5.1 million (Christie’s New York, 12 November). She achieved her best bid in 2012, over $1.3 million, for a huge painting (200 cm x 1,000 cm), INFINITY-NETS WHXOTLO, taking her to second place in this Top 10 even though it only represents her fourth sale record. Now she left the Gagosian Gallery, the artist’s show will be hosted by David Zwirner in 2013.

Influenced by popular Japanese culture, mainly mangas, television, graffiti, punk and American comics, Yoshitomo NARA is well-known for his representations of children and animals. Whether paintings, sculptures or drawings, his works link violence and coldness with childlike innocence. Yoshitomo Nara has exhibited in the world’s leading museums, and his price soared in 2006 with the sale of Missing in Action for $950,000 (Christie’s New York, 10 May). His record in the auction room has reigned at $1.3 million since 2007, thanks to the sale of Princess of Snooze (Christie’s New York, 13 November 2007). Yoshitomo’s price dropped significantly between 2009 and 2010, with no works going for more than $616,000, but he started obtaining million-plus bids again in 2011. And the $1.2 million fetched by an untitled sculpture in May 2012 takes him to third place in this Top 10.

In 2012, the Pop movement still dominated the landscape of the top bids achieved by living Japanese artists. With the first American retrospective devoted to the Gutai movement at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (15 February to 8 May 2013), visitors will discover another facet of Japanese art.