Popular Chinese Art Selling at Unprecedented Prices


Author: Cordelia Kenney

Art collectors and members of the art world alike are fervidly discussing the price of art after Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang’s 1988 triptych “Forever lasting Love” sold for 10.4 million dollars at Sotheby’s Hong Kong art auction earlier this month, setting a new record for Chinese contemporary art. The auction, which showed paintings by various contemporary Chinese painters, including Zhang, Zeng Fanzhi and Cai Guo-Qiang, sold 77 percent of the 485 lots, bringing in several hundred million dollars, according to a Bloomberg.com article.

The collection, which belonged to Belgian art collector Baron Guy Ullens, includes works from the ’80s and ’90s, according to Art Radar Asia. “[The collection] encapsulates the emergence and evolution of creative ideologies and artistic dialogues among some of the greatest artists in the most fertile period in contemporary Chinese art history,” Bloomberg reported.

As Chinese art becomes more popular and brings in increasingly exorbitant prices, many in the art world wonder what effects its evolution may have on global art culture. Sotheby’s head of contemporary Asian art, Evelyn Lin, believes that both the buyers and the quality of art are becoming more sophisticated. “The market is getting more mature. Very established quality works will fetch a big price,” Lin said in an interview for Bloomberg.com.

As the art market expands in Asia, the future for art culture as a whole is apt to change. The increasing prices of contemporary art, some believe, do not necessarily reflect positively on it. “It’s too expensive,” said the bidder who took home Zhang’s 1992 work “Chapter of a New Century – Birth of the People’s Republic of China II.” The final cost of the painting was 6.7 million dollars.

Although the expensive bids on the paintings at Sotheby’s auctions are unsavory to some, Sotheby’s Asia’s chief executive Kevin Ching explains the phenomenon in terms of historical relevance for the buyers. “I think everyone would be proud to be able to own a piece of that history, that process and a part of that vision,” he said.

The collection’s cultural and historical significance, moreover, can in part explain the rising prices of contemporary art in China. In 2008, when this so-called Chinese art revolution began to take root, the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, London exhibited works by 24 leading artists, according to BBC. The exhibit included works by Liu Wei and paintings by Li Qing.

Perhaps more important, however, is Asia’s rising affluence and global buying power, as an article from The Associated Press asserts. “Hong Kong has become the world’s third biggest auction hub after London and New York as newly wealthy Chinese splurge on items such as paintings, wine and watches. Interest from overseas collectors in Chinese art is also growing as the country’s economy booms,” the article reported.

As new economic dominance continues to emerge in the East, prices of art collections are likely to keep increasing. While New York and London are the number one locations for art collectors, Hong Kong may soon surpass its counterparts as the most popular destination for accessing the most sought-after pieces worldwide.

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