Art market | Monocle

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Colin Sheaf


Bonhams Asia

Bonhams, one of the world’s oldest art auction houses, has opened its doors in Japan with the launch of a new Tokyo office. Colin Sheaf, chairman of Bonhams Asia, explains why.

Why Tokyo?
In 1999 we were the fourth- largest art auction house in the UK. A decade later, we are the third-largest art auction house in the world. We did this by completely restructuring our European business and by creating auction businesses in California and New York. Now we’re turning our attention to Asia. We started auctions in Hong Kong in 2007, opened an office in Taiwan in 2008, and now have a Japanese office in Tokyo. There’s a clear global strategy but takes a while to complete.

What is the current climate for Japan’s art market?
The art market is always a function of the current economic circumstances. Japan remains depressed after the “bubble” burst, so Japanese art is steady. However, the many Japanese dealers in Chinese art are having an excellent time on the back of the economic success in China.

How badly was Japan’s market hit by the recession?
Not too much, because the domestic art market has been steady but not exciting for nearly two decades. They’ve learnt to live with it.

How much optimism is in the future of Japan’s art market?
Japanese traders are very realistic about art market prospects; after two flat decades, they need to be. But business is solid and one day Japanese art will repair its global prestige as one of the world’s most sophisticated cultures.

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