Izumi Kato - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips
  • Monumental, iridescent, serene and fantastical, Japanese artist Izumi Kato’s Untitled marks the artist’s most illustrious offering to ever debut in auction. Spanning over three meters in length, Kato’s iconic humanoid form with bulbous head and eyes suspends mid-air in child’s pose, its slim and graceful body abruptly interrupted by the waist yet fading enigmatically into the surroundings through painterly beams. Arrestingly primitive yet executed with anatomical precision, exquisitely contrasting colours highlight the minimalist contour and the body’s heart and face, amplifying Kato’s vision of human transcendence. Indeed, the artist’s profound connection with his native Japanese spiritual folklores and decade-long refinement of his archetypes culminate in the superbly dramatic symbol that dominates Untitled. Despite tremendous market interest in the artist, a canvas of this scale remains impressively unprecedented in public auction.



    Detail of the present work


     No One and Nowhere


    Izumi Kato’s investigation of his emblematic silhouettes—featuring globular eyes as echoed by rounded visages and faded limbs—commenced at the very initial stage of his artistic career in the 1990s. Born and raised in Shimane, by the Sea of Japan, the artist has grown up acquainted with religious folklore. The figurines can be interpreted as reincarnations of kami—spirits who are present in the environment, mortal beings, and souls of the dead who have parted from their mortal envelopes—to occupy a parallel universe, not to be encountered by humans.

    “They are no one and nowhere.” 
    — Izumi Kato

    Sharply truncated at the waist to deny any individuality, the contour in the present work is notably absent of gender, identity, or any worldly possessions. The wonderfully bold colours of the background absorb the figure into a vacuum, curating an alternative universe devoid of time and space. In Kato’s Untitled, the fetal position of the figure, reminiscent of a child in a mother’s womb, undresses all mankind to their most unadorned state as a powerful expression of universality.

    “I am interested in the meaning of people’s lives. I believe this is where art is rooted and I realized afresh that continuing my work could not be meaningless.”
    — Izumi Kato 

    The hollowed oval eyes, minimalistic facial features, and exuberant colours of Izumi Kato’s otherworldly creature in Untitled also cite inspiration from African masks worn in religious ceremonies as medium to bridge the mortals with the invisible powers and departed ancestors. While Kato traces the profound art historical legacy of quoting African tribal art alongside masters such as Pablo Picasso, he nevertheless seamlessly dawns his enigmatic creature as an agent of a communal spirituality transcending history, religion, and geography. Simultaneously, the concept of utilizing masks to embody the other addresses the transience of identity, confronting the quintessentially modern question of one’s individuality in an increasingly globalized society. Indeed, Untitled towers as the finest demonstration of how Kato—a ‘master of portraiture’ regarded by renowned collector Dr. Ryutaro Takahashi—'doesn’t simply depict an individual, or capture the subconscious… [but] exposes the psychological depths of the era in which it was painted.’ i


    Despite depicting a singular feature of immense size, the artwork transforms into an instrument which strips down the simulacrum of modern human existence in bold confrontation with its audience. In over three decades of ceaseless efforts, Kato has perfected this existential concept, raising the open-ended question of whether to interpret the present work as brutal erasure of individuality or commiserate reminder of collective spirituality. Such exploration of complex and fluid existence recalls the artist’s greatest muses, Francis Bacon and Vincent Van Gogh.


    Francis Bacon, Pope with Owls, oil on canvas, circa 1958
    Sold by Phillips New York for US$33,000,000, 17 November 2021
    Artwork: © 2023 Estate of Francis Bacon/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London


    The Human Touch


    Izumi Kato’s artistic career was interrupted after graduating with an oil painting degree from Musashino University in Japan in 1992. Instead of becoming a professional artist, Kato pursued various labour-intensive roles in light of Japan’s economic downfall at the time. However, once he returns to painting at the age of thirty, his intimate encounters with the human physicality would inform Kato’s unwavering pursuit in the body as a vessel for its forms, practices, and interaction with the surroundings.

    “I’d say the first big turning point in my work was the transition to oils and working with my hands.”
    — Izumi Kato

    Executing his paintings with a latex-gloved hand, Kato rids the intermediary between the artist and his canvas. In Untitled, to create the rich textures of the face, the artist first applies paint to his hands to directly colour the canvas. Afterwards, a spatula is employed to add multiple layers of paint as the background. Kato’s artistic practice transports vivacity, as he caresses the canvas with his hands to breathe life into the silhouette’s pupils, nose, mouth, and mind—all vessels of humanity. Illustrating a uniquely intimate human-to-human connection, Kato’s creation of an anthropomorphic subject in Untitled impressively integrates his utmost craftsmanship into his oeuvre. Evoking the artist’s personal previous endeavours, Untitled simultaneously addresses the universal spirituality that Kato so splendidly crafted.



    Izumi Kato - Galerie Perrotin, New York 2016



    Collector’s Digest

    • Ever since the artist’s participation in the Venice Biennale on behalf of Japan in 2007, regarded as one of the most venerable prestige for a living artist, Izumi Kato’s profound practices have garnered well-deserved fanfare. International institutions have honoured the artist with exhibitions at CHAT Hong Kong (2020), the Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing (2020), the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum (2020), and an ongoing exhibition at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan. The present work, in particular, was crowned the centrepiece of the artist’s solo exhibition in Perrotin Hong Kong in 2018.


     Installation view of the current work at Perrotin, Hong Kong,
    19 January - 6 March 2018
    Image: Ringo Cheung, Artwork: Courtesy the artist and Perrotin. © 2018 Izumi Kato


    • Cementing his auction record in 2021 at Phillips Hong Kong, Izumi Kato has recently become one of the most sought-after artists of our time. Ten of the artist’s highest auction records—all achieved within the past year or so—attest to his popularity among collectors. On an unprecedented scale, the Japanese sensation’s Untitled marks Kato’s most prestigious auction offering with only more momentum for the artist to witness.


    Izumi Kato, Untitled, 2008
    Sold by Phillips Hong Kong for HK$11,745,000, 30 November 2021
    Artwork: © 2008 Izumi Kato 


    Dr. Ryutaro Takahashi, quoted in ‘The Future That Should Come’, Izumi Kato, Italy, 2020, p. 23

    • Provenance

      Perrotin Gallery, Hong Kong
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Hong Kong, Perrotin Gallery, Izumi Kato, 19 January - 6 March 2018

    • Literature

      Izumi Kato, 'Interview: Izumi Kato', Post-ism, 18 June 2018, online (illustrated)



signed and dated '2017 KATO [in English and Kanji]' on the reverse of the left panel
oil on canvas, diptych
overall 130.5 x 356 cm. (51 3/8 x 140 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for HK$5,715,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 30 March 2023