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Effort, Time, and Money are Required to be Invested to Create a Market. Interview with Michele Vitucci and Keiko Tanaka from Micheko Gallery.

Interview  /  CarolinDenter   Market   Galleries   Collecting
Published: 20.07.2020
Keiko Tanaka and Michele Vitucci  Keiko Tanaka and Michele Vitucci 
Author:
Carolin Denter
Edited by:
Klimt02
Edited at:
Barcelona
Edited on:
2020
.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
Klimt02 is in conversation with gallerists and experts in the field of contemporary jewellery. This series of interviews is an attempt to make the enigmatic art market in our field more understandable and to underline once again the importance of transparent communication. The series started with the article Between Commerce and Art.

We start the second round of interviews with Michele Vitucci and Keiko Tanaka from Micheko Gallery Munich. The gallery was founded in 2010 and puts a strong focus on introducing 21st century art from Japan to European collectors and beyond.
 
In the gallery, you represent not only jewellery artists but many areas of art. What was there first, and how did you become aware of the field of contemporary jewellery?
Since opening our gallery in June 2010, we have always wanted to show the full range of art forms that exist in contemporary Japanese art. We started with photography as it was the easiest to exhibit from an organisational standpoint. But already one year later we were approached by Akiko Kurihara and Eunmi Chun, who were still students at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. They were looking for an exhibition space during the Munich Schmuck week. That's how it all started with jewellery. For Keiko, this short, very focused Schmuck week became immediately one of her favourite exhibition formats.

 
I imagine you have the advantage, that you can introduce collectors or clients of your gallery who are interested in an installation or a painting, to the field of contemporary jewellery. Do you think that art lovers are more open to the concept of contemporary jewellery? Where are the difficulties?
We have made the experience that art enthusiasts and collectors are open-minded and interested in jewellery art, especially our female collectors. The other way around, collectors of jewellery art and the jewellery community in general, are less interested in what else is out there in the contemporary art world. At least in our experience. Jewellery art is easily accepted and appreciated if it is wearable, of top craftmanship, and with a unique, gripping concept. Somehow this applies to most art forms.
 

 
  • We have made the experience that art enthusiasts and collectors are open-minded and interested in jewellery art, especially our female collectors. The other way around, collectors of jewellery art and the jewellery community in general, are less interested in what else is out there in the contemporary art world.

 

What would you say, who is your main target for contemporary jewellery sales?
Apart from the usual suspects, the artists, collectors, teachers, and students who gather in Munich every year in March, we also try to show jewellery during the year at group exhibitions and all year round on Artsy. Unfortunately, most jewellery artists still have to grasp the concept that good gallery work is a long-term effort. Too often we see the artists withdrawing their pieces within weeks or a few months after their show during the Munich Jewellery Week. They consider us a pop-up space, which they can get for free. Unfortunately, they do not see the opportunities and the strategic value of a gallery to promote their work and to support their careers. Of course, this could be said of numerous artists in other areas as well, but it is particularly true in jewellery art.
 
 
On your website it states, Micheko Gallery acts as a bridge between its artists and European collectors and other related parties. Was it essential for you to be well connected and have potential customers before you opened your gallery, or did you take a risk when you opened the gallery?
When Keiko and I decided to open Micheko, we had a lot of research and consideration behind us. Our principal weakness was that we had no connections whatsoever to collectors and curators. We had to build everything from scratch and still have a long road ahead of us. We knew that it would take a long time and that we had to persevere. The only regret we have is that we didn't start Micheko ten years earlier.
 
Our advantage was and continues to be our focus on a niche: Japanese contemporary figurative and applied arts. Few galleries outside of Japan have the level of expertise and connections that we managed to build up over the past ten years in this specific sector.
 

What major successes and challenges have you had and what would you do differently today?
We see the fact that we were able to bring a large number of Japanese artists to Europe for their first exposure to collectors and art lovers outside of Japan, as a success. Some artists we could help to build the next steps in their careers. Keiko has always had an impeccable feel for talented artists. Micheko is not to be very active in what is considered contemporary avant-garde art, like video, VR, sound and light installations. It may have to do with our age and our tastes, and we should be more open-minded. But we appreciate creativity and craftsmanship. Japanese artists are particularly good at combining these two essential components of outstanding art. Luckily, the artificial western separation of applied and figurative arts has not yet penetrated Japan and other Asian countries.
 
