Japanese department stores focus on contemporary art as popularity grows amid pandemic

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Contemporary works are seen in a department store in Chuo Ward, Tokyo.

An interest in displaying contemporary art at home seems to be growing as people seek healing in their lives and color for their interiors amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many works can be purchased at affordable prices, and department stores are making efforts to market them.

Contemporary art refers to paintings, sculptures, calligraphy and other works created mainly after World War II. Prices range from tens of thousands of yen to more than ¥100 million. According to the Art Tokyo Association, the domestic art market in 2020 was ¥236.3 billion, with contemporary art accounting for ¥29.4 billion.

Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Store Co. said its art section used to attract mainly customers in their 60s and older, but an increasing number of people in their 20s to 40s who are teleworking at home are now making purchases.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Works by Banksy and others are displayed for sale at the Daimaru Shinsaibashi store in Chuo Ward, Osaka, in January.

In January, the department store launched ARToVILLA, a website that features essays written by models and others who have a vast knowledge of contemporary art, as well as information on sales and exhibitions.

“We want to create an environment where people can feel familiar with art and purchase it easily,” said a person in charge of the site.

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. is working on a project that creates and sells figurines based on characters depicted in the original works of popular artists active in Japan and abroad. The Isetan 3D Art Project targets young people who have never purchased art before and sells the figurines for around ¥20,000.

The MoMA Design Store, which is operated by major household goods company The Loft Co., sells mainly miscellaneous items at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. According to the store, sales of reproduction paintings by contemporary artists have been particularly strong.

In 2021, sales of art, jewelry and precious metals rose by 25.7% from the previous year, according to nationwide department store sales figures compiled by the Japan Department Stores Association. Contemporary art is becoming a popular target for investment because the price of contemporary art rises as the artist becomes more famous.