Words by Jae Kim
There is a new existence in the art world, and Yuki Terase, an art-industry powerhouse, is behind the master plan. A former head of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Asia, she has pioneered the East-West approach and brought a refreshing curatorial approach, resulting in quantum strides in the Asia market within a few years. Now, as the Founding Partner at Art Intelligence Global (AIG), Terase is going beyond the conventional role of an art advisor and nurturing both collectors and artists in sustainable habits.
We chatted with Terase over zoom to discuss the visions of AIG, the generational shift of the collectors, and what it means to look at things from a long-term perspective.
Plus: You have always loved art and aspired to be an artist. But when did you realize when you were more drawn to connecting rather than making art?
Yuki Terase: I grew up in Europe, where I had the privilege of regularly seeing great art from different genres and periods since I was a child. Back then, London wasn’t exactly known for contemporary art, but I still remember the Charles Saatchi Collection exhibition Sensation in 1997, which was mind-blowing. That exhibition was a turning point for me. I chose art as my main subject in high school, applied to art schools, and was accepted. Then I had a reality check when I saw other candidates’ portfolios during the exam. They were so talented. As someone who had grown up in the suburbs two hours away from London, that was a shocking awakening moment: before then, I had thought I was pretty good, but seeing their work made me realize the opposite.
You felt like a big fish in a small pond?
Right, and I realized, “Okay, maybe I’m not going to make it.” So I shifted my direction and went to university in Japan to study marketing. It wasn’t a planned path, but I was interested in returning to my mother country, where I had been absent for many years. I studied business with a vision of wanting to one day become part of the art industry—somehow, sometime. Eventually, I ended up becoming an investment banker, which I enjoyed. But I loved art so much that I knew I wanted to return to it and be surrounded by it again. That was when I went back to London to study art history, and eventually started working at Sotheby’s.
After nearly a decade at Sotheby’s, you‘ve made a big transition and launched a new art advisory firm, Art Intelligence Global (AIG), with Amy Cappellazzo and Adam Chinn last year. How have you been doing since then?
We have been super busy. We are very excited to have launched this new firm at a time when the art world is going through a fascinating yet disruptive transition. Many of these changes happened in the last two or three years, especially after COVID hit. The way people look at, discover, and collect art has changed. In this fluid and fast-changing industry, we can operate and interact nimbly with all critical stakeholders in the art world, namely auction houses, collectors, artists, estates, and brands. We not only work with auction houses, collectors, and institutional players but also with young upcoming artists in planning their forthcoming shows. Everyone and anyone interested in art is potentially our client.
I feel that there is a lot of space for us; we’re not competing with anyone. AIG is a unique existence in the sense that no one is doing what we are doing. We’re not a gallery; we don’t represent artists, but we help artists plan, and stage shows in galleries and alternative spaces. It’s something entirely new.
To do so, it’s crucial to build trust and relationships with each client and artist. Beyond the financial matters, I wonder what your ways would be in making those connections and understanding their needs.
I always look at things from a long-term perspective. One thing that is very important to me is that the artists and collectors I work with feel that I care about them. I always consider where the work will be in five, ten years rather than five, ten months. I don’t want to be swayed by trends. A piece of art is not a commodity; it is someone’s creation—their heart and soul.
Plus: How do you consider these ‘long-term’ aspects?
There are various factors. It’s a bit like musicians and actors—not everyone makes it to the end. You have to be unique in your thought process and the ideologies behind your creation. It has to be something that people can recognize, expanding their curiosity. The formula hasn’t changed over the centuries—you have to be original, and you have to be entrepreneurial.
Going beyond that, it’s also essential that young artists know how the market functions and how they should place their works. This is becoming extremely critical because of this rapid consumption culture in the contemporary art market. We are experiencing an increasing number of people collecting art, which is excellent. At the same time, art collecting is at risk of becoming like fashion, with trends that come and go every season. It’s great that more artists can sell their works and make a living and that an originally limited-sized market has now become mainstream. However, emerging artists need to be cautious about this consumption culture and be mindful of how they place and sell.
I agree – especially when the industry is moving and changing constantly. With abundant resources and media exposure, it can also become tricky for artists to find their originality.
In China, ink painters always imitated the old masters. Going beyond being influenced and forging one’s style is the key. It’s not copying but an ongoing process of humbly learning the techniques from the masters, conquering them, and then developing your style.
And particularly for young artists, whose prices skyrocket at auction after a sell-out show, their minds sometimes become restricted; they may think they can’t do anything new other than what people already like. It may feel risky to step out of a well-received style, and they get into this routine of repeating themselves. In a way, it’s a tough time for both artists and collectors because everything is now readily available in the digital sphere. Before the digital era, artists and their works would get ‘exposed’ only once every few years when they presented shows at galleries. In other words, they didn’t get judged for everything they did. They could have those three or four years of pursuing other things before presenting a new body of work, and that’s what people see. But nowadays, every day and work is documented and ‘monitored.’ It’s tough. Artists have to be very strong-willed to be able to survive this pressure.