We are aware that there is an apparently endless supply of art and we must continue to work hard in identifying and nurturing those talents who want to look and think outside the box of their immediate surroundings and who are interested to face the international community of art enthusiasts and collectors.
 
COVID-19 has accelerated some immanent changes that galleries must face. I am talking about the necessity of physical spaces, the evolution from a gallery to an agency model, and various other options about how to modernise and adapt to what future collectors may expect from a gallery and its artists.
 
 
We are conducting an interview about the "market" for contemporary jewellery. Perhaps this term is not appropriate at all, as the market is either highly problematic or does not really exist. Could you evaluate for us the jewellery market as you have experienced it over the past decade, and describe your experience?
The term "market "for contemporary jewellery helps us to delimit and define a certain area of the "art market". It is an appropriate term and not per se problematic. The problem is more what the jewellery artist’s self-understanding of contemporary jewellery is. What we are observing, especially during the Munich Jewellery Week, is the tendency to socialize and interact within their circle and pat each other's' back. The gallery is seen as the provider of a space, not for much more. In reality the work and career-building of an artist is a rather solitary job. I mean that an artist cannot build a career by always sticking with her peers. An artist needs to get together with a handful of carefully selected galleries, evenly spread all over the world. It's a concerted effort to build an artist's career and rarely an artist can do it all by herself. Of course, there are specialized contemporary jewellery galleries, which do a great job to promote this art form. But at the same time, this self-imposed segregation is detrimental to the proliferation and acceptance of jewellery art as a natural component of the art world.


 
  • What we are observing, especially during the Munich Jewellery Week, is the tendency to socialize and interact within their circle and pat each other's' back. The gallery is seen as the provider of a space, not for much more. In reality, the work and career-building of an artist is a rather solitary job.



Let's turn to the details of how the contemporary jewellery market is constructed. What distinguishes it from other, more regular markets – especially concerning valuation?
 
Jewellery art is an art form in its own right and deserves attention not just from a few curators and jewellery experts. But in order to get this attention the self-imposed segregation needs to be lifted. Jewellery artists have many talents. They can be artisans, sculptors, installation artists, as well as designers and even painters if they would show their draft ideas and sketches. Collectors, art lovers, and curators love artists who cross borders, communicate about their creative processes, and provide background information.


What do you think must change to improve the situation?
This question I have already answered and I would add that young and emerging artists should just copy their famous colleagues. People like Murakami, Koons or Yayoi Kusama, just to name a few, have become world-famous not just because their art is so great because that could be disputed. But what they did was to write about their own art, their willingness to enter alliances, to cooperate with people and businesses outside their own world, and to cross borders at any given opportunity.
 
 
Thinking about contemporary jewellery, do you think it is necessary to "educate" the audience, customers, collectors (…), and so on?
It is our experience that art enthusiasts are a very curious breed. They love to see new art and learn about what is new and how things are evolving in the art world. Jewellery art shows are relatively rare. One cannot expect a raising interest in contemporary jewellery if certain demands and rules of engagement with the market are not met. Jewellery art needs to be shown in a context, with particular care, and following a carefully curated theme. Hanging up a few necklaces at the wall has no future. One of the reasons why Micheko has become a constant for many visitors of the Munich Jewellery Week is our effort to create theme-related, carefully curated shows with particular care for the details. Unfortunately, some of the artists that we have exhibited, even if they played along, grossly underestimated the objective and impact of such efforts.
 

Contemporary jewellery, except for a few auctions held worldwide, is rarely available for resale or to the secondhand market. Why do you think this is the case, and how do you see the stability of the value in contemporary jewellery pieces?
Jewellery art stands between fashion, applied, and figurative art. The fact that it is wearable art determines the relationship that the owner/collector has with her piece. It is seen less as just a decorative piece or as an investment to be traded at a later stage or for future generations. The owner has a more emotional relationship and is less willing to part with it. But I wouldn't say that this will not change over the next years. Contemporary jewellery will make an appearance in the secondary market in time. Only when the original collector is no longer in possession of the pieces can the potential of a secondary market possibly be realized. A secondary market can develop of course only if the awareness of the primary market increases.
 
