Look For Frenzied Bidding By New Chinese Collectors As Demand Remains High
While the auction market struggles to find its feet in New York, look for Hong Kong to heat up even further on April 3, as Chinese collectors will have a rare opportunity to get their hands on one of 106 pieces of Chinese contemporary art from the collection of Baron Guy Ullens, benefactor of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. Featuring dozens of rare works by blue-chip Chinese artists expected to bring in a combined total of US$17 million, “The Ullens Collection – The Nascence of Avant Garde China” at Sotheby’s Hong Kong presents a comprehensive cross-section of the last 30 years in Chinese art, from the earliest stirrings of the late ’70s to the Political Pop and Cynical Realism of the 1990s and today.
Spanning a full range of mediums, from oil painting to photography, “The Ullens Collection” is anchored by several important works that have rarely been seen by, let alone available to, collectors, such as pieces originally included in the pivotal China/Avant-Garde Exhibition of 1989. (An exhibition that, to many, marks the dawn of contemporary art in China.)
Many of the works offered in the auction exemplify the key developmental period of Chinese contemporary art in the late 1980s and early- to mid-1990s, when today’s blue-chip artists began to emerge. Some of the auction’s highlights include Zhang Xiaogang’s early triptych “Forever Lasting Love,” which is expected to sell HK$25 – 30 million (US$3.2– 3.8 million), though the actual sale price will likely be far higher. As we saw at Hong Kong’s 2010 autumn auctions, Chinese collectors hold early works by Zhang in particularly high esteem, with his 1992 painting “Chapter of a New Century – Birth of the People’s Republic of China II” selling in October for HK$52.2 million (US$6.7 million), more than double its high estimate. Other high-profile works to keep an eye on from the Ullens Collection include Wang Guangyi‘s “Mao Zedong: P2” (estimated to sell for HK$1.5 – 2 million (US$190,000–260,000)), Mao Xuhui’s Paternalism Series No. 3 (HK$400,000 – 500,000 (US$51,000 – 64,000)) and Zhang Peili’s Series “X?” No. 3 (HK$1.5 – 2.5 million (US$190,000 – 320,000)).
With prices for works by top Chinese contemporary artists continuing to rise steadily over the last year, why is Ullens looking to sell many of his prized works now? Apparently, he wants to make room in his collection for younger artists. As Ullens said, “I have reached the stage of my collecting journey where it is time to share some of the wealth of my collection with other collectors. This will enable me to continue to work with new and emerging artists, as has been my passion since I began this collection over twenty years ago.” Remarking on the Ullens Collection, Evelyn Lin, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Asian Art, said the auction “offers a once-in-a-lifetime buying opportunity for discerning collectors around the world,” adding, “The essence of The Ullens Collection is the visualisation of the Chinese nation’s history through works of art. Since my early forays into the field of contemporary Chinese art, the eminence of this Collection, the depth of thought and the enormity of passion that belie its formation, have loomed profoundly in my mind.”
In conjunction with this auction’s Hong Kong preview, Sotheby’s will create an educational exhibition providing a visual overview of the development of contemporary Chinese art in the 1980s and 1990s, featuring highlights of the collection in a series of travelling exhibitions, which Art & Luxury in Asia helpfully points out will take place February 12-16 in London; March 9-10 in Shanghai; March 12-13 in Beijing; March 19-20 in Singapore; March 18-22 in New York; and finally in Taipei, March 26-27.