I know quite a few painting collectors, of both Eastern and Western painting, who also collect pottery. Through a number of conversations, the discussion about prices inevitably comes up and one thing that is a common issue is the valuation of a painters work. Within these discussions one topic is always a common theme, just because a painters work brought an incredibly high price, all of his works are not necessarily close to that level. Picasso is an excellent example, his highest priced work to date was LA REVE which fetched a whooping $157.9 Million, yet his painting, prints/etchings and drawings can be had for a tiny fraction of that price. Understandably, there is a wide disparity of quality in any artist's work, especially over a long working lifetime and this greatly affects what a piece will actually be worth but for many, the name-game kicks in and seemingly every Picasso is now worth those incredible prices.
Not to belabor the point, but a diamond is an excellent example of diverse valuation. Being judged on the four Cs; color, cut, clarity and carat (weight), the judgment of a diamond runs wildly in terms of value. A one carat diamond could run between $1000 and $20000 depending on the clarity, color and cut though both appear about the same without the aid of magnification. The study of diamonds, like anything else takes years of study and hands on experience to the point where a collector develops a certain amount of comfort with making purchases on his/her own. Truthfully, all collecting is like that, there is a something of a learning curve that is aided with continued research, actual handling of the objects and seeing and understanding the masterpieces of a field. Pottery is no different and requires that same study and appreciation as does any other "collectible".
This same type of price valuation applies to modern Japanese pots. When one thinks of Arakawa Toyozo or Miwa Kyusetsu XI (Jyusetsu) one thinks of the highest end of the spectrum of prices where $100,000 is not at all uncommon. Truth is that both of these pivotal and important artists made works that can be collected for less than 1/10th of those prices. Rather nice chawan by Miwa Kyusetsu XI can be had for $10,000 and under and chawan by Arakawa have been on the market at around $10,000 for the past decade. The price is ultimately judged against the time period, quality and relevance the pot has to the body of work the artist has left. I vividly remember on a trip to Japan seeing a wonderful Shimizu Uichi kannyu-chawan in an antique store for 2 million yen and just across the street a similar work, though nowhere near the quality of the other for 250,000 yen. It may seems more than a bit confusing, but when you really stop to think about the two piece relative to each other, one was a simple and pretty chawan, the other a magnificent and powerful example of a difficult style to perfect, in other words, a true gem.
Admittedly the whole pricing game can seem rather arbitrary and confusing. Upon closer inspection and in-depth study of the market and prices, values can be best understood by watching exhibitions, gallery and auction prices. There will always be select pots or markets that command an absolute premium but ironically the valuation of most modern Japanese pots across similar markets have a pretty stable level. As to how to collect within such a wide diversity of prices and quality surrounding each potter, I think it is always best to buy the best you can afford but ultimately buy the pot that speaks to you most. In the end the choice is yours, would you rather buy a great pot by a good potter or a good pot by a great potter? For me, the choice is very clear.
Illustrated is an Oni-Hagi mizusashi by Miwa Kyusetsu (Jyusetsu) from a private collection. The wonderful surface, blushing and crawling create a magnificent landscape and a stellar pot.
Black Sheep; The Choice Is Yours