Sales Start Slow at Tokyo Gendai, But Founder Magnus Renfrew Is Playing the Long Game

Sales Start Slow At Tokyo Gendai, But Founder Magnus Renfrew Is Playing The Long Game

Sales at the second edition of Tokyo Gendai started off slow, but the fair's founder, Magnus Renfrew, is confident about the long-term potential. Despite a quieter atmosphere and fewer international visitors compared to last year, local galleries reported steady sales, especially for works by renowned artists like Robert Longo, Ha Chong-Hyun, and Yoshitomo Nara. Renfrew emphasizes that many collectors in Japan prefer to make purchases over the weekend, and he's playing the long game to build a sustainable market in the region. He's not just focused on immediate sales but is deeply invested in fostering a strong Japanese audience while gradually expanding the fair's influence throughout Asia. His vision is rooted in creating a meaningful, curated experience over time, carving out a unique space in the art world for seasoned and new collectors alike. Have you ever wondered why some art fairs seem to get off to a sluggish start but eventually pick up steam? It's a curious phenomenon, and Tokyo Gendai's latest edition is a prime example. Despite a slow beginning, founder Magnus Renfrew is adamant that playing the long game will set this fair apart.

Sales Start Slow At Tokyo Gendai, But Founder Magnus Renfrew Is Playing The Long Game

The Highs and Lows of the Opening Days

On Thursday, the VIP preview of Tokyo Gendai's second edition generated a lot of excitement. Big-name collectors like Takeo Obayashi, Shunji and Asako Oketa, and Yoshiko Mori were seen mingling among the art. However, by Friday, the atmosphere had significantly quieted. So, what's happening behind the scenes?

Buzzing Thursday and Subdued Friday

While the early VIP preview generated healthy buzz, Friday felt less energetic. This might sound concerning, but it's not uncommon for art fairs. Let's break it down.

Thursday Highlights:

  • Major collectors attended.
  • Initial sales were promising.

Friday's Different Vibe:

  • Fewer international visitors.
  • Lower sales volume compared to Thursday.

Notable Sales from Prominent Galleries

Two standout galleries with Tokyo branches had substantial success:

Gallery Notable Sales
Pace Gallery Sold or held strong reserves for all eight works by Robert Longo, priced between $90,000 and $750,000, to local collections.
BLUM Sold a Ha Chong-Hyun painting for $250,000, a Yoshitomo Nara work on paper for $180,000, a Kenjiro Okazaki painting for $160,000, and ceramics by Kazunori Hamana and Yuji Ueda for $20,000 each.

Mixed Reactions

Tim Blum, founder of BLUM, perceived the fair as comparable to last year. Meanwhile, Taku Sato of Tokyo's Parcel gallery noticed a decrease in foreign attendees and institutional curators, which he found less encouraging.

Points and Market Strategy

Art fairs like Tokyo Gendai don't typically showcase million-dollar artworks. Most of their high-end offerings sit in the of up to $300,000. Renfrew discussed this aspect comprehensively with ARTnews.

Gallery Sales Overview

Just to give you an idea, here are some examples:

Gallery Artist Artwork Type
ShugoArts Lee Kit Two artworks Around $30,000
Anomaly Yusuke Asai Various works Confidential
Parcel Tomonari Hashimoto Smaller pieces $3,000 – $5,000

What This Means

Renfrew believes that taking any current sales numbers as the final word would be premature. Many Japanese collectors are likely to make their purchases over the weekend when they have time to visit the fair.

Sales Start Slow At Tokyo Gendai, But Founder Magnus Renfrew Is Playing The Long Game

The Timing and Weather Challenge

The hot and humid weather in Tokyo during July may have an impact on attendance, particularly from international visitors. Spring and autumn are generally more appealing times for such events.

Competing Events

Interestingly, there's stiff competition from other attractive summer events. For example, Paris's Almine Rech opened a branch in Monaco and participated in Monaco Art Week, which ran during the same dates as Tokyo Gendai.

Renfrew’s Long-Term Vision

Renfrew has a clear vision: he aims to build a sustainable art market. He's not looking for quick wins but for long-term growth. His strategy is rooted in fostering genuine artistic and collector relationships.

The Asian Art Market Evolution

Renfrew compares the current phase of Tokyo Gendai with the early days of Art HK, which later evolved into Art Basel Hong Kong. According to him, the market in Asia now is mature enough to sustain fairs in various regions.

Key Insights:

  1. Validation Over Speculation: Renfrew emphasizes curatorial validation to prevent inflated prices like those seen during the Chinese art boom from 2006-2008.
  2. Incremental Growth: He believes in building the market steadily rather than seeking instant success.

Sales Start Slow At Tokyo Gendai, But Founder Magnus Renfrew Is Playing The Long Game

Connecting the Dots: Renfrew’s Network of Fairs

Renfrew's fairs, such as Tokyo Gendai, Art SG in Singapore, and Taipei Dangdai in Taiwan, are designed to benefit from each other. He aims to cross-promote within his VIP network, expediting the sharing of data and insights.

Three Fairs, One Strategy

By hosting three fairs a year, Renfrew can trial different initiatives and learn quickly. He sees the advantage of rapid iteration and adaptation.

Wealth vs. Art Sales

One common critique is that wealth in a location doesn't necessarily translate to art sales. Renfrew agrees but argues that you must go where the money is. His view is that no wealth equals no sales, making it necessary to tap into affluent regions like Singapore.

Practical Perspective

Although having a rich audience doesn't guarantee sales, it certainly increases the potential. Renfrew's approach is rooted in practicality—an art fair must be located where wealth is concentrated to have a chance of succeeding.

Looking to the Future

While initial sales at Tokyo Gendai might have started slow, Magnus Renfrew's strategy offers hope for steady and sustainable growth. Building a fair that appeals to both local and regional collectors while creating a lasting impact on the Asian art market takes time, and Renfrew seems prepared for the journey.

The key takeaway? Patience and a long-term vision might just be what Tokyo Gendai needs to carve its niche in the art world. So, if you're ever at an art fair that seems slow, remember—sometimes the best games are the ones played over the long haul.

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