New Emissary

‘Make My Day’

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New Emissary

‘Make My Day’

When it comes to getting the best out of the Asian art world, Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan said it right.

One way in which the business world is different from the art world is that business people often say they don’t like surprises. In the art world, people love surprises.

Ceramicists like Ryota Aoki are often amazed when their finished work comes out of the kiln. Painters like Giang Nguyen don’t know exactly what will result in combining colours, but still often take the chance because the outcome can be beautiful. In art, the possibility of seeing something unexpectedly great is always there.

I also love surprises. So when I go to out to see art, I invoke the famous words of Clint Eastwood’s character Harry Callahan: ‘Go ahead, make my day.’ For example, I went to an exhibition a few months ago in a Tokyo suburb, and although I wasn’t impressed with the show, I loved the art in the outside lobby—magnificent prints by Jasper Johns and Ellsworth Kelly. I ended up spending more time there than at the actual exhibit, but was thrilled and went home more than satisfied.

I’d love to live in a place where art would continuously be surprising me. I’m jealous of New Yorkers who can easily go out and see the recently unveiled Ai Weiwei sculptures in their city. These kinds of art surprises don’t happen in Tokyo, where I reside—ever.

So when I see great art in a hotel while traveling, I go back again and again and recommend it to my friends. My recent visit to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Boston was a treat because I could see museum quality everywhere throughout the building. There are paintings by Michael Mazur and Frank Stella and Herb Jackson, along with a bronze and aluminum sculpture by Guy Dill, all present there. The hotel has gone a step further and prepared a booklet describing the works in its ‘collection.’ Ask for it if you visit. I’ll definitely be back to stay there—for the art and because they care about their collection and their guests.

Ritz Carlton Singapore by yosonuts

Ritz Carlton Singapore by yosonuts

The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Singapore is another hotel with a first-class art collection. I knew they had Zhu Wei’s paintings, but when I visited, I also got to see their huge Zhu Wei sculptures. The works by David Hockney they had just off the lobby were a bonus. I want more of these kinds of surprises. Too often, I come across art surprises that are more like a disappointing meal in a restaurant.

For example, recently when we delivered two Zhu Wei paintings to a client in a high-rise apartment building, we saw art in the lobby that simply didn’t belong there. Who would put boring small still-lifes of birds, flowers and a young girl in the lobby of an expensive modern apartment building in Tokyo? Believe me, no one who’s ever been to a museum would subject people to bad art in public spaces—or private spaces for that matter. I figured the artist must be the son or mother of the building owner. Does this kind of art make you want to stay and enjoy the lobby? Does this add to the image of the building? I don’t think so.

How about you? Are there times when you’re surprised by the great art that you see? I hope so. If so, please tell me where. I hope there’s some great art in your home. After all, that’s one place where we all can create a surprise for ourselves. Home is the best place to start surprising and rewarding yourself. Surprise yourself, your spouse, your children, your parents and your friends with great art in your home.

Choose art that resonates with you. You’ll be surprised again and again when your conversations take on deeper meaning. You’ll be adding enjoyment to your own life, and inspiring your friends to choose something good for their homes. I love it when I hear from our clients how much art has changed their lives and their appreciation of their homes.

If you’re an expatriate in this part of the world like me, choose art that you’ll be proud to bring with you from city to city. Choose art that makes a statement about who you are and what you value. Reward those who visit with a chance to see world-class art in your home. This will be a terrific reward you can give to yourself.

This will be Robert Tobin’s last art post for The Diplomat, as the New Emissary will be going on hiatus for an undetermined period starting next week. Readers can find more about Robert and the Tobin Ohashi Gallery in Tokyo at and on Facebook, and continue to read his unique insights on business, art and life at at

You can also contact him directly at [email protected] on art matters…and more.