For better or worse, digital development certainly shifted how we view and interact with art for better or worse.
It certainly did. I would say the advantages are that it opened up a new mode of collecting. Before, the art market was not very inclusive, and now everything is equally available and reachable. For example, during my time at Sotheby’s, every time we had online auctions, we would see 20-30 percent of new clients registering and bidding because people had found a new way to collect art easily. It’s incredibly encouraging that art has become more open to the broader public and that artists have more opportunities to see and present their works. They don’t have to depend on galleries or fairs, which I consider is a great plus. But there is always a flip side to everything. One can simply send and receive PDFs and JPEGs and buy works from digital platforms. It’s becoming an effortless experience, and a consequence is that people spend less time going to galleries and museums to see art in person.
That’s why it’s so crucial for institutions and advisors to educate the clients.
You are right!
Younger generations are becoming critical collectors in Asia. How do you see the generational shift evolving? What are the (collecting) patterns and differences compared to the collectors you have dealt with before?
Back in 2016, when I was at Sotheby’s, I curated an auction with the Korean singer T.O.P. He was just 27 years old back then, but I thought he very much represented the Asian market and Asian art collecting. He didn’t have a traditional way of defining his collecting philosophy. While many of Amy’s clients—some of whom are the greatest Contemporary Art collectors in the West—have a specific genre or definition of their collecting philosophy, whether it be minimalism or post-modernism, etc., in Asia, you have a crop of younger collectors like T.O.P. who simply collect what they believe in. It doesn’t matter if the artists are Western or Eastern, young or old, female or male. They collect in an eclectic and personal manner. Their collection is a representation of their persona.
Can you talk about when you first moved to Hong Kong in 2014 and how the market has progressed since then?
When I first moved to Hong Kong, people didn’t know much about Western art. They were more focused on collecting Chinese contemporary art or Chinese antiques. And then suddenly, Art Basel Hong Kong arrived and all these international galleries opened in the city. It only took three to four years for people to catch up. They became essential buyers and bidders in New York and London at auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips. So when Asian collectors came in, they came in big. They are young, entrepreneurial, and fearless. When they like something, they just go for it. They might start with something small in the beginning. But soon, they would start buying in the million-dollar market.
“It doesn’t matter if the artists are Western or Eastern, young or old, female or male. They collect in an eclectic and personal manner. Their collection is a representation of their persona.” – Yuki Terase
Now, I want to circle back to AIG. AIG has two locations: dual headquarters in New York and Hong Kong. I wonder why you chose Hong Kong as the main office for the Asia market?
With the COVID restrictions, Hong Kong has been feeling a bit crippled for a while, but I genuinely believe that Hong Kong has the most significant advantage of being the most convenient geographical hub in Asia. Many international galleries have their headquarters in Hong Kong, primarily because its well-established infrastructure allows international businesses to transact easily. After COVID, I do believe that Hong Kong will remain a significant market and a critical platform through which Asia connects with the rest of the world.
Can you share about the Hong Kong space, which will also be used for a pop-up and different projects?
Hong Kong is a fascinating and vibrant place, and I have always felt a potential for more great spaces to show great art. So we thought it would be great to have a space to have dynamic projects with artists. We might not use the space all of the time, but when and if exciting projects come to us, we will have our own space to do such things.
That sounds exciting, and I cannot wait for the plans! And as it seems like you are constantly traveling, I wonder what your ways of taking a break are?
It’s an interesting question because my hobby is my job. Unless I’m in a resort on an island with no cultural sights to see, I always go to museums and galleries when I have free time. It’s tough to draw a line between my personal and work life. I love my job because I feel that I’m so privileged to do what I genuinely love and get excited about and get financially rewarded at the same time. Of course, some aspects are not as glamorous as people think, and not everything is bright and colorful. However, I’m very blessed with what I do every day.
And that’s a true passion, right?
How do you inspire yourself, and what inspires you to do what you do?
I talk with artists a lot, and I collect and stay connected with the artists I collect. And one of the things I enjoy most personally is supporting them throughout their career. I think art, especially contemporary art, mirrors our society. Many artists create works based on the issues and concerns of their daily life. So obviously, what they make reflects our time. And I find that particularly interesting because I feel like I am part of the journey, leaving something for generations to come.
That’s what makes art so unique.
Right, and if I could contribute to some sort of the change in the system, or to the way people look at art, and be part of the journey of artists who will be praised and treasured in the centuries to come, that would be a huge accomplishment for me.