Dec 6, 2010

NEW: The Experts' Guide to Collecting

The Appraisers Association of America (AAA) has recently produced a very useful small booklet (31 pages) for art collectors that anyone can purchase. I highly recommend it.

For a preview, information about the AAA, and to order the booklet, click HERE.

Sep 6, 2010

Appraising Methods

People often ask how I arrive at valuations for their art. To determine a value I draw upon my experience over many years of looking at art similar to the types of materials I am assessing, and also knowledge of the art market for this art. These days the art market is global, thanks to the internet. So valuing art is a complicated business. Some art sells publicly, at auction, other types sell privately through dealers. My 30+ years of studying Asian art provides me with the experience to understand which markets serve as appropriate comparables to the art I am assessing.

I often start by checking the auction market, and to do this I rely on a number of internet sites, some are free, others require payment by subscriptions. I like to look at the websites for large international auction houses where Asian art is regularly sold such as Bonham's, Christie's, and Sotheby's. Also, the main auction houses in China and Japan, and regional houses in Europe and the USA.

I also rely on databases of auction sales results. But among these, I have found no single site sufficient, each seems to specialize in different types of art or includes results from somewhat different worldwide auction houses. I list the ones I use most often for Asian art below, but I caution readers of this blog to realize that when I look at objects on these sites, I do so with greater knowledge than you possess about your materials, and so I am more easily able than you to make judgments regarding the quality of what I see in the sites' little online pictures.

Artron (in Chinese)

Japanese Art Organizations

I'm writing to introduce two non-profit organizations devoted to the study and appreciation of Japanese art.

Anyone interested in the study and collecting of Japanese art is welcome to join. It is worth joining both, as they focus on different aspects of the Japanese art world.

This organization was founded in 1997. It is affiliated with two professional societies in the United States, the College Art Association and the Association for Asian Studies. Membership is open to anyone worldwide with a serious scholarly interest in the study of Japanese art history, visual and material culture, including faculty and graduate students in art history and related fields, museum professionals, independent scholars, and serious collectors. Current membership: ca. 300 persons worldwide.

The organization's mission is to promote the study and understanding of Japanese art history, visual and material culture, by coordinating structured and informal opportunities for interchange and dialogue among members at special exhibitions and symposia of Japanese art and at other scholarly conferences in North America, and by encouraging research and dissemination of research, on our e-mail list-serve, to which members are automatically subscribed when they join our organization, and on the secure, members section of this web site.

In addition to the general information on the visitors side of the JAHF website, the much more extensive secure, password-protected, member section of the group's website contains a wealth of information of particular interest to professionals and students in our fields. Sections include information about individual members, bibliographies, course syllabi, practical professional advice, travel tips, photo acquisition sources, online reference material (including digital image databases and online exhibitions), archives of topical discussions from our email list, an organizational history where we post our annual activities, and official documents pertaining to our group.

The Japanese Art Society of America promotes the study and appreciation of Japanese art. Founded in 1973 as the Ukiyo-e Society of America by collectors of Japanese prints, the Society's mission has expanded to include related fields of Japanese art. Through its annual lectures, seminars and other events, the Society provides a dynamic forum in which members can exchange ideas and experiences with experts about traditional and contemporary arts of Japan.

The Society also sponsors important exhibitions, such as Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings, 1680–1860, shown at Asia Society in New York City, Spring 2008. The society publishes a quarterly Newsletter for members and an annual journal, Impressions, recipient of the 2009 Donald Keene Prize for the Promotion of Japanese Culture, awarded by the Donald Keene Center, Columbia University.

Sep 5, 2010

Global Partners for Local Organic Food Project Now Over

Our project has now ended. Everyone learned a lot and we all made some new friends. Most important, the participants connected with like-minded individuals and group from across the globe. This project was of personal interest to me because it helped me understand the need for studying the cultural heritage of Japan's rural communities. Visiting Ogawamachi in Saitama prefecture, our partner site, I realized that crafts and historic preservation are being revitalized alongside the community's efforts to create a model sustainable town for Japan. I hope to return one day before long to pursue my study of the area's artistic heritage further. I offer thanks to all who made our journey possible!

