Bloodline: Big Family No. 1 (1994) by Zhang Xiaogang
2012 February 15
Wealthy hedging with Jewellry, Gold,
China investors pile into art as property, equities soar
AND INVESTMENT VALUE
A ceremonial court pearl necklace from the
Qing dynasty on display in front of a portrait of the Emperor
Yongzheng at a Sotheby's preview in Hong Kong recently
An imperial pearl necklace is the star
item in a Hong Kong auction that may raise HK$1.3 billion (S$234 million).
Chinese investors are buying art because of worries that prices of
property and stocks have risen too much.
The 18th-Century necklace, which
Sotheby's says might have belonged to the Emperor Yongzheng (reign:
1722-1735), is one of 2,400 lots of wine, art and gems on sale starting
April 3. At last year's equivalent auction, the company tallied HK$691
million, less than half the HK$1.77 billion in 2008.
Shanghai-listed stocks now trading at
25 times earnings and China's biggest property-price jump in two years are
pushing some mainlanders to park money in other assets, said collector and
My Humble Art Space chief executive Michael Wang. 'In China, there's now a
lot of money with few places to go,' he said in a telephone interview.
'Rare antiques and art are now appreciated for their aesthetics and
The 2008-2009 global financial crisis
marked the rise of mainland Chinese collectors as dominant buyers at Hong
Kong's US$500 million-a-year art-auction market as they wrested the
priciest items in almost every major category from their US rivals.
Last year, mainland Chinese accounted
for 40 per cent of sales by value, Sotheby's biggest client group.
Typifying the big-spending Chinese is
Shanghai investing tycoon Liu Yiqian, who paid a record HK$85.8 million
for a Qing Dynasty imperial throne at Sotheby's October auction in Hong
Kong. His wife, Wang Wei, also stood out for her bidding on contemporary
paintings by Chinese artists such as Liu Ye.
Asked if Mr Liu plans to make big
purchases at the Sotheby's sale, their art adviser, Chen Lianyong, said:
'If there are good items, why not? What's spent on art is small money.' Mr
Chen wouldn't say which lots Mr Liu and Ms Wang might buy.
Humble House's Mr Wang says price
estimates appeared higher, with some items auctioned just a few years ago.
An imperial white-jade seal of Emperor Qianlong's era that Sotheby's
expects to fetch more than HK$50 million at this auction was sold by the
company at its Fall 2007 Hong Kong sale for HK$47 million, said Nicolas
Chow, Sotheby's head of Chinese ceramics and works of art.
'That some items were so recently sold
isn't a comment on their quality,' Mr Chow said in a phone interview.
'Some mainland collectors' attention span is quite short; after they had
bought something and showed it around to their friends, they might think,
'Maybe it's time to buy this or that'.'
Kevin Ching, Sotheby's Hong Kong-based
Asia chief executive, said price estimates at this auction have stayed the
same as previous sales for like items.
Mainlanders, including Mr Liu, are also
fighting for the best gems at auction, according to Sotheby's and rival
Christie's International. In December, Mr Liu bid for and lost a pink
diamond at Christie's Hong Kong sale that sold for HK$83.5 million.
At Sotheby's coming auction, a
5.16-carat internally flawless fancy-vivid blue diamond from the De Beers
Millennium Collection will be offered with a high estimate of HK$46
million. Internally flawless is the second-highest grading for diamonds
and fancy-vivid is the top colour rating for hued ones.
Prices of top-end Chinese
contemporary-art, which have fallen more than 70 per cent since their peak
in early 2008, are continuing their climb from the bottom, according to Mr
Wang. Older paintings by established or deceased Asian masters would still
fetch the best prices, as they did last year, he said.
'We think the mood to buy has
returned,' said Mr Ching. 'We expect good results at this auction.' Hong
Kong hosts biannual auctions by Sotheby's and Christie's that are
considered barometers of industry sentiment. Christie's starts its Hong
Kong fall sale in late May.
China was one of the few regions to
register increased art sales during the financial crisis. Auction houses
and dealers in mainland China and Hong Kong sold 4.2 billion euros (S$7.9
billion) of art in 2009, 12 per cent more than in 2008, said a report
published on March 1 by the Netherlands-based European Fine Art
Foundation. China's share of world art-market sales grew to 14 per cent in
2009, said the report. --
Growing wealth puts Asians in the
auction of impressionist and modern art in May, Asian buyers clinched four
of the top 10 lots - an indication of a shift in purchasing power to the
Ju Ming's 'Taiji Series - Sidekick'. His 'Taiji Series - Big
Sparring, 1996' was sold for almost US$2m in 2007.
terms of total hammer price, Asian clients represent about 20-25 per cent,
up from 7 per cent five years ago,' says Daryl Wickstrom, deputy chairman of
Sotheby's Asia. 'We're seeing a lot of activity in Asia, increasingly out of
mainland China and Indonesia.'
to Mr Wickstrom, Asian buyers bought twice as much in terms of total hammer
price at practically every sale in the first half of this year compared with
surge would seem to be testament to the huge amount of wealth accumulated in
rapidly growing Asia.
response, Sotheby's has decided to exhibit more top Western art - such as
Picassos and Warhols - in Asia.
the past few years, the price of contemporary art has risen most. 'For many
years, modern and impressionist works were always much larger in terms of
total hammer price,' says Mr Wickstrom. 'But in 2006-2008 we saw the
contemporary sales equal those of modern and impressionist works.'
creation, coupled with a positive economic environment, creates a desire for
great works of art, he says. And Asian art is growing, too.
Kong, for us, is now the third largest market,' says Mr Wickstrom. 'People
have found great interest, quality and significance in what was happening to
China at the time when there was increasing focus on the flourishing economy
- it has very much to do with China on the world stage.'
artworks have been achieving record prices over the past few years. For
instance, Zeng Fanzhi's Mask Series 1996 No 6 was sold for close to US$10
million in May 2008 and Ju Ming's Taiji Series - Big Sparring, 1996 was sold
for close to US$2 million in 2007.
will Asian works ever reach the nine-figure levels of Picassos and Klimts?
Yeh, chairman of Christie's Asia, believes so. 'The prices of top-quality
Asian art are getting to the level of Picasso, as we see from recent
auctions in Asia,' he says. 'Demand from Asia continues to lead the auction
market and drive growth in 2010.
2009, Asian art became the second-largest category sold at Christie's
worldwide - representing 15 of our sales. That shows the importance of this
collecting category, which has long been a solid contributor to our sales
such immense growth, the obvious question is: How long will this bull run
last? In a CNBC interview in July, it was noted that Sotheby's share price
collapsed almost 30 per cent in June alone - a sign that the art market has
there's no denying that auction results have been strong so far this year.
In April, Sotheby's recorded its best-ever Hong Kong spring sale, raking in
US$256 million. Christie's also did well, taking US$294 million - the
second-highest HK sale in its history.
London recently, a Christie's sale of impressionist and modern art realised
US$226.5 million - the highest ever total for a UK art auction, despite
European debt worries.
a CNBC interview, Bill Ruprecht, CEO of Sotheby's worldwide, attributed this
strong result to the nature of the company's clients - people of 'immense
wealth' who 'behave differently'.
are not operating with a primary eye on today's or tomorrow's stock market,'
Mr Ruprecht said.
Wickstrom explains: 'I don't think the art market and stock markets are
inextricably linked. If you look at our client base, less than 10 per cent
of our clients are people whose wealth is closely tied to the financial
for the remainder of our client base, their wealth comes from a variety of
areas. That's what Bill was saying; because our clients come from so many
different backgrounds and sources, they do not move precisely in accordance
with the stock market.'
Mr Yeh reckons more investment is also coming into the art market from
another angle. 'With fluctuations in the economy and the unpredictable
performance of other investment tools such as property and stocks, more and
more collectors are looking at art from an investment angle - besides
enjoyment. Many realise that art works bought for pleasure may also rise in
value in the future, or at least maintain their value.'
Mr Wickstrom finishes off with some advice. When someone is considering
making an investment in the art market, he tells them: 'Always buy what you
love and can afford. Do a lot of research with our specialists and art
advisers, and museums, and with catalogue notes. Study the provenance.
Finally, go for established artists; someone with a strong secondary market
- someone who is well regarded, accepted within the art world and regularly
transacted at auctions or artists who have galleries regularly buying their
work. This gives an added degree of liquidity.'
- 2010 May BUSINESS
'Beauty and Silk Fan', a painting by Chen
During the mid-2000s, Chinese contemporary
art rose to world attention, with political pop and cynical realist works by
artists like Yue Minjun and Zhang Xiaogang regularly breaking records at
auction. In 2008 Zeng Fanzhi's Mask Series 1996 No. 6 sold for
$9.66 million at Christie's, setting a world record for a contemporary Chinese
artist, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York ran a major retrospective of Cai
Guo-Qiang's gunpowder works. But when the global economy shut down, China's
art market faltered along with so many others. Now it's back, this time
powered in large part by Chinese buyers. And unlike their Western
counterparts, they are eschewing contemporary works in favor of 20th-century
Chinese masters and classical ink paintings.
