Shinwa Art Museum, Ginza
Last Saturday

Though Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara may have established themselves as Japan’s modern-day Warhol and Lichtenstein, the big winners at Shinwa Art Museum’s Contemporary Art Auction this past weekend were painters Takanobu Kobayashi and Hishashi Tenmyouya. Toward the end of the auction, in fierce bidding led by a young woman on a cellphone who had been quiet all night, Kobayashi’s “Stray Dog” (1996) went for 12 million yen, followed by Tenmyouya’s “Nue” (2004) at 16.5 million yen.

The Tenmyouya sale, the night’s highest, is a major score for the Mizuma Gallery, which represents the 40-year-old painter who mixes traditional Japanese and modern styles. There was also much excitement over two watercolors by the late-career Mono-ha (School of Things) artist Lee U Fan. This is all good news for Shinwa (www.shinwa-art.com), which brought in a total of almost 183 million yen in only its third contemporary auction.

“Tokyo auction houses are trying to drum up local excitement following spectacular results at Christie’s and Sotheby’s for Asian contemporary art in the past year,” says Kara Besher, director of Maru Gallery, Tokyo, who attended the auction. “Japanese contemporary art remains hugely undervalued, especially when compared to Chinese artists of the same generation.”

A Shinwa auctioneer said that a large number of orders were made over the phone from foreign bidders, so, following last week’s Art Fair Tokyo, there may be some momentum in the local market. Still, even the highest prices here hardly compare to what is happening abroad, making Shinwa’s next auction in November one to watch.

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