Contemporary Art Business // Masako Shiba
The Commercialization of Concept Art
Masako Shiba is a seasoned professional in the art industry having worked for prominent organizations in New York including Sotheby's auction house, Japan Society, Asia Society, and Asian Cultural Council, where she served as the inaugural director for ACC Japan Foundation. Amidst the pandemic, Masako ventured into various endeavors, including co-founding ONBD, a digital art and web3-focused company, serving as Executive Director for J-Collabo, a Japanese cultural non-profit organization, and becoming the Chief Artistic Director for Spacetainment PTE LTD, a space startup. Additionally, she is an advisor for new media art for ANDART, a Japanese art startup, and sits on the advisory board for HH Dalai Lama's official biography art project and New Museum's affiliated organization, New Inc, as an external mentor.
With her expertise in NFT, she frequently speaks and writes on the subject and recently contributed to the museum catalog for the "Takashi Murakami: Unfamiliar People: Swelling of Monsterized Human Ego" exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, scheduled for September 2023.
Iroha: What projects are you currently working on? What have you most recently completed or plan to do soon?
Masako: I am fortunate to have different outlets through my ventures, enabling me to bring art projects like Yasuo Nomura’s space art initiative to life. Yasuo Nomura, a Japanese artist currently participating in my nonprofit J-Collabo’s residency program, creates works that challenge the notion of the “next dimension” through his art concept PION.
J-Collabo residency Yasuo Nomura
As Spacetainment, we facilitated the launch of “PION Plate” into space in March 2023. The artwork is affixed to the exterior of the ISS and will be one of the first artworks to ever return to Earth after being exposed to the space environment. As ONBD, we utilized blockchain technology to incorporate the supporter community into the art project. I am interested in the meaningful use of technology to aid artists to realize their vision and am excited to see this happen with Yasuo’s PION. I always say art takes you places – but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be officially invited to see a rocket launch by NASA for being in the arts!
PION with NASA images
I am also absolutely honored to finally announce my collaboration with the Contemporary Art Foundation (CAF), founded by the Japanese visionary philanthropist and eclectic art collector Yusaku Maezawa. The foundation and I share a mission to support the development of Japanese emerging artists, and Director Chihiro Watanabe has been an incredible advocate in this project by allowing us to be the receiving entity of the awardees. We look forward to hosting these talents in New York, the art mecca of the world, and allowing them to further develop their artistic practices by exposing them to a culture unfamiliar to their own. This signifies the commitment of the foundation to build a stronger future for Japanese art, and to be the first collaborating partner in the Americas to enable their vision is an incredible honor.
Iroha: What are your thoughts regarding Asian hate and Asian glass ceiling issues?
Masako: I was heartbroken by the string of horrible incidents that increased in occurrence in mid-2020. I felt betrayed and as if I was suddenly not accepted by New York, which I have called home for the past 20 years. My NFT company mobilized a charity exhibition with Japanese artist Shinji Murakami, who created a wonderful series of works called MetaPeople celebrating the diversity of humanity – this time focusing on Asian representation. At the same time, every company and entity I am currently a part of is by chance 100% Asian and by choice headed by young, brilliant women. This is a rarity in the tech and space industries. I am here to watch these Asian women crush the glass ceiling and am empowered by the fact that I work with those who feel strongly about giving opportunities to these capable and deserving leaders.
SuperRare panel discussion
Iroha: Based on your background, do you have any advice or a message for young people who want to follow in your footsteps?
Masako: Be open to trying new things, be open to suggestions – and, most importantly, be open to success. Don’t limit yourself by worrying about how things might go wrong, give yourself a chance – just do it! It might not work out, but if you don’t do it, it will never happen, and that’s far worse than not even trying.
Iroha: Outside of work, what are you most interested in right now?
Masako: Art is and always has been my number one passion, which means there is no on/off work for me – or maybe it’s never been “work” for me at all. I also love house music, which I yet again cross the lines of work and play for. I actually used to program DJ events for the museums I worked for. My newfound interests are yoga and meditation, which I found during the pandemic. I have become an accredited sound therapy practitioner as well as a certified yoga instructor. Ironically, I guess I am intensely, actively pursuing a way to have fun and relax simultaneously.