Last year the most expensive Chinese
painting sold at auction was a rare scroll by 16th-century Ming-dynasty artist
Wu Bin. Bought by Liu Yiqian, a private collector from Shanghai who paid $24.8 million, Eighteen
Arhats was the seventh-most-expensive painting sold worldwide in
2009—right behind Picasso, Matisse, and Rembrandt. That was more than double
the previous record price for a classical Chinese painting, a Ming-dynasty
masterpiece by Qiu Ying that was sold in 2008 before the financial crisis hit.
By comparison, the top price achieved last year by a contemporary Chinese
artist, Chen Yifei (1946–2005), was a mere $5.3 million—and his
romantic-realistic painting of melancholic women in traditional dress couldn't
be further from the political pop style embraced a few years ago by
collectors. "Classical Chinese art has seen a massive surge in interest,
due in part to the increase of wealthy Chinese collectors, and also to the
perception that classical art is a safer bet than the more fashionable
contemporary art," says Rupert Hoogewerf, founder of the Hurun Report,
which publishes various surveys including the Hurun Art List of contemporary
Traditionally, buyers in Taiwan, Hong
Kong, and the United States have collected classical Chinese paintings. When
newly wealthy mainland Chinese began flexing their muscles at international
art auctions in 2005, they focused their attention mainly on Chinese
antiques and imperial works of art, seeking to repatriate what they
considered national treasures. The interest in contemporary Chinese works
was driven largely by Western and, to a lesser extent, other Asian
collectors. But when the art market collapsed in late 2008 and Western
collectors became scarce at auction, Chinese buyers began calling the shots,
and as their tastes broadened, classical paintings soared.
To meet this new demand, Christie's
decided to offer more classical works during its Asian week in New York in
March, says Elizabeth Hammer, a Christie's specialist in Chinese paintings.
That auction set a record price for a classical Chinese painting sold in the
United States: $3.44 million. Buyers also snatched up classical
paintings at Sotheby's Hong Kong spring sales in April. While contemporary
Asian art raised $18.5 million on the sale of about 76 percent of
170 lots, 97 percent of the 237 classical-painting lots sold for a
total of $39 million. An ink depiction by Fu Baoshi (1904–1965) of
three men mulling over a traditional Chinese game of go sold for $5 million.
Auction houses are taking note, catering to Chinese buyers. Sotheby's
recently hoisted a Chinese flag outside its New York headquarters, along
with the flags of its other core clientele: the U.S., Britain, France, and
Switzerland. Meanwhile, Chinese auction houses like China Guardian and
Beijing Poly Auction are setting up offices in the West, an effort in part
to bring Chinese masters back home, which should drive up prices even
higher. Indeed, as Chinese works become scarcer in the West, it's possible
that one day Chinese masters will be more valuable than Western ones.
- 2010 May 3 NEWSWEEK
Saatchi makes comeback with Modern Chinese
Latest gallery in Chelsea is a triumph
Charles Saatchi is synonymous with the revival in British art in the 1990s.
The collector introduced the world to Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst's shark.
His Saatchi-style is a recognisable genre: it's visceral, figurative,
|Talent-spotting: Visitors looking at an artwork entitled
'Chinese Offspring' by Chinese artist Zhang Dali at the Saatchi
Gallery, in west London. The gallery, which opens to the public
tomorrow, has as its inaugural exhibition 'The Revolution Continues:
New Art From China', bringing together 24 of China's leading artists
The Saatchi Gallery on King's Road, Chelsea, formally opens tomorrow. It
is a triumph, architecturally at least.
The first exhibition, 'The Revolution Continues: New Art from China' is
exactly what we have come to expect from Saatchi shows. How much you like it
will depend on your taste for bold imagery and old-fashioned figurative
While much contemporary art is cool and
cerebral, Saatchi favours subject matter that nobody could possibly mistake.
A sculpture by Liu Wei, 'Indigestion II,' represents a pile of excrement two
metres across. Wei's offering is undeniably - in fact inescapably -
visceral. Saatchi- type art often is.
This, the third Saatchi gallery to date, is housed inside in the Duke of
York's Headquarters, externally an imposing neoclassical building of 1801.
Internally, this old military structure is now spare, elegant and
minimalist. Imagine Tate Modern without that forbidding touch of austerity
The new building is an improvement in every way on Saatchi's previous
premises in the Edwardian offices of County Hall. Those rooms, with their
oak panelling and stopped municipal clocks, had a surreal charm but were a
challenging environment in which to install art.
The galleries mark a return to the 'white cube' conception - now standard
in contemporary spaces - which Saatchi himself introduced to London with his
first institution two decades ago. Perhaps it was the success of the
building that won me over - well, almost - to the work on display.
There have been a lot of shows of new Chinese art in recent years, and
auction prices continue to rise stratospherically. Still, not much on view
has been truly new in conception as opposed to geographical origin.
There is no new signature Chinese style or idiom. Instead, a range of
diverse art is being made in the Far East by a legion of artists. From this,
western curators tend to select the kind of thing they like anyway. Thus in
2006 the Serpentine Gallery presented a show, 'China Power Station', that
was almost entirely conceptual or video-based.
Saatchi, on the other hand, has come up with Chinese artists closely
resembling the ones he discovered in early 1990s Britain.
There are several oriental equivalents, for example, to Ron Mueck, the
hyper-real sculptor whom Saatchi originally discovered. Of course, everyone
has influences, and you might argue that Hirst, Emin & Co were often
derivative themselves. Some of this Chinese Britart packs quite a punch.
Sun Yuan and Peng Yu's 'Old Folks Home' fills a whole room with highly
convincing images of old men, somewhat resembling world leaders, each seated
in a wheel chair and colliding with each other like so many dodgem-cars. At
first glance, you think a gallery tour of senior citizens has got trapped in
the basement. That's the true Saatchi sensation, with no excessive concern
about good taste.
But there's more to what he promotes and presents than simply shock. Over
the years Charles Saatchi has proved himself a remarkable talent-spotter.
His exhibitions are a valuable antidote to the - diametrically different -
Tate-sponsored brand of contemporary art. It's good to have him back.
Bloomberg 2008 October 8
The potential of China, with its vast population
and spiralling wealth, to drive the global contemporary art market over the
next few decades has encouraged auction houses, dealers, and fair organisers
to attempt to do business there. This is proving difficult, with
restrictions placed on the opening on the mainland of overseas salerooms and
dealers. - FINANCIAL
If anyone wanted further proof that
contemporary Chinese art is now a force on the international stage it was
this investment by the canny Charles Saatchi, who paid double the
presale forecast for the compelling painting, an eerie evocation of the
rigid family photographs of the Mao era.
An oil painting by late Chinese artist Xu
Beihong fetched HK$72 million at auction in Hong Kong, a world record for
a Chinese painting
||Rare masterpiece: Xu
Beihong’s Put Down Your Whip went to an anonymous bidder at Sotheby’s
Auctioneers Sotheby's had expected the
1939 painting of an anti-Japanese street play, "Put Down Your
Whip," to fetch at least 30 million Hong Kong dollars.
It eventually went to an anonymous phone
bidder for a hammer price of 64 million dollars, plus eight million dollars
commission for the auctioneers.
"It's a painting of rare and
important historical value," said Sotheby's head of Chinese paintings
CK Cheung after the sale. "It's important because it exemplifies Xu's
technique -- which is to have combined Chinese and Western influences,"
Another painting by Xu, "Slave and
Lion" set the previous record of 53.9 million dollars when it went
under the hammer at Christie's here in November.
The sale is the latest record to be set
in Hong Kong since Sotheby's and its rival auction house Christie's set up
shop here several years ago to cash in on the growing market for Asian art.
Both houses hold two sales each year and
interest grows with each auction. While most bidders still come from the
traditional art-buying markets in the United States and Europe, Asian
buyers, especially newly wealthy Chinese, are beginning to make an impact.
The patriotic Xu, who was renowned for
his horse paintings, was inspired to paint "Put Down Your Whip"
after watching a street play in Singapore about a father and his daughter in
wartime exile due to the Japanese invasion.
The life-size female character in the
painting was Xu's actress friend Wang Ying.
Cheung said the painting was a historical
document in itself as it captures a key moment in the life of the artist,
who was a political activist involved with the resistance against the
Japanese occupation of China.
"The lady is a friend of Xu's whom
he met while in Singapore while he was drumming up support for the
resistance against the Japanese," Cheung said.
