Collect 2012 Post-Show Report

Collect 2012 Post-Show Report
Yufuku Gallery

1. Collect 2012 入口.JPG

Like the title of Jonathan Safron Foer's novel, Collect 2012 was incredibly loud and extremely close, as both deafening sound and lack of room to manoeuvre were key features at Yufuku's stand during the opening preview of Collect 2012 on the 10th of May, especially after 7pm. Very important clients were lining up in front of our desk to take orders, and Kumiko, my trusty sidekick, and I were overloaded with questions and queries by eager collectors. And without a moment to spare and space to walk, it began to slowly dawn on us that over half of our collection of works had been sold during the preview night alone. By the end of the opening day, we had sold 70% of our works. And on the final day, we only had 5 works left out of approx. 55 works brought to London from Japan. Having sold 50 works during the 5-day fair, I think it is rather safe to say that the show was, yet again, an astounding success, and was by far our best show ever. In gratitude, we bow our heads.


For example, here is a telling tale of the vibe generated during this year's Collect; a wonderful lady whom I had met at our very first Collect in 2008, then held at the Victoria and Albert Museum and in the frigid air of January, came rushing to our stand right after the doors opened to the VVIP preview at 4pm sharp on the 10th. Upon reaching our stand at a minute past 4, she immediately was taken by the white Maeta vase that was featured in our Collect catalogue from this year, and without hesitation, proceeded to reserve the work before anyone could snap it up. The reason for her precipitance? At last year's Collect, another client had purchased a large Maeta just before she could, and having fallen in love with the artist's minimal elegance, she had decided before the show that his work would someday be hers. And as the fates smiled down upon her, she left the show ecstatic, with a new white vase to her keen collection. Others, however, left disappointed at the sight of it being sold, and quickly looked beyond to future Collects and future works by Maeta Akihiro.


Upon our first journey to London's Collect in 2008, it is hardly exaggeration to say that we had about 10 clients on our mailing list in England, and did not really have any clients to invite to the opening preview. We had never exhibited in the UK before, the name Yufuku hardly rang any bells with anyone in the art community except for dealers in ceramic art such as Galerie Besson, Katie Jones and Joanna Bird, and our international clientele was predominantly American, with a few good clients scattered sporadically throughout Europe. How things have changed. The overwhelming majority of our leading clients today hail not from the US but from the UK and Europe, and the fact that we are now instantly recognised in the European market still surprises me greatly. These past five years of focusing on Europe has not been in vain.


During the second day of the 5-day show, I had mentioned to a good friend and client that "this year has already become, by far, our best show ever." He said to me, dryly, "Wahei, you say that to me every year." But it is true. For five years now, through astronomically high yen rates, volcanic bursts of ash from Iceland, a historically devastating earthquake and an ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan, from a lack of hot water in our hotel rooms (see post-show reports from 2008 and 2009 for more on our endearing hotel that we've been staying in for the past five years, right behind Harrod's), from our taxi cab being hit by a car upon our arrival at Heathrow (2010), to not having any clients in London, we've come a long way up the ladder. And every year really is better than the previous year. Believe me, it's true.

3. プレビューの混雑模様.JPG

Collect 2012 differed from Collect 2011 on several accounts. Perhaps the greatest symbolic change from previous years was that my father Mitsumasa 'Tom' Aoyama, the former owner/director of Yufuku, chose not to travel to London with us to attend the opening, as he had done for the past 4 years. It is true that his role in organising the show and selecting works, for example, had ended at Collect 2009, yet he had always provided a healthy amount of moral support, especially during the opening preview. We missed him this year, but I think he was quite content in staying home this time around. In terms of physical changes, our booth was essentially the same size and shape as last year (about 40 square meters in total), yet new additions to our stand was the instantly recognisable Yufuku logo, reliably made in Tokyo and astutely stickered onto our stand by Kumiko, and the fact that we had Stabilo, the stand-builders for the past 5 years at Collect, create a large display system and shelves to our stand in addition to the collapsible 'flat-pack' display stands that we bring to Collect each year. This helped to create more room to display works in various ways, and these extra displays, along with the decision to move our box-type shelves to the left-hand side of our stand (much like Collect 2010), helped to make our stand seem slightly bigger than last year.

4. 美術館関係者の選考委員会.JPG

Unbelievably, the selection of works and artists for this year's Collect was an easy process. 15 of our artists were returning from previous years (Fukami, Mihara, Nagae, Yede, Takeyama, Ikuta, Takagaki, Maeta, Nakamura, Sakurai, Suzuki, Yeo, Shakunaga, Shojiguchi, Nishikata), and aside from the deceased Suzuki Mutsumi, all the artists essentially understood the timing and protocol with which I would be selecting the works (I usually notify the artists in regards to deadlines to Collect in September of the year before). Choosing the 5 new artists (Sumikawa, Kimura, Buseki, Imada and Yabe) was also rather straightforward, in that they were all artists that I had wanted to introduce to Collect for some time, and I was simply waiting for the ripest time possible.

