Increased Interest in Collecting Asian Art

Collecting contemporary Asian art is a demanding experience that, like its geography, covers much ground.

collecting asian art

by A. Richard Langley

There is nothing minor about Asia’s influence on contemporary art. The geographic area of the largest and most populous continent in the world includes Anatolia (aka Asia Minor, Asian Turkey), India and parts of China, Japan, and Korea (North and South). And this vast region’s diverse religious and cultural influence has provided Asian artists in many mediums with compelling source material. With the explosion of inspired contemporary Asian artists—emerging and experienced—discerning collectors are at the ready. Much of the art they crave comments on major eras and events in Asia’s turbulent history. Collecting contemporary Asian art is a demanding experience that, like its geography, covers much ground. The following sections discuss the influence of Asia’s history on contemporary art, the increased openness between Asia and the West, and the ways to become a more engaged and confident collector of Asian art.

collecting asian art
Space of Meditation, Oil on Canvas, 35″ x 46″ by Bo Song

Creative, Cultural, and Social Openness Between East and West

Over the last years, improved diplomatic relations between some Asian countries and the West have eased the cultural, economic, military, and political tension between them. This and the success of major events (e.g., the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea) have motivated both Asian artists and focused collectors across the globe.

collecting Asian art
newyork rhapsody, Mixed Media on Panel, 66.9″ x 47″ by Eunhyue Shin. The artist displayed one of her artworks at the Olympic Truce Mural, during the 2018 Winter Olympics

The Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange also strengthened the bond among all continents. The artist Robert Rauschenberg wanted to ensure the freedom of artistic expression in suppressed countries. Between 1985 and 1990, he established the (almost entirely self-funded) project in countries such as Cuba, China, Japan, Mexico, and Tibet.

Increased Artist Exposure Through Self-Promotion

In today’s hyper-connected world, artists and collectors can readily connect through the Internet and social media. This immediacy benefits both groups: artists can promote themselves and their works worldwide, and international collectors can follow artists’ activities and thoughts (artist and activist Ai Weiwei tweets regularly).

Quantity, Quality, Variety, and Value of Works

Not too long ago, the Asian art market was mostly regional, even though many pieces reflect traditional and modern aspects of both Asian and Western culture. Now the market is accessible internationally through social media, art fairs, gallery showings, and exhibitions. This availability helps collectors to budget for, research, view, and select works.

Know Key Influencers

Before you start the research process, it’s instructive to know the background of two seminal figures of contemporary Asian art: Yayoi Kusama and Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita. They have influenced countless artists worldwide, and have helped bridge the gap between Asian and Western art.

All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins by Japanse pop artist Yayoi Kusama

Still active (the current “Infinity Mirrors” exhibition), the eccentric 89-year-old Kusuma is famous for her varied, vibrant polka-dotted creations in varied mediums (e.g., paintings, installations, exhibitions—and her attire) fueled from a lifelong battle with hallucinations. Foujita’s appearance (cropped hairstyle, hoop earrings, and round-eyed glasses) was also eccentric. He moved to Paris in 1913, and lived and worked there for most of his career. His art, which applied Japanese ink techniques to Western-style paintings, often addressed his two loves: women and cats.

Determine Your Budget

To make a smart investment in contemporary Asian art, you have to set—and stick
to—a realistic budget. It’s an energized market, and if you’re a prudent, selective buyer—and keep current on market shifts—you can find affordable pieces that don’t break the bank.

collecting asian art

Finding the perfect artworks for your house, office, or organization has become easier with Agora Gallery’s Art Advisory service

If you’re a cost-conscious collector, editions and prints are an attractive, affordable, and easy-to-authenticate option. And, as always, check your finances, research artists and works that interest you, and know your tastes.

Research Artists and Their Works

Contemporary Asian artists, inspired by a variety of influences and movements, capture intimate struggles—economic, personal, political, and social—that intrigue collectors with wide-ranging tastes.
Unless you’re already familiar with an artist’s work, target your search on pieces that include elements (e.g., subject, color, medium, movement) you are passionate about. And don’t vet a piece during research—the volume of information and images you experience while searching can be overwhelming.

To pique your interest, below are contemporary Asian artists who are representative of key mediums, and their notable creations within them.

  • Cynical Realism: Highlighted by colorful, surrealistic imagery, this movement is critical of the Chinese Communist Party. Practitioners include Yue Minjun (who refutes the label for his art) and Fang Lijun.
  • Expressionism: The versatile artist Zeng Fanzhi comments on varied topics, including the Tiananmen Square Massacre “Tiananmen” and the grim state of the human condition (the “Meat” series).
  • Political Pop: Wang Guangyi’s works, especially the “Great Criticism” series, juxtapose Chinese revolutionary images with Western consumer logos.
  • Superflat: Takashi Murakami founded this postmodern movement influenced by manga and anime. It focuses on the flattened aesthetics in various forms of Japanese art and the emptiness of Japanese consumer culture.
  • Other practitioners include Yoshitomo Nara and Chiho Aoshima.

Two notable artists not associated with a specific movement are Korean painter Se-Yeol Oh and renowned Japanese street photographer Daidō Moriyama.

Portrait of Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, Tokyo 2010. Source: Wikipedia

Active since the mid-1960s, Oh’s singular paintings on canvas depict a chaotic layering of seemingly random, basic items (e.g., mugs and balloons) over thick batches of numbers done in a rudimentary yet precise style. The effect is disarming, disorienting, and mesmerizing. Moriyama, who has been working since the 1960s, is best known for his aggressive black-and-white pictures—shot with a compact camera to produce grainy, high-contrast images—that contrast traditional values and modern society in postwar Japan.

Vet the Chosen Piece

After finding a piece that you want to purchase, you must have its provenance, condition, and quality authenticated. Do this in a measured manner. Yes, you don’t want the piece to sell before you’re finished, but it’s better to be deliberate and happy than fast and sorry.

Useful Article: Authenticating an Artwork

Museums, Media, Institutions, and Happenings

No matter how crisp images of art are online, you can’t beat experiencing a piece’s impact in person. It will sharpen your art sensibility—and will spark your collecting juices. Below are some of the numerous venues and events, here and abroad, which feature contemporary Asian art.

Museums

Leading museums that exhibit or have Asian art collections include the Rubin Museum of Art, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art.

Institutions and Societies

New York City is home to premier Asian art organizations. Among them: the Asia Society and Museum, China Institute, Japan Society, the Japanese Art Society, and the Korean Art Society.

Art galleries

There is no “right” way to collect art. Each collector has their own method of purchasing art, and it can vary from buying bundles of art at one time, purchasing a select piece once every year or two, commissioning a favorite artist to create individual work with personal meaning, etc. This is why art galleries can help you find the artwork of your dreams, often times at the ideal price.

Whether you are looking for the perfect gift for a loved one, need to impress a colleague, or want to give a friend something they will always remember you by, you will find the just the right piece on ARTmine. Need help? Contact us at sales@agora-gallery.com

Contemporary Asian artists, whose visionary creations reflect Asia’s past and present history, are connecting cultures and industries—particularly the art world—across the globe. Thanks to technology, these artists and a burgeoning, curious group of collectors can learn about and engage with each other. This interaction is especially rewarding for enterprising collectors, as it motivates them to build heartfelt, meaningful collections.


A. Richard Langley is a freelance writer in Marietta, Ga. His byline has appeared in diverse consumer art and culture publications. Among them: Art & Antiques, Atlanta Citymag, Film Threat, and BlackBook. He also has experience in art sales. For three years, he co-managed and stocked a booth of European art, antiques, and furniture at Scott Antique Markets in Atlanta.

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