Macau | Exhibiting Pension Fund's Ukiyo-e prints would increase collection's value - Art curator

The Pension Fund has told MNA that publicly exhibiting its Japanese art collection would be detrimental to its investment purposes, due to framing, transportation and insurance costs, but an art curator claims exhibiting it would be beneficial for its future valuation

Macau (MNA) – Art curator and historian, Margarida Saraiva, indicated to Macau News Agency (MNA) that the local Pension Fund (FP) should make its Japanese engraving art collection available for public viewing since exhibiting it would likely increase the ensemble’s value.

The Fund had previously told MNA that it currently holds a collection of 84 Japanese art prints which are being kept in the safes of Banco Nacional Ultramarino (BNU).

The paintings, by four Japanese artists of the Ukiyo-e genre, were purchased for MOP13.6 million (US$1.6 million) by the Fund as an investment between 1987 and 1989 during the time of the Portuguese Administration.

The collection includes two separate engravings of Kitagawa Utamaro (1754-1806) and Suzuki Harunobu (1724-1770) and two collections: one by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) – author of the famous The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa (pictured top) – consisting of 46 engravings; and another by Ando Hiroshije (1797-1858), composed of 36, under the theme Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.

When questioned by MNA if it would consider exhibiting the collection to the general public, the Fund stated that since the ‘purpose of purchasing this set of engravings was the investment, the most desirable is to keep it in its original state’.

‘If these prints are displayed to the public, they will need to be shipped to Japan for framing, resulting in high costs for shipping, framing and insurance, etc.,” the Fund told MNA in a written reply.

The Fund has maintained the collection at BNU for some MOP1,000 per year for 30 years for valuation purposes;however, an appraisal by Castle Fine Arts in March of this year estimated the collection’s value at some MOP16 million.Thus, the collection’s value has only increased some MOP2.4 million over three decades.

When questioned on the issue, Ms. Saraiva told MNA that, in fact, if these artworks were to be deposited in museums, receive the necessary treatment and care, and were exposed to public access afterwards their valuation would likely increase

“Any collector or gallerist with some experience does not buy any work without studying its origins. This includes studying the exhibits in which the works were displayed.  The more exposed a work is, the more its relevance to the history of art is proven, thereby increasing the value of the work,” she added.

The Fund has also argued that ‘collectors generally lose interest in the purchase of picture frames, since it becomes difficult to sell them after exposure’ and that damage to the engravings when they are removed from the frames could further devalue the artworks.’

Therefore, in order to guarantee the quality and value of the prints, this Fund needs to conduct an in-depth study of the feasibility of its exposure to the public.’

Mount Fuji seen from Kinegawa, by Ando Hiroshije, 1852

Framing the works

The art curator also indicated that she does not understand why the artworks would have to be sent to Japan for framing, since that work could be done here.

“Frames are made from the measurements of the works. They are then assembled by someone capable of handling works of art. Such works do not go to the framing shops,” she added.

The art expert also indicated that art collectors do not usually lose interest in artworks just because they are framed, since the framing is not permanent.

“Access to artworks and historical heritage in general should be as universal as possible […]. I’m not a fan of investment funds that buy works of art to lock them up in the vault of a bank waiting for them to appreciate, often without being seen for decades […]. Imagine if the St. Paul Ruins were treated the same way? There are works that must be in the public domain,” the art curator said.

When questioned if keeping the artworks in a vault could damage them, Ms. Saraiva indicated that it depends on the environmental conditions, temperature and relative humidity inside the safe and the way they are wrapped.

“The engravings are delicate works, usually on paper. In Macau, as we all know, any paper work deteriorates with enormous speed given the high relative humidity […]. Locked works must be re-observed periodically to ensure correct maintenance, especially works made from sensitive materials,” she told MNA.

MNA questioned BNU in regard to the conditions in which the collection has been kept, with the bank indicating that it could not disclose such information.