Culture / Art Republik

Phillips’ upcoming contemporary art sale features artwork by teamLAB

International auction house Phillips will hold its 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale in Hong Kong this November

Nov 21, 2017 | By LUXUO

teamLab, ‘Universe of Water Particles’, 2013. Image courtesy Ikkan Art Gallery, Pace Gallery & Martin Browne Contemporary

On 26 November, Phillips will hold its 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale in Hong Kong. One of the highlights of the sale is teamLab’s ‘Universe of Water Particles’ (2013), the first time one of the Japanese art collective’s digital artworks will be made available by an international auction house.

Ahead of the sale, we speak with Sandy Ma, Head of Sale for 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design, Phillips Asia, to talk about the work, the collection of new media and digital art in general, and what Phillips has planned in its endeavour to champion contemporary art and digital innovation.

How did it come to be that a work from teamLab will be offered in the 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale this season?

Bringing a work by teamLab to the international auction market for the very first time is an exciting moment for us. A primary objective for Phillips is to find the best amongst fresh contemporary art and shine a torchlight on artists and artworks that we feel will speak to our collecting base. We closely follow the vibrant contemporary art scene in Hong Kong and as we advance into the digital age, it is important to give prominence to highly innovative and engaging contemporary art such as this. We have been working with a private collector in Asia, who sees and trusts Phillips as the perfect partner to sell this work, which has already generated excitement and interest. We expect this to grow as we approach the date of the auction, and are confident that ‘Universe of Water Particles’ will resonate with collectors across the globe.  

teamLab, ‘Universe of Water Particles’, 2013. Image courtesy Ikkan Art Gallery, Pace Gallery & Martin Browne Contemporary

For our readers, could you explain what the buyer of the work will be receiving? With a painting, for example, the buyer would get the work on canvas and perhaps a letter of authenticity. How about with teamLab’s ‘Universe of Water Particles’?

‘Universe of Water Particles’ comes in the form of a software programme. The successful buyer will receive the hard disk with the software installed in it, along with a setup manual. For this edition, teamLab will offer a 10-year warranty on the software from the date of the sale. The collector then has the option to purchase an additional 10-year warranty at a nominal fee. As technology evolves and changes, teamLab will replace and upgrade the software to adapt to the then-current operating systems. The software can be displayed with screens or by projectors. In terms of hardware that we can use today, the five-channel artwork can be displayed at a minimum of 3.5 metres high with LCD screens, or as tall as 15 metres high if one uses a projector. This scale can change in the future, depending on the technological breakthroughs in hardware technology, for example. This makes the prospect of owning this work so exciting – the ability to move along with technological advances.

Why should collectors look into collecting new media and digital art?

The collection of new media and digital art is still in its nascent stage. Whilst there has been a surge in interest in “post-internet art”, one should also remember that the Internet only started to become prevalent in the early 2000s. Work that responds to and was created during this period of technological innovation is also very new, so naturally the corresponding market is also new. In terms of value, anyone buying art should be driven first and foremost by the art. Historically, the greatest returns have been made by collectors who bought with passion, determination and a good eye.

In your opinion, who are the new media artists and digital artists to watch — and collect — in Asia?

In new media, teamLab are one of the most well-known and widely exhibited contemporary collectives. In Asia alone, they have had major institutional and commercial exhibitions across Shenzhen, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and many more. Their immersive installations have found audiences from children to some of the most renowned Asian collectors. Impactful, groundbreaking and also aesthetically strong, the works have been shared widely across social media, a testament to their power to impact and influence. I believe this will translate to the market.

Artists that explore issues that define our time are always of interest. For example, Simon Denny’s practice addresses issues including hacking and blockchain technology. In China, there are emerging artists who employ technology such as virtual reality (VR) in production, such as Wang Xin, who has created a virtual gallery. Other artists are currently exploring the coming together of VR technology and traditional Chinese ink, which, if successful, could be extremely interesting.  

Sandy Ma, Head of Sale for 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design, Phillips Asia

What should collectors be aware of in terms of editions if they would like to venture into collecting in these new mediums?

This artwork by teamLab is from an edition of 6. There are also artworks by teamLab that are unique, for example, those that are large-scaled installations or commissioned works. As with all editions created in other media, I advise collectors to be aware of the size of the edition and whether the piece is numbered, dated or signed, or alternatively, if the works comes with a certificate of authenticity from the artist’s studio or estate. In more conventional mediums, such as prints, there may also be artist proof (AP) editions.

What are the things to note with installing, as well as maintaining the condition of the works such a ‘Universe of Particles’?

‘Universe of Particles’ is a five-channel work, which makes it less complicated than some other works by teamLab that, for example, feature up to 8, 10, or 12 channels, which will require a slightly larger system for displaying. This particular artwork is made by connecting 5 Mac mini computers to 5 display monitors, through one LAN hub with 5 HDMI cables.

There are restorers specialising in various mediums of work, such as with paper works or oil on canvas works, or particular artists. Are there special restorers out there for new media and digital art, and what does restoration for these works entail?

The warranty from teamLab provides collectors of their work with peace of mind. The artists have thoughtfully provided a solution to display the work with the most current hardware available in today’s world. As we see the rise of new media, we may very well see the emergence of specialists of new media restoration in the future.

As the Head of Sale for 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design at Phillips, how do you see the collection of art and design complementing each other? Do you see that many collectors are now generally interested in both, or perhaps you could comment on how die-hard art collectors have become interested in collectible works of design as well?

Over the past few years there has been a sea change in the buying habits of Asian collectors, who are becoming increasingly interested in important international works of design and cross-category collecting. There is growing interest in design, as institutions such as M+, Design Trust, Victoria and Albert Museum, and China Merchants Group (CMG) Design Society project in Shekou, work to promote this important category to an ever growing audience. Visiting the increasing number of shows and exhibitions, tracking demand, and observing evolving tastes inevitably influence the artists and works of design we look to include in our auctions. Asian collectors are increasingly active and participating in our design sales in London and New York. For example, in Taiwan, where there is a long-standing focus on collecting certain blue-chip artists, 20th century design has also been embraced and the likes of Finn Juhl, the architect, interior and industrial designer, are highly sought by collectors from that market.

Phillips is dedicated to contemporary art and digital innovation. What more can we look forward to from the auction house in pushing boundaries of the traditional auction house model in the near future?

The art market has embraced the interconnectivity that the Internet has endowed on us and, at Phillips, our goal is to seamlessly connect our clients to our live sales and exhibitions. We are expanding the way one can bid in a live sale and have done this in a way that nobody else has. Our website currently offers the most client-friendly bidding platform in the industry. From anywhere in the world and from any mobile device clients are able to bid live, as well as place advance bids. Phillips’ client base is growing tremendously as a result.

More information at


Back to top