Chinese Celebrities Becoming Budding Art Collectors

Director Feng Xiaogang Claims To Have Spent 50 Million Yuan (US$7.7 Million) On Oil Paintings Last Year

Yue Minjun's "Hats Series - Acrobatics" sold at Sotheby's HK this April for HK$3.6 million

Yue Minjun’s “Hats Series – Acrobatics” sold at Sotheby’s HK this April for HK$3.6 million

Following the lead of auction stalwarts like Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei and an ever-increasing number of entrepreneurs and investors, it appears that Chinese celebrities are now joining the ranks of the country’s “new collectors.” Echoing Jing Daily’s observations that volatility in China’s stock markets and property markets have seen wealthy Chinese flock to traditional investments, the BBC points out this week, “For China’s freshly minted millionaires and billionaires looking to spend their wealth, art is a natural choice.” This is, apparently, as true for filmmakers, actors, performers and sports figures as it is for hedge fund managers, property tycoons and entrepreneurs.

As the Chinese arts website Artxun notes this week, in recent years, superstars like actor Jackie Chan and director Feng Xiaogang (Aftershock, A World Without Thieves) have built up their art collections to diversify yuan-denominated assets, sidestep growing inflation, and take advantage of Chinese contemporary art’s “second boom.” As Zhao Xu, Executive Director of the Beijing-based auction house Poly Auction recently told Sina Collection, “Feng Xiaogang is a loyal buyer at Poly Auction. Last year alone he spent 50 million yuan (US$7.7 million) on oil paintings at our auction house. Feng was a painter when he was younger, and he and his wife Xu Fan now buy together at auction as a hobby.” While he’s a bit more low-key in his auction buying than Feng Xiaogang, Jackie Chan is also considered a major collector of Chinese contemporary art. In 2006, Chan purchased more than 600 works of art at the first biennial organized by the Shanghai Yuangong Art Gallery (上海原弓美术馆), nearly wiping out the exhibition.

As Artxun adds this week, Beijing’s Art Now Gallery counts celebrities like singer Lin Yilun (林依轮), actor Zhou Jie (周杰), Taiwanese television presenter Cai Kangyong (蔡康永) and model and actress Lin Zhiling (林志玲) as some of its top clients. Interestingly, the gallery has noticed some differences in taste between mainland Chinese celebrities and those from Hong Kong or Taiwan, namely that the former typically prefer easel paintings while the latter often opt for more avant-garde paintings or installations.

Zhang Xiaogang's "Comrade (Diptych)" sold last year in Hong Kong for US$1.1 million

Zhang Xiaogang’s “Comrade (Diptych)” sold last year in Hong Kong for US$1.1 million

Artxun goes on to profile some of the important high-profile buyers of Chinese contemporary art (translation by Jing Daily team):

Wang Zhongjun (王中军), chairman of Huayi Brothers, considers himself “a businessman as well as an artist”. Wang’s collection includes work from established contemporary artists such as Ai Xuan (艾轩), Yang Yuanfei (杨飞云), Wang Yidong (王沂东) and Yuan Zhengyang (袁正阳). Many of Wang’s collections have risen hundred times in value over the past six years.

Wang Gang (王刚), well-known TV host, jokingly refers to himself as the best host in the collection field as well as the best collector among TV hosts. Mostly interested in antiques, Wang started collecting bird cages, then moved on to porcelain.

Hai Yan (海岩), one of China’s most famous novelists, likes to collect Huanghuali (黄花梨), one of the highest-quality Chinese furniture woods. Originally instigated by collector friends, Hai Yan now has collected hundres of pieces of fine furniture made of carved Huanghuali.

Hollywood's art collectors often boost visibility of artists and prices for their works (Image: People)

Hollywood’s art collectors often boost visibility of artists and prices for their works (Image: People)

We’d be interested to see how the buying habits of Chinese celebrities who bid at domestic Chinese auction houses differ from those who buy at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in Hong Kong. As a recent ArtTactic survey pointed out, the Chinese contemporary art market is currently traveling on two paths: one that is driven by domestic auction houses, and champions artists like Shi Chong and Ye Yongqing, and another led by global houses in Hong Kong and elsewhere, which prefer internationally known Chinese artists like Yang Fudong and Yue Minjun.

What is interesting about this story is the fact that we’re just now starting to see Chinese celebrities get into art collecting, and can keep a close eye on their buying habits. The key here is that there is a clear link between the fostering of a thriving domestic art industry and greater collecting by high-profile celebrities. In the US, actors, directors and performers like Steve Martin, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Madonna have built up impressive art collections, with some fixating on particular artists. For example, Johnny Depp is a well-known collector of works by JeanMichel Basquiat, while Bono of U2 has an enviable selection of Warhols.

If one or two high-profile Chinese celebrities follows in the footsteps of their Western counterparts and starts to buy as many works by a Chinese artist like Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Xiaogang or Fang Lijun as they can get their hands on, we can expect not only the price for these artists to keep rising, but to see more “new collectors” follow the lead of these cultural tastemakers.

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Art & Auction, Culture, Travel