Xu's work is the highlight of the auction
house's Chinese Art sale, offering 180 lots of paintings, inks and
sculptures from several artistic periods.
Sotheby's said the picture had been
exhibited several times when Xu was still alive, but it was last seen in
public in 1954 -- a year after Xu died -- since when it has been passed
Some art historians have criticised the
recent explosion in the prices for Asian art, which 10 years ago was
struggling to attract any interest. Some have criticised over-exuberant
first-time Asian buyers for artificially sending prices sky-high.
Sotheby's Asia chairman Patti Wong,
however, said the Xu piece would have sold well in any market.
"Given the rarity of Xu's works, the
historical element of this piece, the quality and the fact that he is
considered a master, this piece would always have sold this high," Wong
said. - AFP
2007 April 7
Chinese buyers snap up all lots at
(HONG KONG) Chinese
buyers announced themselves as a potent force in the international art
market yesterday after snapping up every lot in a multimillion dollar
'This is a home return,' Kevin Ching of
Sotheby's said after the sale, which saw 10 ancient works of Chinese art and
antiques go under the hammer for a total of HK$128.3 million (S$24.8
In what auction houses call a
'white-glove sale' - when all items are bought - a rare faceted 16th century
famille-rose vase of the Yongzheng period from the Qing dynasty was sold for
'This collection is significant as none
of the pieces have been seen publicly for more than 30 years,' said Mr Ching,
chief executive of Sotheby's Asia.
'That they all went to Chinese buyers is
very important and shows that China has become a major component in the
world art market,' he said. 'They are repatriating their cultural wealth to
The collection was being sold by a
connoisseur of Chinese art from Paris, the auction house said. The lots were
part of the latest of its four-day sales, which have become biannual events
in this wealthy southern Chinese city.
Sotheby's and rival Christie's have seen
business in Hong Kong soar in the past 10 years as interest in Asian art
grows, and Asia's newly wealthy turn increasingly to art as an investment.
While most bidders still come from the
traditional art-buying markets in the US and Europe, Asian buyers,
especially newly wealthy Chinese, are beginning to make an impact.
On Saturday, an oil painting by master
artist Xu Beihong set a world record sale for a Chinese painting when it
went under the hammer for HK$72 million.
Yesterday's sale set another milestone in
the Asian art market when a rare set of seven Chinese jade archers' rings
from the Qianlong period of the 18th century sold for HK$47.36 million.
The rings, worn by archers to protect
their thumbs from the strings of the bows, went to a private Chinese bidder.
'This is significant because before now,
the market in Asian art has been centred on ceramics,' said Mr Ching. 'This
shows that there is great appreciation for important works of art.'
Sotheby's chairman Patti Wong hailed the
two days of sales, saying they had far exceeded expectations.
'What is encouraging is that we are
seeing a greater depth of buying - there are not just one or two people
bidding for each lot but several. It's an indication of the importance
placed in Asian art,' she said. - AFP
Trendy collectors' items
The market for Chinese contemporary art
is booming, but what are the effects of this rise?
Xiaogang's Yellow Tiananmen Square (above), painted in 1993, has
been recently sold to Christie's Hong Kong for HK$1.8 million by an
overseas collector who had purchased it from Soobin Art Gallery for
US$15,000 in 1995
works of art: Humorous
tongue-in-cheek portraits of Mao Zedong (like the one above) are
popular with younger collectors; Zhang Xiaogang's Bloodline Series:
Family (next) was the highest lot sold at Phillips de Pury &
Company's Feb sale achieving €321,600, against a pre-sale estimate
of €100,000 to €150,000
What do Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guanyi, Yue
Mingjun and Fang Lijun mean to the average person on the street? Probably
nothing but to the art buyer, you are referring to the hallowed F4 - not the
Taiwanese boy band, but the top four Chinese contemporary artists who are
currently top of the charts in the volatile art auction market.
Chinese contemporary art is the hottest
ticket in the auction world today. With the rise of global wealth, the
desire to own a piece of China's history as it develops, and its competitive
pricing compared to Western art, the market is booming, and does not seem to
be peaking any time soon.
If anything, says Michael Moses,
co-founder of the Mei/Moses Fine Art index, the Chinese contemporary art
market is moving at a feverish pace and it projects very strong growth -
base sales are doing well, with high percentage of pieces sold (at
The Mei/Moses index, started with his
colleague, Mei Jianping at New York University Stern School of Business,
measures the co-relation of art performance relative to the S&P 500
Yap Chin-Chin, a Singapore-born
specialist of Chinese Contemporary Art based at Phillips De Pury &
Company, New York, believes Chinese contemporary art is competing on both
price and fashion trends.
'It is also seen as rather trendy or
progressive to be in on the contemporary Chinese market,' she says.
'Many of these works feature historic
references such as images of Mao and Tiananmen. Collectors like owning a
piece of what they perceive as history but even the most expensive
contemporary Chinese artworks are still a bargain compared to their American
or European counterparts.'
It is no surprise that collectors
worldwide are catching on. Sotheby's and Christie's reportedly sold US$190
million worth of mostly Chinese contemporary art in 2006, as compared to
US$22 million in 2004.
Auction houses are also featuring more
Chinese contemporary work at contemporary art sales, traditionally driven by
top Western artists such as Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon.
Zhang Xiaogang's Bloodline Series: Family
was the highest lot sold at Phillips de Pury & Company's February sale
achieving 321,600 (S$960,928), against a pre-sale estimate of 100,000 to
Interestingly, Zhang's Bloodlines Series:
Three Comrades (1994) is estimated to fetch US$1.5 million to US$2 million
at Sotheby's upcoming Contemporary Asian Art March sale. This would put him
in the same league as top contemporary artist Damien Hirst, who also counts
advertising guru Charles Saatchi among his collectors, testament to the
rising strength of Chinese contemporary art market.
On the home front, Chinese contemporary
art is also escalating in price, popularity and status, reflecting the
strength of international market trends. Industry observers and dealers have
seen growing interest in Chinese contemporary art, evidenced by a marked 10
to 20 per cent growth in buyers.
Stephane Le Pelletier, director, Opera
Gallery Asia-Pacific, is not surprised. 'Singapore's art market gets its cue
from the international and regional art scene which sees a high focus on
contemporary Chinese art.'
Experts also attribute this rise to
several factors - the booming local economy, historical significance of such
art, a shift in collecting patterns and increased exposure to Chinese
contemporary artists which make them more socially acceptable.
Says Meley Law, manager of Linda Gallery,
which has recently set up two galleries in Beijing focused on Chinese
contemporary art: 'Now everyone is hot about everything about China, and
naturally the attention on Chinese contemporary art is also rising, given
the economy is doing well.'
Kwok Kian Chow, director, Singapore Art
Museum, believes that the historical significance of Chinese contemporary
art is certainly fuelling its popularity in Singapore and the rest of the
'Art historically, Chinese contemporary
art is an alternative to mainstream modern art. It is aligned with
philosophical and aesthetic trends of the period and also expresses a
certain human condition that is easy to identify with,' he points out.
These works, having been created at
significant phases in China's turbulent history, have also incorporated
ideas and values from the Cultural Revolution which further resonate with
Increased exposure to Chinese
contemporary art has also played an important role in making such artists
socially palatable. Young local collectors, travelling more for business and
pleasure, are increasingly exposed to international art fairs and gallery
exhibitions of Chinese contemporary art worldwide, heightening their
interest in this area.
Veteran photographer, dealer and owner of
Soobin Art Gallery, Chua Soo Bin believes that this is long overdue, having
championed Chinese contemporary art for several years.
He believes that the rising popularity
can also be attributed to a shift in collecting patterns. 'Many buyers are
not only influenced by major shows held by top curators worldwide - a lot of
collectors who used to collect ink paintings are now collecting Chinese
contemporary art instead.'
In 1997, Mr Chua recalls not selling one
single painting when he first brought in top calibre artists, including the
F4 group to Singapore for an exhibition entitled Red and Grey: Eight Chinese
Avant-garde Artists. 'Many people thought I was crazy,' he laughs.
The situation now is reversed. As the
Chinese contemporary art market accelerates, it has serious repercussions.
Many artists, galleries and dealers, keen to get a piece of the action, are
springing up everywhere, some of which do not even know about art.
Muses Ludovic Bois, director of Chinese
Contemporary Gallery, which has branches in New York, London and Beijing:
'Prices are going up and collectors and speculators are buying aggressively.
Lots of people want to deal and few have been in the field for a long time.'
Mr Chua also attests to this trend,
having seen some of his clients turn gallery owners to cash in on the
Chinese contemporary art trend in countries such as Indonesia. 'Some even
have a higher mark-up than mine,' he quips.