 
Based on your professional experience, what would be your approach to expand, strengthen, and change the contemporary jewellery/art market?

It may sound a bit cheeky, but contemporary jewellery is a perfect entry drug for women who are interested in art. It just needs to be exhibited as art and not as a necklace or a pair of earrings. And, as I said before, artists need to leave their comfortable bubble of like-minded fellow jewellers and venture out into the "real" art world. Also, this limitation to just create jewellery is not helpful. Why confine your creative talents to just one thing?


 
  • There is a basic misunderstanding that artists have about gallerists. They feel somehow exploited because they are not convinced of the value of a gallery and resent the commission split. They feel that they do all the work but do not appreciate that there is a tremendous amount of effort, time, and money required to be invested to create a market and value for their works. Art does not sell itself, and neither does the name of an artist build up reputation and celebrity by itself.



I understand it is difficult to criticise the contemporary jewellery scene while you are part of it. But it seems there is a product and almost no demand. Artists, gallerists, or collectors: Not many talks about sales, prices, customers, success or failure. What do you think is the main reason for this secretiveness, as in the art market it is considered as prestigious for a gallery to share their sales with the world. Could you give us some insights in Micheko Galerie's situation?
I keep repeating myself but as long as jewellery artists stick together in their own bubble, nothing will change. Have you tried to google for "contemporary jewellery"? What you get is not Lin Cheung, Akiko Kurihara, or anyone of the Hoffmann-Prize winners. What you get is Picasso and Ed Calder. Not even Otto Künzli shows up in the first dozen pages. It is already extremely hard for any artist anywhere in the world to succeed in her local market and exponentially tougher to gain an international reputation. In a niche, this effort is rendered even more difficult and nearly impossible. Art is ubiquitous; there is too much of it, without a doubt. Especially bad art. If one adds on top of this outset secrecy, isolation and an unwillingness to behave professionally, and by that I mean to act as a serious, reliable player in the context of the art market (galleries, curators, museums and similar institutions, collectors, art press, etc.), then there is little hope. To also answer the secretiveness, I believe that there is a lot of hot air in this market and at the same time nobody wants to admit that they also cook with water. Gallerists particularly love to boast their successes and how well connected they are with collectors and museums. But the vast majority survives on self-exploitation and with an income bordering on subsistence. More transparency would lead to more constructive ideas about cooperation, creation of works closer to what the market would love to see, and to a better understanding that we are all in the same boat and that rowing in different directions is not particularly clever. This would also create and promote a viable secondary market in the long run.
 
At Micheko we have never used smokes and mirrors as we firmly believe in transparency and honesty. We know that for every successful sale there are twenty inquiries that lead nowhere.
 
There is a basic misunderstanding that artists have about gallerists.
They feel somehow exploited because they are not convinced of the value of a gallery and resent the commission split. They feel that they do all the work but do not appreciate that there is a tremendous amount of effort, time, and money required to be invested to create a market and value for their works. Art does not sell itself, and neither does the name of an artist build up reputation and celebrity by itself.
 
Galleries act as a filter for the art world. Only by keeping an open mind and about talking to each other openly about what it all involves working as a gallerist and what it all means to build up a reputation and the trust from buyers, only then real trust and cooperation can be established between artists and gallerists.

About the Interviewee

Keiko Tanaka, born in Hiroshima, Japan, has degrees in history of art, sculpture making, pedagogics and mathematics. She moved to Munich in 2005 where she joined Michele’s stock photo production firm as an art director. At Micheko, Keiko is in charge of artists relations and curating the shows. Michele Vitucci, born in Trani, Italy and now a naturalised German is a serial entrepreneur with a focus in photo productions. A co-founder of Micheko, he is in charge of all the back office work, sales and marketing.

Contact: https://www.micheko.com/en/

About the author


Carolin Denter
 completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. 2015 she made an Internship at Klimt02 in Barcelona. In 2017 she graduated as Bachelor of Fine Arts in Gemstone and Jewellery at the University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein. After her graduation, she worked as Assistance at Campus Idar-Oberstein in the Gemstone and Jewellery Departement till the end of 2019. Since 2020 she is Marketing & Forum Content Manager at Klimt02.  
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