Contemporary Chinese art in the spotlight at recent international auctions Featured

Phenomenal development of the Chinese art market reflected by excellent prices

by 12 April 2010

After several thousands of years of evolution and changes, Chinese art is no longer just about appreciating bronze ware, ceramics and classical landscape paintings. With a changing society and with influence from the West, modern Chinese art has developed a unique and dynamic style, taking on the international art scene. How is contemporary art analyzed inside and outside China? Of course, auction prices can provide a useful indicator alongside values linked to art criticism.

After the Cultural Revolution, artists such as Zeng Fanzhi, Cai Guoqiang, Yue Minjun, Ai weiwei, Zhang Xiaogang – all of whom were born in the 1950s and 60s – depicted the new changes in China with their artworks. They portrayed the country’s politics and society with a kind of sarcasm that people could identify with. Their artworks not only gained recognition at international art shows, but also entered the global market for their commercial appeal. A new generation of contemporary artists has emerged.

Zhang Xiaogang captures the emotions of the Cultural Revolution in his unconventional portraits. His oil paintings interpret typical families during that period, thus demonstrating the Chinese people’s collective memory and experience. At the annual BRIC auction this April, Phillips de Pury & Company will be auctioning his 2006 work “Amnesia and Memory”, estimated to reach from £220,000 to £320,000.

BRIC Auctions will present several hundreds of artworks from Brazil, Russia, India and China – four countries that have a new and fast-growing market in contemporary art. The auctions will also present “Nine Coloured Pots” by Ai Weiwei, who was a consultant for the National Stadium built for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games; “99 Idol Series” by Yue Minjun, who painted a series of symbolic faces with a huge smile; and works by other contemporary Chinese artists.

Chin-Chin Yap, a specialist of Chinese Contemporary Art at Phillips de Pury, says that amongst the four countries represented by BRIC, the contemporary Chinese art market is probably the most developed as demonstrated by its diverse offerings in the auction. “The Chinese contemporary art market has experienced phenomenal development over the past 10 years, and many believe that it still has a long way to go, particularly with China's ascendancy as an economic superpower.” In terms of prices, she thinks that for many blue-chip Chinese artists, prices are still reasonable compared to those of their American or European counterparts. Also, as the Chinese market is still in the process of maturing, it is a great time to identify artists who would have long-term potential for international success, she adds.

At Christie’s, Zeng Fanzhi’s “Mask Series 1996 No. 6” reached more than 70 million Hong Kong Dollar, the highest price realized by any Chinese contemporary artist. In this classic series, all the characters wear a white smiling mask, concealing their falsity. His “Mask Series No. 21 3-1” was auctioned under Seoul Auction’s Modern and Contemporary Art category in the beginning of April in Hong Kong. The painting was sold at 1.6 million Hong Kong Dollar.

Aware of the potential of Chinese contemporary art, Seoul Auction started gathering artworks by Chinese artists for auction seven years ago. Recently, it auctioned “New House” by veteran artist Wu Guanzhong, “Girl and Peaches” by Wang Yidong, professor at China Academy of Art, and works by some young post-70s and post-80s artists, including Chen Ke and Gao Yu.

Photos courtesy of Phillips de Pury & Company and Seoul Auction
12 Apr 2010

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