Works sell at inflated prices - for
instance, an overseas collector purchased Zhang Xiaogang's Yellow Tiananmen
Square from SooBin Art Gallery for US$15,000 in 1995. Some 10 years later on
Nov 26 last year, he resold it to Christie's Hong Kong for HK$1.8 million
The upcoming Sotheby's sale in April will
feature another one of Zhang's works entitled Tiananmen, estimated to sell
in the range of US$650,000 to US$910,000.
Another consequence of this boom is the
rise of low-quality Chinese contemporary art. Young living Chinese
contemporary artists, empowered by the overwhelming market opportunities,
rapidly create more works to cater to this increased demand. Many local
gallery dealers bemoan having to sift through large amounts of low-quality
work, a disturbing trend in this frenzy.
However, a silver lining prevails.
Industry experts believe that the Chinese contemporary art boom has created
a new market segment in Singapore - young, professional executives in their
30s and 40s, often in the banking sector, who spend tens of thousands on
Chinese contemporary art in the hope of turning a quick profit.
Implosion of prices
These adventurous investors, flush with
cash and on the look-out for rapid yield-seeking investments, are enticed by
the prestige of art investment. Encouraged by the sudden liquidity, they are
buying art from local dealers to sell in the short term at worldwide
auctions, contributing to a sharp implosion of prices.
They are now purchasing Chinese
avant-garde works, which are currently in fashion.
Mr Bois from Chinese Contemporary Gallery
has also seen a number of Singapore buyers. 'They are a mixed bag of true
collectors, speculators, people buying to flip at auctions and investors,'
Although Singapore does not greatly
impact the international art market, it is this type of rapid activity that
worries experts such as Mary Hoeveler, managing director of Art Advisory
Services at Citigroup Private Bank. 'There are no certainties as to the
financial rewards of collecting art. Of course, there are dealers and others
who speculate and sometimes do quite well. We certainly have concerns about
the fast growth in the contemporary market. From our experience, the art
market, like all markets, has periodic downturns and corrections.'
So what does this mean for Singapore
buyers? Tread with caution and be selective, experts advise.
Cautions Mr Chua: 'There are a lot of
low-quality works coming up. A lot of young people nowadays think Chinese
contemporary art is a good investment, but they have to like the art before
buying. It is the aesthetic value that has to come first, before financial
reward. Buyers should also look for historically significant styles, unique
techniques or concepts as this differentiates a good artwork.'
Investment pieces should always be by
artists who are represented by reputable galleries or those who have done
well in the local auction market in China or international auction market,
advises Ms Law from Linda Gallery. She adds that a certificate of
authenticity for the artwork should also be obtained, as it is invaluable
Ms Hoeveler from Citibank concludes with
sound advice: 'Those who are cautious, who do their homework, are well
advised, and take a long-range approach to collecting, are the ones who
benefit most both in terms of their pleasure in collecting and their success
as investors.' - by Emily Ang
TIMES 2 March 2007
Why Collectors Are Crazy For Chinese Art
Zhang Daqian, a painting by
It's not only dynastic porcelain vases.
Art mavens are buying contemporary works as well
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when Jim
Eccles was working as an IBM systems engineer, he fell in love with
the work of the late Chinese artist Chao Chung Hsiang, who was then living
in New York. Now 69 and retired, Eccles still loves the seven colorful
paintings, some abstract and others in a more traditional Chinese style,
that he bought for $200 to $500 each. But lately he has thought about
selling them. Based on recent auction sales, he figures they can fetch
$50,000 to $100,000 each.
With the emergence of free-spending,
nouveau riche collectors from mainland China, the Chinese art market is at
the start of what may be an extended boom. Buyers are snatching up
everything from 3,000-year-old bronze vessels to avant-garde paintings by
Chinese-born artists living in China and abroad. Ever since more than 50
Asian bidders, many from China, showed up at a seminal September, 2003, sale
of Chinese rarities at the Doyle auction house in New York, prices have been
surpassing estimates. Some examples: At this fall's Hong Kong sales, a 1947
ink scroll by the painter Fu Baoshi, who died in 1965, sold for $1.1
million, four times as much as Sotheby's predicted. On Nov. 17, London
dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi, who often buys for European and American
collectors, paid a record $5.7 million for an 18-inch early Ming Dynasty
dish at a Bonhams & Butterfields auction in San Francisco.
Art collecting was one of the "bourgeois" activities purged in the
1960s and '70s during the Cultural Revolution, but it has flourished under
recent economic reforms. Dozens of art auction houses have sprung up in
China in recent years, the most prominent of which is China Guardian in
Experts expect prices to continue rising as China's wealth grows. "The
Chinese don't understand why there's such a big price difference between
Western art and the greatest Chinese art," says Henry Howard-Sneyd,
Sotheby's Hong Kong-based managing director for China and Southeast Asia.
For instance, while a Picasso painting sold this spring for $104 million,
works by Zhang Daqian, who lived from 1899 to 1983 and is known as
"China's Picasso," usually top out at about $1 million. Chinese
collectors figure Zhang's paintings should eventually approach Picasso's
Is it too late for smaller collectors to dive in? "Oh, God, no,"
says David Tang, the Hong Kong entrepreneur and art collector who argues
that the rise of the Chinese art market "is just beginning."
Before you make any purchases, there are a few things you should know. It's
important to buy through reputable dealers. Fakes and copies are rife,
particularly of classic paintings and furniture, and even the experts can be
fooled. If you're buying within China, stick to recent works. It's illegal
to export paintings and artifacts dating before 1949.
One way of approaching the market, says Theow Tow, New York-based deputy
chairman of Christie's Americas, is by "looking for categories where
mainland Chinese haven't started buying yet but probably will." For
instance, Qing-era (1368-1644) and Ming-era (1644-1911) ceramics have
soared, in part because Asian buyers most prize later works connected to the
Chinese emperors. But experts say Song Dynasty (960-1269) ceramics remain
relative bargains. A small 13th century Song Dynasty bowl went for $2,390 at
Christie's in Hong Kong on Sept. 21.
Works in stone and pottery from the Han (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) and Tang
(618-907) periods remain comparatively cheap. For example, Eskenazi has a
small stone Tang-era sculpture of a crouching rabbit on sale for $23,000.
Chinese furniture with imperial connections commands a huge premium: A Qing
Dynasty bed made from exotic hardwoods went for $847,500 at a Christie's
sale in New York in September. But older softwood pieces with no imperial
associations sold for as little as $5,000. Some small collectors specialize
in Chinese snuff bottles, which sell for $2,000 on up. Check out Christie's
snuff bottle sale in March, 2005, and the selection of London dealer Robert
Hall at www.snuffbottle.com.
You can also find bargains in China's far-out contemporary art. Prices for
the best known artists, such as 39-year-old Zhang Huan, have soared to
$40,000 and up. Zhang, who lives in New York, often uses his own body as a
canvas and sells photographs of his work. But many promising artists remain
affordable. A top pick of Kent Logan, a retired securities executive in
Vail, Colo., who owns 120 contemporary Chinese works, is 30-year-old Zhao Bo
of Chongqing, in south-central China's Sichuan province. His jazzy street
scenes sell for $700 to $9,000 or so. Julia Colman, co-owner of London's
Chinese Contemporary Gallery, which sells Zhao's paintings, also likes
painter and photographer Zhang Dali, 41, who documents the social stresses
caused by China's modernization. His pieces start at $6,000.
If this art appeals to you, start
thumbing through catalogs, visiting galleries, and studying Web sites of
galleries and important shows. Dealers with expertise in Chinese art include
Eskenazi Ltd. (eskenazi.co.uk)
and J.J. Lally in New York for classic ceramics and pottery; Kaikodo in New
York (kaikodo.com) and Alisan
in Hong Kong (alisan.com.hk)
for traditional paintings; and Chinese Contemporary (chinesecontemporary.com)
in London, Ethan Cohen Fine Arts in New York (artnet.com/ecohen.html),
and the Hanart gallery in Hong Kong (hanart.com)
for avant-garde pieces. If you see something you like, don't dally. As Jim
Eccles discovered, prices are rising as we speak.
- By Thane Peterson
27 Dec 2004
Chinese Contemporary Art
Chinese contemporary art is emerging as one of the fastest growing
investments. Charles Saatchi in London appears to be one of
the world's largest player recognizing the enormous pool of young talent in
China and setting prices. We
are achiving a few articles on topics that appeal to us.
- Hello! Tai Tai
China: Cultural Evolution
Contemporary Chinese works adorn the walls of
savvy collectors from Manhattan to the mainland.
When the auctioneer's gavel went down at a
Sotheby's sale in Hong Kong in April, an anonymous Asian collector had bid
more than $3.6 million for an oil painting entitled Pink Lotus by
Chinese artist Chang Yu, a record for modern Chinese art. That sale -- at
more than four times the expected price -- was no freak occurrence. Prices
for contemporary works by Chinese artists have been skyrocketing as
connoisseurs both domestically and abroad have been snapping them up.
