Any question about the willingness of China's new generation of art collectors to shell out on top-quality artwork in 2011 has been put to rest, with the news that the Chinese artist Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) was the top auction earner of the year, unseating long-time leader Pablo Picasso. According to a report by the French research company Artprice, Zhang's works sold at auction last year for a total of US$506.7 million, with another Chinese artist, Qi Baishi (1864-1957) coming in at second with $445.1 million. Trailing Andy Warhol, Picasso was ranked fourth at $311.6 million, with another Chinese artist, Xu Beihong (1895-1953), totaling $212.9 million.
The change reflects China’s growing strength in the global art market. Of the approximately $11 billion total world revenue for fine art last year,
China’s share was 39 percent, up from 33 percent the year before, Artprice said. The U.S. was No. 2 with 25 percent.
As Martin Bremond, head economist at Artprice, said this week of the results, Chinese modern artists like Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi "are maybe not well-known on the art scene but they are the leading modern masters in China." Added Bremond:
"They are on top because China is the No. 1 country at auction and the Chinese are buying their own artists.”
As collector Larry Warsh pointed out, the allure of modern artists like Qi and Zhang indicates that Chinese collectors, unlike the Japanese collectors that preceded them at auction in the 1980s, are more interested in re-discovering their own culture rather than seeking out the icons of Western art. Said Warsh, “Western heroes are not Chinese heroes...China is very nationalistic and demands its own heroes and culture.”