New Publications -- Summer 2010

I'm writing to announce two new publications.
One is an article on a little known Japanese Buddhist artist, Kano Kazunobu (1815-1863), whose magnum opus, a grand set of paintings of 500 Takan (Arhats) owned by Tokyo's Zōjōji temple, will be on display for the first time since 1945, in a special exhibition at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Tokyo, from March 15 to May 29,2011. My article is the first on this artist in English.
"The Savior as Ascetic, Shakyamuni Undergoing Austerities by Kano Kazunobu." Register, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, (summer 2010): 12-29.

The second publication is major revisions to the Japan chapters of the new (4th) edition of Art History by Marilyn Stokstad and Michael Cothren. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Prentice Hall, 2011. I contributed chapter 11: "Japan to 1333" and chapter 25: "Japan After 1333." I worked hard to try to update the chapters and present a balanced view of the main characteristics of Japanese art.

Kasuga mandala, Burke collection
New to chapter 11: new illustrations and discussion of art and architecture at the Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden) at Todaiji in “Recovering the Past” box. New discussion of Japan in the eighth century as the eastern terminus of the Silk Route. Increased emphasis on Japan's native religion of Shinto with addition of a Shinto painting. Expanded discussion of Chinese emigrant monks and their influence in section on Zen art.

Eri Sayoko, Dancing with the Cosmos
New to chapter 25: greater emphasis on importance of crafts with addition of porcelain plate, kosode, and contemporary lacquer box. New “Closer Look” highlights techniques used in creation of a kosode robe. Increased discussion of Japan’s integration of foreign, particularly Western, influences in its art and culture. New emphasis on architecture and crafts in the postwar period (with lacquer box by Eri Sayoko). Tea Ceremony discussion consolidated into one section.

May 30, 2010

Museums with Significant Korean Art Collections

see worldwide list compiled by the Korea Foundation:

North America
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (has curator; excellent recent catalogue of the collection)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY (has curator; excellent recent catalogue of the collection)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Cleveland Art Museum
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
Portland Art Museum (catalogue of this and other Portland area collections)
Brooklyn Museum (1987 catalogue of the collection)
Art Institute of Chicago
Seattle Asian Art Museum
Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Freer-Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
Peabody-Essex Museum, Salem, MA

Musee Guimet, Paris (excellent catalogue of the collection)
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
catalogue recently written
British Museum

Suk Joo-Sun Memorial Museum of Korean Folk Arts, Dankook University
National Museum of Korea, Seoul
National Folk Museum of Korea
Kyongju National Museum
Onyang Folk Museum, Asan, S Korea
Ho-Am Art Museum, Youngin, S Korea

Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka (catalogues exist, especially of the famed Ataka collection of Koryo era celadons)
Tokyo National Museum
Old Buddhist temples throughout Japan have extensive collections of Korean Buddhist statues and paintings; catalogues exist in Korean and Japanese only)

May 19, 2010

The Diaspora of Kyoto's Buddhist Sculptors in Edo Period Japan: To Osaka, Edo, and Beyond

Presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, April 5, 2008, on the panel: Centers/Peripheries in Medieval and Early Modern Japan

This paper examines the fate of Japan's preeminent Buddhist sculpture making workshops of Kyoto in the Edo period, whose hierarchy, patronage base, and market reach changed dramatically during this time. These developments occurred due to political and social changes instigated by the Tokugawa shogunate. Kyoto workshops specialized in the production of religious images, whose manufacture required high levels of technical skill that fostered the development of guild-like lineages. At their apex was the Seventh Avenue Atelier, which for centuries garnered commissions in the Kansai region from the highest echelons of the court and samurai and the important temples they supported.