Such sums might seem modest next to the $95.2 million paid for Picasso's Dora
Maar au Chat in New York this spring. But there's no denying that
collectors worldwide are getting excited about China. ``The art is
approachable for the Western eye and has an immediacy to the Westerner with
an interest in China,'' says Henry Howard-Sneyd, managing director for Asia
at Sotheby's. ``It's an exciting, hip, and cool place to be collecting.''
China's new contemporary works aren't just adorning the walls of Manhattan
apartments. Newly minted mainland millionaires are loading up, too, helping
to double or triple prices in the past 18 months. Gu Wenda's 12-ft.-by-4-ft.
ink paintings, which sold for $35,000 18 months ago, now fetch as much as
$150,000, while paintings by Paris-based Yang Jie Chang have zoomed up to
$100,000 from $30,000 or so.
Some of the most popular pieces are by the first generation of avant-garde
artists to emerge after the end of the Cultural Revolution. Yue Minjun, who
paints laughing figures with oddly uniform teeth, and cynical realist
painter Fang Lijun, whose trademark bald-headed portraits are widely
imitated, have garnered a huge following. Feng Zhengjie's Andy Warhol-inspired
portraits of Mao now sell for as much as $62,000, more than triple the price
18 months ago.
Some argue that commercial success has discouraged artists from taking risks
and trying new styles. ``A tremendous number of artists find a formula and
stick to it,'' says Elisabeth de Brabant, co-director of Art Scene Warehouse
gallery in Shanghai. But other strong selling artists, such as Zeng Fanzhi
(whose influences include Francis Bacon) and Zhang Xiaogang (best known for
his ethereal portraits based on old photographs), continue to stake out new
Is the market getting overheated? Not yet, say experts, who point out that
Chinese artists still look cheap when compared with their Western
counterparts. But that gap will steadily narrow as increasingly affluent
Chinese collectors buy works by their compatriots. ``In 10 years the most
expensive work of art [in the world] will be Chinese,'' says New York dealer
Michael Goedhuis. ``It's a matter of national pride.''
by Frederik Balfour in Shanghai BUSINESS
WEEK 5 June 2006
The Artful Investor
New research calls art a smart investment, but
skeptics point to high costs and high risk
Morrissey hunts young artists the way some money managers dig for
undiscovered stocks. In the evenings the West Palm Beach (Fla.) attorney
scours magazines such as Artforum
and Web sites such as Artnet. He tours galleries in New York and Miami,
chatting up dealers and sometimes the artists themselves. Buying works early
can lead to spectacular returns. In 1998 he bought a piece by abstract
painter Cecily Brown for $11,000 at her second show, at New York's Deitch
Projects, a gallery. Last year, he says, a similarly sized piece from the
same show sold at auction for $968,000. "My artists have outperformed
any other investment I've made," he says.
Art is hot. The record price for a single painting was broken three times
last year. The auction houses Christie's, Sotheby's, and Phillips de Pury
sold a combined $1 billion worth of contemporary art last fall. Attendance
continues to surge at art fairs such as December's Art Basel Miami Beach and
February's Armory Show in New York. The common explanation is that a new
breed of collector, the hedge fund manager rolling in money and looking to
show off newfound wealth and sophistication, has hit the scene. There is
another factor at work, however: the belief that art is an asset class that
belongs in your investment portfolio along with stocks, bonds, and real
The leaders of this new art-as-asset school are Jianping Mei and Michael
Moses, two longtime professors at New York University's Stern School of
Business. In 2002 they released a study that found art handily outperformed
bonds and Treasury bills going as far back as 1876. Based on their most
recent results through June of last year, Mei and Moses conclude that art
narrowly edged out stocks over the past 10 years, returning 8.5% annually.
Contemporary art--which they define as anything since 1950--did even better,
returning 12.7% over the past 10 years, three percentage points better than
The pair founded a consulting firm, Beautiful Asset Advisors, to sell their
research to investors. Moses says that because their studies show a low
correlation between the performance of art and other assets, art can be used
to diversify an investment portfolio. He suggests an allocation of roughly
10% for investors who have at least $500,000 in financial assets, after
debt. "We try to be quantitative," he says, "and get the war
stories and folklore out of it."
Mei and Moses were not the first academics to examine art as an investment.
Over the years dozens have done so, and their results vary widely. Most
concluded that art performs poorly. In one of the most cited works, then
Princeton University economist William Baumol reported in 1986 that art
delivered a return of just 0.55% per year between 1652 and 1961.
Moses argues that his research is more comprehensive than past attempts.
Baumol looked at just 640 sales over a 300-year period. Mei and Moses track
sales in a database that now approaches 10,000 transactions. The professors
only count works that have sold at least twice at one of the major auction
houses. By focusing on repeat sales of the same piece, they hope to account
for the fact that works, even by the same artist, aren't identical.
Other compilers of art data use different approaches. London-based Art
Market Research also uses results from the big auction houses. The firm lops
off the top and bottom 10% of prices under the theory that outliers unduly
influence the averages. Its contemporary art index shows the category
returning 8.7% over the 25 years ending in 2005, which is about four
percentage points per year below the contemporary art returns from Mei and
Moses. Whichever method is used to calculate returns, it's dicey for
investors to count on a similar return, especially if they're buying works
of unknown or even up-and-coming artists.
Nearly all of the research into art as an investment concludes that it is
riskier than stocks. In a study published last year, Merrill Lynch &
Co.'s chief investment strategist Richard Bernstein found that while the
probability that an investor will lose money in stocks, bonds, or real
estate declines sharply the longer it is held, the chance of losing money in
art remains high. Over a five-year period, an investor has a roughly 1 in 6
chance of seeing an art investment decline; for the Standard & Poor's
500-stock index, it's 1 in 10.
There are other drawbacks. It's far more difficult to get the same level of
diversification in art that you would from mutual funds, which can contain
hundreds of stocks. Commissions to buy or sell art at auction or through a
dealer can easily top 10%, far higher than what you pay a stockbroker.
Liquidity is poor. Even in hot markets, many items fail to sell at auction.
There are transportation and insurance costs. If you're lucky to have
long-term capital gains, art work is taxed at the full 28% rate, vs. 15% for
securities. Dividends? They are limited to the enjoyment you get from
looking at the work.
Over the years several entrepreneurs have tried to put together
mutual-fund-like pools to make art investing easier for the small fry. Many
have quietly gone out of business because they couldn't raise enough money
from investors. Moses has an explanation for that. "One of art's great
beauties is that it's fun to collect," he says. "If you put money
into art, you want the fun of chasing after something."
Even Moses likens the current runup in contemporary art to the dot-com
bubble. After a similar period of art inflation ended in 1990, he notes,
contemporary-art prices fell by 50% over the next five years. It took a
decade for paintings by the likes of Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel to
bounce back, according to Artnet. Baumol, who now has offices in the same
building at New York University as his art research rivals Mei and Moses,
remains unconvinced of art's long-term investment potential. "There are
periods when art becomes fashionable and pays off," he says, "but
it's not a consistently good investment."
By Christopher Palmeri BUSINESS
WEEK 12 March 2007
HONG KONG -
A man stands in front of a painting by Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang
entitled 'Boy in Pink', during a Christie's auction preview in Hong Kong
yesterday. The painting will sell at an auction in Hong Kong on November 26,
and is estimated to be valued at between US$385,354 and US$513,789. -
24 Oct 2006
Christie's in tie-up to be first to hold
auctions in Beijing
House to license its name and oversee auction process
Determined to be
the first Western auction house to capitalise firsthand on China's booming
art market, Christie's has signed an agreement to conduct auctions in
Beijing, company officials said. And to meet Chinese government restrictions
on foreign businesses holding auctions on their own, it has teamed up with a
newly formed Beijing auction house called Forever.
|Poised for growth: Chinese
contemporary art is one of the fastest-growing segments of the
Under the agreement, settled this week, Christie's
will license its name, provide experts and oversee the entire auction
process, from the acquisition of works for sale to the printing and design
of the catalogue. Its first sale - 45 examples of modern and contemporary
Chinese art - is scheduled for Nov 3 at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel in
Beijing and is expected to bring US$10 million.
'It's important for us to put down stakes and let
people know we've arrived,' said Edward Dolman, Christie's chief executive.
'This is a huge market and we're building on the tremendous sales in Hong
In May and June, Mr Dolman said, Christie's sales
in Hong Kong totalled nearly US$130 million and attracted 4,500 people a
day. They came to view everything from classic Chinese ceramics and jade
jewelry to modern and contemporary painting.
The number of moneyed collectors in China is
growing as fortunes are being made in construction, technology,
manufacturing, real estate and other industries. According to figures
published by China's 10 leading auction houses, sales have risen from less
than US$100 million in 2000 to about US$1 billion in 2005.
