Dozens Of New Chinese Collectors Converge To Discuss Art Values, Top Artists, And Closing China’s “Art Gap” Between Key Figures And The Public
We’ve been looking a lot at the New Chinese Collector — the up-and-coming art collector who has become a fixture at art auctions around the world without really being understood by many seasoned collectors or auction houses. What is so fascinating about this group is the way that mainland Chinese collectors have really developed organically, and come together out of collective interest in the subject to become more informed about what art is out there, how much it costs — and should cost — and which artists they should be buying for their personal collections.
Recently in China, the 5th Annual Songzhuang Art Festival (which we profiled last month) was held in Beijing, with more than 1,000 artists taking part. As one of China’s most well-attended art festivals — owing mostly to Beijing’s international visibility and status as China’s artistic and cultural center — the Songzhuang festival lends itself to important or high-profile events. This year, one of the most unusual of these was the “First Annual Conference of Collectors of Chinese Contemporary Art” (首届中国当代艺术收藏家年), headed by art critic Li Xianting (栗宪庭). As the domestic audience becomes increasingly interested not only in museums and galleries but in specific types of art, and the middle class continues their (new) tradition of diversifying assets, it will become even more important for the domestic “New Collector” to understand the art and the market itself. At Songzhuang, the “all star cast” of attendees is a good indication that many in China are motivated to help their art market (and art audience) mature and develop rapidly.
As this Artintern article (Chinese) points out, many influential members of the Chinese art world — including conference chairman Li Xianting — feel that it is important for the Chinese collector to become intimately familiar with Chinese contemporary art not only to fill a gap in public knowledge but also to catch up to western collectors of Chinese art:
Chinese contemporary art began with the opening of China [in the late 1970s]. However, with no standard of value in the domestic contemporary art market, collecting and business in contemporary Chinese art was started in the West. Since the late 1970s in Chinese contemporary art — for example after the “Stars Fine Arts Exhibition — foreigners in Beijing have created a ring around the market, a ring which is still increasing. When overseas institutions or individuals gather up works at a low price that we have identified as a representation of Chinese contemporary artwork, then sell them back to China at a very high price, [these artists] are reported in domestic media as overnight successes and superstars. This has been to the detriment of the local Chinese contemporary art market.
At the annual meeting, the Chinese contemporary art critic Li Xianting — the chairman of the event — said, “To establish China’s own contemporary art market, we have to establish China’s own artistic value standards and use these standards to guide the market — is the art guiding the money or is the money guiding the art? China must take its own stand.”
The way in which much contemporary Chinese art was sold to overseas buyers in the early years attracted a lot of deep concern among attendees. Several years later, Chinese people have to go overseas to see the originals of their own artwork; this might not simply be alarmism! In fact, from 1979 to 1999, over these two decades the vast majority of good artwork flowed overseas. The sky-high western market really had no correlation to the Chinese market. As Li Xianting said, “I have expectations for the Chinese contemporary art market, and that is that through art collection we’ll create new aesthetic values, and standards that are also part of our culture. Through [these] standards, we’ll be able to communicate with the masses [about art].”
In this context, domestic consciousness has already begun, through collectors buying important works of Chinese contemporary art. Starting from how to develop our own art collecting standards, to establishing the direction of our artwork, to how to take clear social responsibility among collectors, the Songzhuang Art Association — along with the Tranquil Garden Museum of Art and in partnership with Fortune Circle TIDE magazine — convened the first annual Conference of Collectors of Chinese Contemporary Art.
More than 20 collectors, and artists such as Fang Lijun, Wang Guangyi, Zhang Xiaogang, Yang Shaobin, Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi and a dozen or so of the country’s top contemporary artists were discussed. It is reported that collector conferences like this one will be held in different cities each year throughout the country.