Following Tokugawa Ieyasu's establishment of Edo as his capital, the Seventh Avenue Atelier began to produce imagery for Tokugawa temples there. By the late 17th century, the shogunate fortunes had declined so significantly that work dwindled. Many sculptors left this prestigious workshop to found new ateliers serving different groups of patrons, both commoners and daimyo, in Edo, Osaka, and elsewhere. Although scholars have long dismissed Kyoto's Edo period Buddhist sculpture as derivative, my paper refutes this bias using case studies that draw on recent research into the holdings of provincial temples in Takamatsu City and Aomori Prefecture. The permeation of the work of Kyoto Buddhist sculptors into the nation's periphery reflects their resilience and creativity. It also reveals changing patterns of wealth distribution and the desire of nationwide patrons of Buddhism to increase their cultural status through association with art styles of the imperial capital.

Buddhist-Inspired Spirituality in Contemporary Japanese Art

Paper Presented at the Annual Midwest Art History Society Conference in Kansas City, April 2, 2009, on the panel:


This talk addresses a subject absent from discussions about contemporary Japanese art amid the mania for contemporary Japanese artists inspired by pop art forms of anime and manga: the power of Buddhist spirituality to inspire artists both within and apart from Buddhist organizations. The existence of these artists refutes widespread misconceptions about the faith's intellectual demise in Japan today, stemming largely from Buddhism's lack of clear visual identity and the alienation of many of its followers from its institutions. My talk presents case studies of three contemporary Japanese artists inspired by Buddhist spirituality in very different ways. Only one, Mukoyoshi Yuboku (born 1961) is formally acknowledged as a Buddhist artist because he mainly creates icons, although his recent collaboration with American artist Charles Ray reveals his openness to new modes of spiritual expression. One of the others, Turner-Yamamoto Shinji (born 1965) lives in the USA, but creates site-specific art installations worldwide using found organic materials to express his search for universal connections between humankind and nature. The third, Mukaiyama Kisho (born 1968), created his own hybrid painting/sculpture medium to give visual form to the diffuse colors of light he envisions in his prayers to the Buddha worlds of the esoteric Shingon sect. In examining the relationship between personal religious practice and artistic inspiration, this talk aims to refute assertions that faith-based spirituality is restrictive rather than conducive to artistic creativity. It also shows how artists can use unorthodox visual expressions of faith to express universal spiritual values that appeal to diverse audiences.

Eri Sayoko and Nakamura Kokei: Transforming the Art of Ancient Japanese Buddhist Painting into a Modern Art-Craft

Paper presented at the conference: Places at the Table: Asian Women Artists and Gender Dynamics, University of California, Berkeley, September 13, 2008

, the graphic technique consisting of luminous, minute patterns in cut-gold leaf, often applied in conjunction with mineral colors, is a distinguishing feature of many of the finest Japanese Buddhist paintings and sculpture. This technically challenging art dates back to the seventh century C.E, when it was introduced from China. How two talented and dedicated women – Eri Sayoko (1945-2007) and Nakamura Keiboku (active professionally since 1980) – have been working to preserve and revitalize this tradition in Japan today is the subject of this talk. Their achievements are significant because the art form in which they specialize was formerly dominated by men. Their ability to achieve success in this art hints at monumental changes to Japanese society in the post World War II era. Most well-known contemporary Japanese women artists work in non-traditional art forms and seek international recognition. But, as these two women reveal, women have also made inroads and assumed leadership roles in endangered, conservative craft traditions such as kirikane, from which they were formerly, publicly excluded. Tragically, Eri Sayoko passed away suddenly last year at the peak of her career, five years after being designated as a Living National Treasure.