China is not a new territory for either Sotheby's
or Christie's. Both auction houses opened offices in Shanghai in 1994 to
identify property to sell and to contact prospective buyers. Two years
later, Christie's opened an office in Beijing. Sotheby's has had a
representative there for the past year. As for Hong Kong, Sotheby's has been
holding sales in the former British colony since 1973, and Christie's since
Year by year, the number of Asians buying at
auctions is increasing. Executives at Sotheby's report that in 2004 its
Asian clients spent more than US$275 million at its salesrooms around the
world, up from just over US$100 million in 2003.
Asian artworks are also becoming more popular and
expensive. In July, Christie's set a record for an Asian artwork at auction
when a London dealer bought a 14th-century blue-and-white jar for US$27.7
Now Christie's and Sotheby's are focusing on how
best to capitalise on the Chinese market. But while Christie's has entered
an agreement with a Chinese partner in Beijing, Sotheby's is taking a more
'We're putting out feelers and will be watching
Christie's closely to see what we can learn,' said Henry Howard-Sneyd,
managing director of Sotheby's in Asia and Australia. 'But since holding
auctions in China has to be done through intermediaries, we will see how
Mr Howard-Sneyd, who is based in Hong Kong, added
that the company's staffing throughout Asia was increasing by 15 per cent to
20 per cent. 'The Chinese love fine wines, jewelry, Western furniture,
19th-century paintings as well as contemporary Chinese art,' he said.
Chinese contemporary art is one of the fastest-growing segments of this
market, attracting buyers from around the world. Sotheby's is planning to
hold its first sale of contemporary Chinese art in March, during Asia Week
in New York.
Xiaoming Zhang, the expert in charge of the sale,
comes to Sotheby's from the Guggenheim Museum, where she helped organise its
giant show 'China: 5,000 Years' in 1998. She was later part of a Guggenheim
team exploring possible satellite programmes around the world. Ms Zhang is
now travelling through China looking for property to sell. 'It's not easy,'
she said in a telephone interview. 'The demand is far greater than the
Chinese contemporary artists generally fall into
two categories: in the first group are those whose style is based on
traditional Chinese images and forms, like ink-wash landscapes, harking back
to the 17th and 18th centuries. One example is Wu Guanzhong, who produced
'White Poplar Woods', a modern twist on a densely painted forest that is
expected to sell for US$770,000 to US$900,000 at Forever/ Christie's next
month. Another is the artist Lin Fengmian, who studied in France and has
painted scenes like 'Opera Figures', a scroll estimated to fetch US$154,800
to US$232,300 next month in Beijing.
The second category consists of an important group
of Chinese artists whose work is based in Pop and conceptual art and who
have a wide international following. Sotheby's plans to sell their work in
New York in March. This group includes the conceptual artist Huang Yongping,
the subject of a retrospective at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis on
view through Jan 15.
Secret Codes: The Art of Hon
Sai Kung, 1961, Artist Collection
The 60 paintings by Hon Chi-fun at the Hong Museum
of Art confirm the 81-year-old as one of China's most important living
painters. He is credited as the first painter to meld traditional Chinese
calligraphy with modern techniques, such as pouring, screen-printing and
collage. He has also written calligraphy with oil and airbrush, instead of
While Hong Kong is famous as a meeting point for
the Orient and Occident, artists only combined the two cultures in the
1960s. Largely self-taught, Mr Hon's exposure to the west began during a
year studying in New York. He later befriended Mark Rothko and Henry Moore.
Although a western aesthetic has shaped his work, Chinese traditions clearly
Hong Kong Museum of Art, Special
Exhibition Gallery 1, 2nd floor, 10 Salisbury Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui. Open: daily
10am-6pm (closed Thurs). Tel: (852) 2721 0116.
Much of China's contemporary art
scene is based in Beijing - but recently, artists from Shanghai have been
attracting major attention.
Exhibitors at the Shanghai Biennale art museum,
started in 1994, are becoming increasingly influential and many curators
based in Beijing and overseas are now becoming more interested in Shanghai
"People are coming by now - there are
museums, so it's better," Lorrenz Hebling, the curator of Shanghai
Biennale, told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.
"A few years ago, people saw Chinese are as
tourist art, not serious. Now it's surely better - people are starting to
remember the names of the artists, they're writing them down. They didn't do
Freer to experiment
The city's art centre is in a warehouse district
in Old Shanghai - one of the few areas of the city that has not undergone
massive transformation in recent times.
The Shanghai Biennale is the centre for the
contemporary art scene in Shanghai, with up to 40 studios working around it.
The gallery's works tend to be on the large side -
one is a five-metre high picture of a screaming face; another features a
large number of small terracotta figures climbing over each other.
Chinese art had begun to attract international
interest in the 1980s, until the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were
dramatically put down by the government.
This ushered in a period of conservatism amongst
Chinese artists. But now they are feeling freer to experiment again.
"When I was in school, China was quite
closed," said Zhou Tiehai, a Shanghai-based artist who exploits both
Western and Chinese traditions in his works.
"As a young artist, we didn't have a lot of
"During that time, exhibitions would be
closed by the police."
Tiehai has swiftly become very collectable, and
known to art critics worldwide.
His most famous works include superimposing his
face on Western magazine covers, and a portrait of former New York mayor
Rudolph Giuliani as a heroic Mao-type figure - with two balls of dung
Tiehai said he welcomed the attention from foreign
collectors and art experts.
"In the early 1990s, artists didn't have a
chance to show abroad," he added.
Shen Fan, described as the leading abstract
painter in Shanghai, said the artistic boom in Shanghai had been incredibly
"Before, in China, art was not noticed,"
he said. "Now it is just a job, like a teacher."
Shen Fan experiments with traditional Chinese
forms such as calligraphy and tries to change them into something more
"Some years ago, I had an exhibition in
Germany - they asked me if my painting fitted in the Chinese traditional
culture," he added.
"But my friends in China don't think
This is an important point about modern Chinese
art - and what concerns some critics who feel that Chinese artists are
sacrificing tradition to attract a Western audience.
Zhou Tiehai's most famous works, for example,
involve superimposing Joe Camel, the cartoon face of Camel cigarettes, onto
images such as nude models.
"A lot of people use the symbols, like Mao
and the cultural revolution," he told The Ticket.
"I think that's too easy - so I decided to
use Western images."
But he dismissed claims that Western success
diluted Chinese art, comparing it to football.
"A Brazilian player can play well for a
football team that plays in England," he argued.
"It does not make much difference [to his
performance] if he is from Brazil or from England."
And Ludovic Bois, of the Chinese Contemporary
Gallery in London, said that certainly in England the hype about Chinese art
is being overlooked anyway.
"The English are not really there as big
collectors," he said. "They are missing the boat.
"The media has not really been covering this
very well... most of the buyers are from Europe and America, and the English
are not quite there."
11 March 2005
Art of getting richer
It's true, the rich really do get richer. Three years ago, a
private collector went to Christie's Hong Kong and bought Emperor
Qianlong's Review of the Grand Parade of Troops, a classical painting
from the Qing dynasty. He liked art, had a few dollars to spare, and took
the painting home after paying HK$16 million for it.
The 15-metre scroll, one of only two in
the world, turned out to be rather too big for any of his dwellings. Too
bad, he thought. I'll resell it. So it was back to Christie's in April,
where his too-big painting fetched a staggering HK$26 million, a world
auction record for a Qing Imperial painting.
Stories of high-brow glamour and
unexpected investment returns like these look too spectacular to be true,
but they do happen, and are happening around us. As Chinese economic power
surges and Chinese influence increases worldwide, the value of Chinese art
is also reaching new heights in a market still largely untapped.
In Hong Kong, where the stock market
rules and where some of the world's richest people have built their piles,
it is curious that so few have looked at art as an investment tool. That may
have changed last month - when art mavens and neophytes alike gaped
incredulously when Boy with a Pipe, a 1905 work by Pablo Picasso,
sold at auction in New York City for US$104 million (HK$811.2 million), the
highest price ever paid for a painting and nearly double the master's
previous high of US$55 million. The previous record for a painting was
US$82.5 million for Vincent Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr Gachet at a
Christie's auction in 1990.
While most people are aware of the sales
cachet of Picasso and Van Gogh, a lot fewer are aware that the demand for
Chinese paintings, while not yet in the league of these masters, has
steadily gained momentum since the late '80s. In less than 20 years, prices
for these treasures have climbed with astonishing speed. A dramatic growth
in the auction market took place in the late '80s and early '90s, dipped
slightly after the mid-'90s but has gone from strength to strength ever
since. It has most definitely picked up pace in recent years.
