Appetite Of PPR Founder For Blue-Chip Chinese Contemporary Art Increasing
Over the last decade, as several global luxury brands have linked up with Chinese artists for special collections or events, one luxury industry giant and noted art collector, PPR’s François Pinault, has been busy linking up with blue-chip painters like Zeng Fanzhi to buy some of their best pieces. In recent years, as Zeng Fanzhi works — which now regularly sell in the millions — have themselves become high-end products, it seems that while Pinault made his name selling luxury, Zeng made his name creating it.
François Pinault spent the greater part of the last 60 years building up PPR, the third largest firm in the global luxury sector, which controls brands such as Gucci, Yves Saint-Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Sergio Rossi, Boucheron, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, and Balenciaga. In addition, Pinault’s holding company Artemis counts the Château-Latour vineyard in Bordeaux, the news magazine Le Point and the daily newspaper l’Agefi among the prizes in its portfolio. Having handed control to PPR to his son, François-Henri Pinault, in 2003, the elder Pinault currently holds the title of honorary president.
Perhaps most important to Pinault in terms of his passions, though, is the auction house Christie’s, a controlling percentage of which he purchased in 1998. In addition to being one of the most high-profile figures in the luxury industry, Pinault is one of the world’s largest collectors of contemporary art. In May 2005, Pinault acquired the prestigious Palazzo Grassi in Venice, where he presented a portion of his collection over the course of three exhibitions: “Where Are We Going?”, “Post-Pop,” and “Sequence 1.” In addition to holding a vast collection of works by top Western artists like Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman and Gerhard Richter, Pinault — like many of the brands owned by PPR — has a growing love affair with China.
Over the past decade, as the Chinese contemporary art market has emerged seemingly out of nowhere to become one of the hottest topics in the contemporary art world, names like Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, Liu Ye and Cao Fei have gone global, attracting the attention first of high-profile Western collectors and, more recently, mainland China’s burgeoning “new collector” base. As works by the first generation of blue-chip Chinese artists has steadily risen, even after the post-financial-crisis correction of 2009, François Pinault has shown a clear preference for one top Chinese contemporary artist in particular: Zeng Fanzhi (曾凡志). Currently, Pinault’s collection includes 15 works by Zeng, and even as Zeng’s works become far more expensive and harder to come by, Pinault’s interest in the artist shows no sign of dimming.
Earlier this year, just a week before the Venice Biennale, Pinault showed up in person at the Christie’s spring auctions in Hong Kong to attend the ribbon-cutting of Zeng’s solo exhibition “BEING,” which featured 30 well-known works by the artist. Sponsored by the François Pinault Foundation, “BEING” was presented by Christie’s in partnership with Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum. Included in the “BEING” exhibition was Zeng’s 2010 work “The Leopard,” which was auctioned off for charity at the spring auctions, raising HK$36 million (US$4.6 million) for The Nature Conservancy. After the auction, Christie’s Asia president, Francois Curiel pointed out that Zeng Fanzhi, the François Pinault Foundation, Christie’s, and the Rockbund Art Museum have been brought together to promote Chinese contemporary art as well as the concept of environmental charity to a global audience.
With more of China’s emerging collectors becoming interested in Zeng Fanzhi, particularly as his profile grows even more and he collects awards like Art Value’s “Most Influential Artist” nod, Zeng’s early works in particular are becoming scarcer. While Zeng oil-on-canvas works are already well into the multimillion-dollar category, we’re already seeing pre-sale estimates for his comparatively inexpensive drawings and oil pastels show a significant rise at auctions in Hong Kong and elsewhere. At the Sotheby’s Contemporary Asian Art auction on October 3, a 1997 colored pencil and pastel piece by Zeng is estimated to sell for HK$150,000-200,000 (US$19,300-25,700), well above the HK$65,000-100,000 ($8,400-12,900) pre-sale estimates for a 2004 drawing later sold at last fall’s Contemporary Asian Art auction in Hong Kong for HK$375,000 ($48,100). Look for fierce bidding for the eight works by Zeng set to go under the hammer in Hong Kong next week, two of which Jing Daily featured in our “Top 10 Lots to Watch.”
As competition for works by Zeng, along with other blue-chip painters, continues to heat up among established Chinese and international collectors as well as the new breed of inflation-motivated mainland Chinese bidders, expect these prices to continue going upward. In the Chinese art world, validation of a given artist is key, and the stamp of approval that François Pinault has given Zeng Fanzhi will continue to go a long way to convince aspiring collectors to bid.
About Zeng Fanzhi
Zeng Fanzhi was born in Wuhan, Hubei province, in 1964. Zeng graduated from the Department of Oil Painting at the Hubei Academy of Fine Arts, later achieving notoriety and acclaim for his unique artistic language and sharp social criticism throughout the late 1990s. Zeng is perhaps the artist most closely associated with luxury brands in China, not only due to his well-known penchant for high-end labels but his collaborations, which include a limited-edition Absolut bottle designed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Hong Kong department store, Joyce.