Buseki Suiko, Tsurumai (Crane Dance)

The grand, 81-year-old Sumikawa Kiichi, for example, is one of the leading sculptors of Japan, having been taught by the legendary Hiraguchi Denchu and fulfilling the role of President of the prestigious Tokyo University of the Arts for many years. As he is hardly known outside of Japan, and as I had had the pleasure of translating a book by him by Kodansha several years ago, I thought it would be wonderful to have the chance to exhibit his work outside of Japan. Kimura Yoshiro is an excellent ceramic artist whom we had known since 1995 when he first visited Yufuku. However, our paths would never cross due to unfortunate circumstances (I would visit his exhibition, and he would be out to lunch, or he would visit Yufuku and both my father and I would be out of the country, etc.). Yet for 2012, I was steadfastly determined to bring his work to not only Collect but also to the upcoming Vallauris Ceramics Biennale in July (more about this show in a future post), and luckily for Yufuku, my dream had become reality for Collect 2012. Buseki Suiko, the bamboo artist, is a unique story in itself. I had always been frustrated with the lack of quality bamboo art at Collect. I had always loved the medium, and did have several opportunities to sell masterpieces by leading old masters such as Iizuka Rokansai in the past, but did not personally know many contemporary bamboo artists. However, upon consultation, a famed curator from one of the leading museums in Japan kindly recommended and introduced me to Buseki-san, who coincidentally hailed from Tokyo (one of two contemporary artists in Tokyo today), and who was interested in showing his work outside of Japan. His technique was phenomenal, and several of his work exhibited a brilliant sense of form that was not overtly flashy, flamboyant or gimmicky like many of the bamboo art popularised in the West. In other words, he was a perfect fit with the Yufuku aesthetic, and I was hooked. Lastly, Imada Yoko and Yabe Shunichi were two artists that I had been working with for the past few years as artists who, in their forties, represented the next generation of Yufuku’s ceramic artists after Mihara-san, Nagae-san, Ichino-san (who sadly could not participate at this year's Collect due to illness) and Maeta-san, among others. This year, I strongly felt that the time had come to make their debut at Collect, and quite happily, my hunch was vindicated. In fact, all of our new artists'work sold out during Collect 2012, with Buseki-san's work winning the Art Fund Prize and going to the National Museum of Scotland, and Yabe-san’s work chosen for the British Museum.

6.矢部俊一 「月山」右.JPG
Yabe Shunichi, Kofu (Wind of Light) and Tsukiyama (Moon Mountain)

More specifically, this year could be said to be the year of the "sold-art artist." We had sold each and every work exhibited by the following artists – Fukami Sueharu, Sumikawa Kiichi, Mihara Ken, Maeta Akihiro, Kimura Yoshiro, Ikuta Niyoko, Shakunaga Gaku, Yabe Shunichi, Imada Yoko, and Buseki Suiko, while Nagae Shigekazu, Takeyama Naoki, Sakurai Yasuko, Nishikata Ryota, Suzuki Mutsumi and Yede Takahiro had only one work remaining.

From left: Imada-san, Nicole-san from the BM, Yabe-san, and Wahei Aoyama

Important works sold at Collect were undoubtedly the two Fukami works that were reminiscent of vertical blades. We had two editions, which were both placed on reserve and sold well before the show. The bronze Sumikawa was also an important work dating from 1993, and was also sold to an important client before the start of Collect. In fact, the majority of work featured in our Collect catalogue had sold before the show, and goes to show that the clientele that we had built along the years trusts and believes in our judgement, even without having to see the work in person. As mentioned above, we were able to receive the Art Fund Prize for the 4th straight year, as Buseki-san's first work to be shown at Collect was selected by the National Museum of Scotland. Buseki-san, a gentle soul, was very humbled, to say the least. And Yabe-san was also pleased to receive his first introduction into a museum with his selection by the BM curators. Congratulations to both artists. In fact, we did also have several other works by artists (Nishikata, Yeo, etc) selected by museums, but ultimately I could not bring these selections to fruition, for various reasons. Next year, alas!


All in all, the unseen heroes of this year's Collect are, without question, my assistants Kumiko and Yoriko, who accompanied me to Collect for the second straight year. Kumiko in particular was stellar in her ability to coordinate the application process, the production/design of our Collect catalogue and stand, interfacing with artists/clients, and actually assisting clients with their questions and acquisitions during the show (I think she made a few fans during Collect with her bright and cheerful demeanour). And Yoriko was ace in managing the 'back-office' side to the Collect show, such as taking orders and packaging works, all done with the professionalism of a master craftsman. Without these two talented individuals, we would not be able to pull off about 8 shows outside of Japan, and 15 shows at our gallery in Tokyo, with preparations ongoing simultaneously. My hats off to them. Also, I would like to mention that every year, we have students help us in attending our stand as a sort of internship. This year we had Ioanetta-san from the Sainsbury Institute and Taka-san from SOAS help us, and they were brilliant, enthusiastic, and most helpful. Thanks so much!


Lastly, I must take the time to thank our artists for believing in us and creating such beautiful works for us to exhibit in London, year after year. At the same time, I would like to take the time to thank each and every person who took the time to visit us, say hello, and enjoy the works on display. It is with your support that we are able to continue to do what we do, exhibiting the highest possible quality of Japanese contemporary art to a discerning European audience outside of Japan.

I, for one, never take things for granted. Simply because we were successful this year does not guarantee success in future years. For this reason, I would like to ensure herein that we continue to heighten the quality of works on display, and persevere to promote Japan's art and culture to an international audience. Collect, of course, is not the only venue available to us to help us reach this goal. In fact, there are several paths yet taken that we are likely to tread in 2013, some of which will be quite surprising. Please keep your eyes on Yufuku, as announcements will surely follow, albeit the exact dates are yet unforeseen. In any event, my deepest gratitude and appreciation to you all once again for your everlasting support. It is for you that I write.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Yufuku Gallery
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