``The market is vibrant, perhaps at the
strongest it has ever been,'' says CK Cheung, senior director and head of
Chinese painting at Sotheby's Hong Kong.
The sale of the Qing Imperial scroll was
phenomenal, but recent pieces are not doing badly, either. Two years ago,
Sotheby's Hong Kong sold modern master Zhang Daqian's Crimson Lotuses
for HK$20 million, a world auction record for a contemporary Chinese
``The prices are coming up across all
fronts - be they classical, modern, contemporary,'' says Raymond Sun,
vice-president and specialist of the Chinese painting department at
Christie's Hong Kong. ``We are certainly a long way from the price levels of
those Western masters. It takes time, but the prices for Chinese paintings
will - and should - continue to go up.''
Cheung agrees. ``There is no doubt that
the gap between the prices for Chinese and Western paintings have narrowed
rapidly in recent years,'' he says. ``If the difference was on a scale of 1
to 10,000 in the past, these past 10 years have seen the margin narrowing to
around 100 to 10,000.'' He believes that the future for Chinese paintings is
``The value of art is governed by its own
cycles of market fluctuations, just like shares and bonds,'' says Cheung.
``But it is also often directly proportional to general economic trends. The
fact that the Chinese economy has grown progressively stronger in the past
10 years is reflected in the auction market as much as anywhere else.''
Back in the '80s, notable pieces often sold
for less than HK$2 million, according to Sotheby's. Kwok Ho-mun, founder of
the local Wan Fung Gallery and its branches in Beijing and Guangdong, says
that one work leapt from HK$1,500 in 1988 to HK$50,000 in 2001 - a 30-fold
Such a development is only natural, he
says, considering how traumatic the last century has been for Chinese art.
``China has suffered a great deal in the last century - people hardly had
money to fill their stomachs, let alone care for culture. Five thousand
years of traditional Chinese values and culture went to the dogs,
particularly during the Cultural Revolution. In the period immediately after
the revolution you could have bought a handful of modern masterpieces with a
Japanese TV set or fridge.''
Kwok, who is also the author of a book on
collecting and investing in Chinese paintings, repeatedly stresses how
modern Chinese art, in particular, still has a lot of potential for
development and is generally grossly undervalued and under-appreciated.
``Modern Chinese artists have a very different outlook and exposure, a much
wider vision. They are very receptive to foreign art, while at the same time
they are also widely acknowledged in international art circles. Many have
held international exhibitions. Before, what Chinese artist would even dream
of leaving his native country?''
Against the odds of the economic crisis a
few years back, his gallery has made good money in the past few years.
``There is no doubt that prices are on the rise,'' he says, ``But you could
buy up all the Chinese masterpieces within the last century for the
price for two Picassos, or four Boeing planes.''
One reason for the late development of
auction interest in Chinese paintings is doubtless the relative lack of
exposure in the international auction scene. Outside Asia, enthusiasm has
traditionally been more focused on Chinese antiques and artworks such as
Imperial porcelain, jade, and hardwood furniture than on paintings. A Qing
dynasty vase could easily fetch HK$15 million, and an important bronze jar
came with a price tag of as much as US$9 million at a Christie's New York
auction in 2001.
Cheung explains that this might have to
do with the fact that understanding paintings requires more expertise and
knowledge of Chinese culture and history. ``Appreciating an ornamental
object is much easier for a foreigner,'' he says.
Sun agrees: ``Western and Chinese
aesthetics are so different that for the untrained eye, it's hard to
appreciate Asian art as much more than just `exotic'. People go for
decorative value and stop there.''
Collector-investors in Asia thus dominate
the market. Though both Christie's and Sotheby's sold Chinese paintings in
New York, both houses have now strategically decided to concentrate Chinese
painting auctions in Asia because the art is mostly bought by Asians, ``just
as Impressionist art is mostly bought by Westerners - it's the most natural
thing in the world,'' says Cheung.
In fact, both auctioneers say bidders
from the mainland have invaded the field and are spurring the boom in
auction prices. Sotheby's said mainland bidders were ``definitely rising in
number''. Christie's reported ``frenzied bidding'' and a ``strong presence
of buyers from mainland China willing to pay high prices for the best items
on sale'' in their spring auction. Last year, Christie's saw mainlanders
make up 40 per cent of bidders for a show of classical paintings.
Even the West is raising its brows at
this surge of newcomers. According to American and British media, these
apprentice collectors are also popping up at New York and London auction
houses. One story of a previously unheard-of eel farmer from Ningbo in
Zhejiang province, who walked out of a New York auctioneers with five big
buys - one of them a US$321,100 Ming vase - made it into The New York
Times and the British newspaper The Observer.
``The Chinese are getting rich now and,
like the wealthy all over the world, they will inevitably start chasing
after a quality life and pursue art and culture with their wads of cash,''
Adds Sun: ``Buying paintings is the
perfect way for the Chinese nouveau riche to show they are cultured.
They are looking outside China in an attempt to reclaim their culture and
However, while mainland Chinese made
their presence felt in the auction rooms, they did not put up the winning
bids in many cases. ``The record prices this spring at Christie's were
largely a result of eager mainlanders hiking up the prices, but many
hesitated towards the end and so failed to secure what they wanted. After
all, they are less experienced and sophisticated than their Hong Kong and
Taiwan counterparts,'' remarks Sun.
Hong Kong art aficionados can stay
composed for the time being, but in the long term it appears that China will
likely out-number local competitors with its fast gathering fan base. ``In
Taiwan and many Chinese cities, big companies like to dabble in art to
strengthen their corporate image, and municipal governments set up their own
collections,'' says Kwok. ``Hong Kong is a unique place when it comes to the
lack of commercial interest in paintings.''
Which is a shame, because the SAR has
advantages over any other Asian city. ``Hong Kong has always been an
important Asian base for Chinese art: Its defining advantage is its enticing
tax policy. Other places in Southeast Asia have a lot of import barriers
compared to Hong Kong.
``Buying paintings is still not a big
thing here,'' continues Kwok, estimating that of the people who can afford
to buy art in Hong Kong, only 5 per cent do so. ``Hong Kong's wealthy are
too busy to visit galleries and the local art scene doesn't provide much
incentive. Most galleries here are pretty small because it's so very
difficult to run a gallery with the ridiculous rents. Who'd bother making
time to go to a gallery to find only a few paintings to choose from?''
It looks as if those interested in
venturing into this alternative investment avenue should be armed not only
with disposable cash but also patience and a willingness to do lots of
They should also keep in mind a
prime rule of art collecting anywhere: ``You have to love art,'' says Sun,
``If you are not able to look at your painting everyday without thinking
`has its price gone up today?', forget it.''
- by Sylvia Hui WEEKEND
STANDARD 12 June 2004
Artful insurers sense deals as the
rich get richer
The rise of China's nouveaux riches has
boosted demand for fine art and antiques insurance, as the world's most
populous country develops a taste for the trappings of high culture.
Noting the trend, AXA Art, a unit of French
insurance giant AXA Group, has started promoting artwork policies in Hong
China has yet to open up the arts insurance market
to foreign players but mainlanders can buy policies in Hong Kong that offer
full coverage for their collections anywhere in the world.
"We believe there will be a lot of business
opportunities in Hong Kong, China and Asia as a whole," said Dietrich
von Frank, president and chief executive of AXA Art.
Mr von Frank said his firm would market the cover
to private collectors and operators of museum and exhibitions.
The art insurance markets in the US and Europe
have matured, he said, while those in Hong Kong and China offered steady
growth. Hong Kong-based Chinese painter Lee Chakman said the arts trade in
China had grown over the past few years.
"The art investment market grows with
economic activity. Wealthy people in China like to collect paintings to show
that they are not just money-minded businessmen, but also have knowledge in
culture," Mr Lee said.
It was also increasingly popular in China to give
paintings by famous painters as goodwill gifts to business partners and
government officials, he added.
Britain-based Lloyds' Hong Kong representative
Cameron Murray said his firm was also keen on serving China's expanding art
"Lloyd's has a long history of providing high
net worth and fine art insurance for clients around the world," Mr
"As the Chinese economy continues to grow and
attract more foreign investment, our underwriters will be well placed to
advise clients on the best coverage for their risks."
Insurance industry sources said most museums and
galleries in Hong Kong and China had insurance cover. However, only 10 per
cent of Hong Kong private collectors had cover, and the figure is even lower
Henry Au-yeung, director of art dealer Grotto Fine
Art, said private collectors usually did not buy insurance because they did
not generally regard the paintings as investment. "Only about 20 per
cent of fine art buyers are purchasing for investment purposes," he
"For those who purchase paintings for their
own collections, they seldom think of insurance, as compensation would not
mean anything to them if they lost the paintings they love." -
by Enoch Yiu SOUTH
CHINA MORNING POST 27 July 2004
Hong Kongers Prowl
Galleries for Paintings, Pie and Pinot Noir
Most evenings, Hong Kong's half-
mile-long Central escalator system siphons office workers up the hill to the
bars and cafes around Staunton Street. On March 7, it was taking them
instead to the art galleries of SoHo.
