Global auction stalwart Christie’s is taking a fresh approach to Chinese contemporary art this fall with a traveling exhibition and sale featuring a diverse selection of work by up and coming artists. Called +86 First Open, the program straddles Shanghai and New York, kicking off with highlights from more than 30 works of art on display at the Rockefeller Center from September 26 to 29, followed by stops in Beijing and Chengdu. The inaugural +86 auction takes place in Shanghai on October 24.
Christie’s +86 is an indicator of growing interest in Chinese contemporary art, both from Western collectors and those in mainland China. Turnouts with a high number of Chinese collectors are now commonplace at Christie’s auctions, and their swelling numbers helped fuel a record-breaking 16 percent bump in sales for the auction house and a 44 percent increase in Asia sales last year.
While one would expect new wealth to play a large role in the shift in Chinese buyers, the transactions are backed by passion and dedication to the industry. Twelve out of the 200 leading international collectors and couples named by artnet News were Chinese this year and demonstrated a significant and sincere devotion to developing the art market in mainland China, where they spent large sums to support art education and foundations and construct art museums. They are certainly interested in Western contemporary art—Andy Warhol, for example, was the star of Christie’s Shanghai auction in 2013 and became an icon in China’s art districts—but it was Chinese contemporary art that took up the majority of the leading lots at a more recent Christie’s sale in Hong Kong. Big names like Beijing-based Zeng Fanzhi have pulled impressive sales that have put Chinese contemporary artists closer in value to their Western counterparts, but now Christie’s is charting new territory with a young, “edgy,” and “radical” array of newcomers.
“Spurred by the socio-economic and cultural changes, Chinese contemporary art has regained a new vitality, while its enthralling creative energy continues to capture the world with renewed interest,” President of Christie’s China Jinqing Cai said. “By presenting a panoramic vision of emerging Chinese artists in Christie’s Shanghai this fall, we look forward to becoming an integral part of the current contemporary art dynamic, and a catalyst of future growth of the art market in China.”
Work exhibited at +86 spans paintings, film, photography, and a diverse range of themes. Highlights include Ran Huang, a “post-80s” generation artist whose short films were nominated at the 67th Cannes Film Festival. This program features his 2009 seven-and-a-half-minute short, “The Next Round is True Life,” which depicts cultural and political commentary via the mundanity of chewing gum and has an estimated worth of US$13,000-19,000. Also featured is Harbin-born Qiu Xiaofei, whose massive 2009 oil painting, “Stiff Remains” is estimated to be worth US$190,000-240,000. Qiu’s emotionally charged creations were recently featured at Art Basel in Hong Kong.
Christie’s has seen a steady stream of success since landing a deal to be the first international auction house to operate in China without a joint venture partner two years ago, and the upcoming Shanghai version of its London and New York First Open only reiterates the positive forecast for China’s contemporary art scene.