Discussion of contemporary Japanese women artists rarely mentions women like Eri and Nakamura because of the structure of artists' organizations in Japan. Although old Japanese Buddhist paintings are considered fine art, the work of makers of Buddhist sculpture and painting today are designated by the Japanese art establishment as "art crafts" (bijutsu kōgei). As such, artists who specialize in these art forms gain recognition for showing their work in domestic craft, rather than fine art, exhibitions. Rarely are these arts shown abroad. Furthermore, both Nakamura and Eri work closely together with their husbands (Mukoyoshi Yuboku and Eri Kokei respectively), both Buddhist sculptors, in their own small ateliers (of the sort traditionally headed by men), to create imagery for use by Buddhist institutions and their lay followers as sacred religious icons.

Yet Eri and Nakamura have themselves been quietly working to reinvigorate this conservative Buddhist painting tradition through their deep study and original conceptualizations of kirikane and Buddhist painting. Eri applied inventive variants of traditional Buddhist kirikane patterns on elegant, secular functional objects that harmonized with modern aesthetic sensibilities, including screens, wall hangings, and small boxes. Her original designs were highly acclaimed. Nakamura is now engaged in an approximately four year project to create a replica of a set of two large, rare, thirteenth century mandala paintings long ago removed from their home temple, which has requested the copy. Collaborating with religious studies scholars, temple priests, and conservators, she is recreating the original appearance of the much-damaged original through meticulous study of historical design motifs and technical analysis of pigments. Her completed mandala and the data she gathered to create it will prove an invaluable source for the understanding of the original appearance of the colors and designs on early Buddhist painting. The work of these two artists reveals a rarely addressed aspect of the contemporary Japanese art scene, namely that following a conservative artistic tradition can foster artistic creativity, offering both a window into the past and a path towards a future that still embraces tradition.

Devotional Icons as Spectacle: Buddha Buildings in Modern and Contemporary Japan

Presented at: the annual meeting of the Midwest Art History Society
Omaha, NE, April 9, 2010

My recent book, Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art, 1600-2005, highlighted a wide body of Buddhist icons and structures neglected by most art historians who only consider Buddhist materials of much earlier eras as worthy of study and the core of Japan's traditional artistic canon. This paper considers one of the most ubiquitous types of recent Buddhist icons in Japan, monumental Buddhist statuary, that are universally derided by scholars as Japanese kitsch and not worthy of consideration. My paper charts the history of these large Buddha-buildings and argues for why they should be taken more seriously. Makers of giant statues in the modern period have become increasingly preoccupied with testing the limits of new technologies to create images of unprecedented height and many of these can be entered. Disregard of them, and virtually all of Japan's formal Buddhist art, on the part of scholars has occurred for a number of reason. First, when the Japanese artistic canon was created in the late 19th century, scholars focused on ancient and medieval Buddhist statuary because of its association with Japan's elite rulers—courtiers and powerful samurai --who demonstrated to the world that Japan possessed an elite culture like that of the European nations with whom they sought parity. As they strove to position modern Japan as superior to the backward culture of the nation's immediate past, where Buddhism and its art featured prominently, these men also disregarded modern Buddhist art because it did not emphasize Western concepts that valued originality and individual artistic creativity but instead stressed adherence to strict iconographic models to assure religious efficacy. Also, they and later scholars have ignored modern Japanese Buddhist art because of their widespread disdain for the formal practice of Buddhism in modern and contemporary Japan, considered no more than a business that makes money from masses of devotees who fork out large sums for funerary services for loved ones. Finally, because these new monuments incorporate new technology and contemporary religious values which to some seem more like entertainment than solemn devotional rituals, their cultural authenticity and religiosity are questioned. I believe this is a mistake, that these monuments deserve greater recognition—not only as technological achievements but as reflections of new ways practitioners engage with their faith. They are potent symbols of a modern, transnational Buddhist art.

Information Needed for Initial Consultation

If you have found me through my website and wish for me to assess your art, please tell me the following in your initial contact with me:

1. your full name and where you live

2. the reason you want your art assessed (do you want to sell it, are you curious about what it is, do you need an insurance or estate appraisal, etc)

3. the type of art you have and the number of pieces

4. where you acquired the art

5. If you want me to assess your art from photos, please inform me about the type and quality of the photos you have.

Thank you!