One night a year, the Hong Kong ArtWalk
draws locals and visitors to the galleries in SoHo, Sheung Wan, Wan Chai and
Aberdeen to admire or deride the latest works while sipping a glass of pinot
noir or Tsing Tao beer and nibbling on spring rolls, chicken sate and lemon
Last week, more than 2,200 people trawled
the 50 participating galleries in the city's most widespread charity event,
where admission badges cost HK$420 ($54). The night was full of
discoveries -- new galleries, rising local art stars and some hard Hong Kong
Up from 40 galleries last year, the 2007
edition included Hong Kong's first Contemporary Indian Art gallery,
Reflections, a sign of the booming interest in South Asian art. The gallery,
on Wyndham Street, presented a group show with a smattering of oils, inks
and acrylics from artists such as Jaideep Mehrotra and Imtiaz Dharker.
Prices ranged from HK$10,000 to HK$300,000.
In the window of another newcomer,
Gallery SoHo, Jakie Leung Koon-ming's large, shallow ceramic bowl, decorated
with traditional blue and white glazing had aprice tag of HK$36,000, an
indication the clean lines of the artist have already established an
``100 Porcelain Cups,'' a Leung wall
installation that was a part of a solo show at the gallery last December,
sold to the city's Heritage Museum. Leung runs JL Ceramic Workshop as well
as teaching at the Hong Kong Arts Centre and the Royal Melbourne Institute
More than any other art form, the
contemporary ceramics exhibited during ArtWalk were exceptionally good.
Local potters are getting overseas attention.
Six of the 40 participating artists at
last year's International Contemporary Ceramic Biennale in Vallauris,
France, were from Hong Kong.
Caroline Cheng, who directs the Pottery
Workshop at the Fringe Club, now with outlets in Shanghai and Jingdezhen, is
known for her body-inspired pieces. Amelia Johnson Contemporary exhibited a
kimono-like work, called ``Prosperity,'' with small ceramic cream-colored
butterflies on a black felt background, selling at HK$150,000. Cheng is also
giving new life to the ancient imperial kilns of Jingdezhen, where she is
creating a centre for contemporary ceramics.
Gaffer Studio Glass in Aberdeen, a
15-minute shuttle ride from the SoHo galleries, represents international
artists working in glass and ceramics.
"People collect ceramics more
readily than glass as there is more tradition there, especially within
Asia,'' said Director Julie Lambe. ``The value seemsmore assured.''
Within her Artwalk exhibition were
celadon and raku-like vases by Australian Greg Daly; colorful, crusty,
tundra glazes on round vessels by American Randy O'Brien; and fluid,
feminine pieces by London-based Tina Vlassopulos. Prices ranged from
HK$8,000 to HK$16,000.
Few people made it out to Aberdeen on the
night. Most were enjoying the neighborhood block-party feeling of SoHo, a
district of galleries, bars and restaurants just behind the Central business
district. Rubbing elbows in SoHo's smaller galleries was a reminder of the
reason for the charity event in a city where 45 percent of the population
lives in public housing, with 250 square feet allotted per family of four.
This year, the Society for Community
Organization will receive more than HK$650,000 to help the poor, homeless
Now in its seventh year, ArtWalk
encourages people who might not normally take the time to enter the city's
galleries. Shy art students hug the walls as expatriate housewives look for
something for the living-room wall. Black T- shirted art addicts mix with
grey-suited bankers enjoying a change of evening venue.
- Julia Tanski is a critic for Bloomberg
News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
Artists Flourish in Icy Studios of an Old Textile Mill
As Chinese contemporary art sets record
prices at each new auction and collectors try to book paintings like
restaurant tables, Shanghai is chasing Beijing as a center for the country's
Three modern-art museums have opened in
the past three years and Paris's Pompidou Center plans to set up an outpost
in the city by 2010.
The heart of Shanghai's art world,
though, is an old textile factory in the northwest, at 50 Moganshan Road,
bordering a gray-brown creek. Inside drafty former warehouses and weaving
workshops, dating back to the 1930s, is Shanghai's most captivating and
The first artists moved in back in 2000.
Now Shanghai's Chelsea, dubbed ``M50,'' is a warren of about 80 studios,
plus galleries, architectural and design firms, media companies, cafes,
haute couture boutiques and furniture shops, mostly Chinese-owned. Gu Wenda,
who critics have called the most creative of China's avant-garde artists of
the late 1980s, and Zhou Tiehai, a participant in the Venice Biennale, work
M50 is drawing interest after Chinese
works auctioned by Sotheby's and Christie's International in the past year
sold for as much as six times top estimates. Sensing the commercial and
tourist potential, government officials have proclaimed M50 a ``Creative
Industry Clustering Park'' and a ``Model Unit.''
Start at the major galleries for an
overview. Winners of a nationwide young Chinese artists' competition are
among those showcased at Art Scene Warehouse. The 2006 victor, Chen Jiao,
23, puts architectural sketches against vast backdrops to express emptiness
and loneliness. Silver medalist Yang Fan's AstroBoy paintings are colorfully
saturated and lush.
Other pieces look like undergraduate
projects -- feathery, flowery compositions in pinks and grays evoke labia
and other female organs, contrasting with unimaginative portraits of women.
On a visit last month, the cavernous
gallery felt as cold as the rainy outdoors. Art Scene's staff was zipped up
in winter coats. Nearby, a schoolteacher and two peasants learning math also
wore multiple layers, though without fear of getting cold. They were statues
by Zhang Jianhua.
When Zhang's works were placed in Beijing
neighborhoods in 2003, residents protested that they were wretched-looking
bumpkins and toppled some of them over.
A few doors away, Eastlink's ``Body
Talk'' highlights the human form as performance art, protest and language.
There are photos of Yang Zhichao having his Chinese ID number branded on his
back and the artist with grass embedded into cuts he made in his shoulder.
``Growing Grass'' was at Eastlink in 2000, in the notorious ``F**k Off''
exhibit. Organized by now-celebrated Ai Weiwei and Feng Boyi, the show
featured a photo of an artist purportedly eating a dead baby. Authorities
shut it down.
Several leading artists of various media
and generations -- including Zhou Tiehai, Ding Yi, videographer Yang Fudong,
``Political Pop'' painter Wang Guangyi and digital media artist Feng Mengbo
-- are represented by sprawling ShanghART.
Zhou's signature series, which
simultaneously mocks and milks the art world, airbrushes Joe Camel into
masterpieces from the Old World to Jeff Koons. Ding Yi's abstract obsession
with ``+'' marks is 20 years long.
The unfamiliar is more interesting to me,
such as Ji Wenyu and Zhu Weibing's cloth dolls and sculptures. They at first
look like the stuff of folksy craft bazaars, but they're carefully sewn
commentaries on aspirations and conformity.
M50's jumbled structures are perfect for
a James Bond chase; showrooms and studios wedged among the big galleries
aren't always easily located. To reach Building 21, for instance, in a weed
patch behind a locked gate, you must climb Building 17's stairs, follow a
catwalk and cross a rusty ramp.
Smell of Paint
Take a few steps up to a gangway above
Suzhou Creek and you'll find Vanguard Gallery, the size of two squash
courts. Its current show, ``Tah-Dah!,'' is underwhelming. Owner- curator
Lise, a finance graduate, worked at a Shenzhen gallery for five years before
Moganshan's best feature is its artists.
Behind a bright red munchkin door, Nutshell Art has paint smells, rolls of
canvas lying around and paintings to peruse. Shi Jian and Peng Peng Jing,
based at M50 since 2003, work in a tiny loft with their two dogs and wander
down for breaks. The former high- school art teachers paint Chinese women,
but have different styles. They relish being amid other artists, something
their small hometown of Huzhou lacked.
``It feels very natural,'' said Shi, 34.
This spring they're exhibiting in Leusden
in the Netherlands. Most of their buyers are Western, overseas Chinese or
Asians. Peng was telling me that they're pleased to see rising interest from
locals in the past two years, when she stops in mid-sentence and bolts over
to some Chinese visitors.
``Don't touch!'' she tells a young man.
An earlier viewer ``wanted to remove a
`dirty spot,''' on one of the paintings, Shi said. ``I told him I'd put that
there. Chinese aren't educated about this. It's going to take a while.''
Koh writes on art for Bloomberg
news. The opinions expressed are her own
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Google Art Project
This JUDY CHENG acrylic on paper was
sold to CAROL LEE, the thoughtful real estate lawyer Carol [not to be
confused with others with the same name. ] 23" x 30"