Just Five “New Chinese Collectors” Could Change Dynamics Of Chinese Contemporary Art Market
Between May 27-31, the upcoming Christie’s Spring Auctions in Hong Kong should see the same spirited bidding and estimate-smashing results that have characterized the city’s booming auction market over the past two years. Led by mainland China’s ever-increasing ranks of new collectors, who have flooded Hong Kong to drop their cash on wine, watches, jewelry, contemporary Chinese art, antiques and even apartments and wine cellars in which to stores some of their purchases, buyers at recent auctions in the former British colony have made it the world’s third-largest auction market behind London and New York in just a few short years. Coming off of the recent record-breaking Sotheby’s Spring Auctions, what can we expect to see at the Christie’s Spring Auctions in Hong Kong? In this installment, we look at the Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art auction (May 28), and the Asian Contemporary Day Sale (May 29).
1.) New Chinese Collectors Will Home In On Chinese Contemporary “Blue-Chips”
Mainland Chinese collectors have shown a particular interest in many of the artists included in the contemporary sales, and there’s no reason to suspect their buying habits will be significantly different than what we saw at Sotheby’s last month. Look for Zhang Xiaogang to figure heavily in Chinese bidding, as the artist has seen a boost in visibility among Chinese collectors since his early work “Forever Lasting Love” became the first-ever Chinese contemporary work to sell for over US$10 million last month. Seven of Zhang’s works will go under the hammer on May 28-29, with his 2001 work “Bloodline: Big Family – Father and Son” estimated to go for between HK$14-20 million (US$1.8-2.6 million). However, expect this piece to sell for at least double that. Expect strong showings from other artists popular with Chinese collectors, such as Liu Ye (12 works), Zeng Fanzhi (eight works), Yue Minjun (10 works) and Yu Youhan (three works).
2.) Zeng Fanzhi Will Benefit From Christie’s “Being” Exhibition (May 27-30)
As Jing Daily pointed out earlier this month, Christie’s will present a solo exhibition by Zeng Fanzhi in tandem with the spring auction series. The exhibition, sponsored by the Francois Pinault Foundation, will include 30 works by Zeng, and the artist will hand-pick one piece to be auctioned off at the May 28 Contemporary Asian auction with proceeds going to the environmental organization The Nature Conservancy. Expect to see a bump in the already high interest in Zeng Fanzhi among mainland Chinese collectors due to the excitement surrounding the exhibition. This should be particularly apparent as Zeng’s “Self Portrait” goes up for auction on May 28. The 1996 work, estimated to sell for HK$25-35 million (US$3.2-4.5 million), has the potential to match or possibly even surpass the aforementioned Zhang Xiaogang triptych. Definitely an artist to keep an eye on at this auction series.
3.) Chinese Modernist Painters Will Prove Popular
Look for prices for modernist Chinese painters like Sanyu, Zao Wou-Ki and Wu Guanzhong to trend higher than last year, if nothing else because the number of mainland Chinese collectors (with whom these painters are popular) have increased, as has scarcity. We should see a price increase for Wu in particular, since the artist passed away last summer at the age of 90. Look for particular interest among mainland bidders for Sanyu’s “Pink Plum Blossoms & Green Branches” (1963) — estimated to sell for HK$15-20 million (US$1.9-2.6 million) — and Wu Guanzhong’s 1985 work “The Hometown of Lu Xun,” estimated to go for HK$6-8 million (US$775,000-1 million).
4.) Records Will Continue To Fall
With the Chinese yuan continuing to appreciate, raising mainland Chinese spending power in Hong Kong, and inflation sending even more wealthy Chinese fleeing towards portable investments like art, we will undoubtedly see a number of artist records fall at Christie’s. Even the presence of five new and highly motivated Chinese collectors at auction could see dynamics shift for a given artist. While established painters like Liu Ye, Zhou Chunya, Xu Bing and Fang Lijun will remain out of the reach of most potential bidders, we will likely see records broken for younger artists like Li Songsong and Guan Yong.
5.) New Chinese Collectors Will Turn More To Photography
One area of increasing Chinese presence in the art world that hasn’t gotten that much attention is contemporary Chinese photography. Owing to the relatively lower price points for established blue-chip Chinese photographers compared to painters, and the rising international and domestic profile of photographers like Wang Qingsong (who recently had a solo exhibition in New York), Zhang Huan (host of Diane Von Furstenberg’s Red Ball in Shanghai), and Hai Bo (who in the last year had solo exhibitions at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC and Pace/MacGill in New York). Look for a prolific Chinese collector — possibly one who’s looking to open a private museum — to bid aggressively for Wang Qingsong’s iconic work “Night Revels of Lao Li” (2000), estimated to go for as much as HK$700,000 (US$90,000). Newer collectors may gravitate towards well-known works like Zhang Huan’s “To Add a Meter to an Anonymous Mountain” (1995, est. HK$120,000-180,000/US$15,500-23,000) and Hai Bo’s “Muma” (est. HK$30,000-50,000/US$3,900-6,500).