Why The Upcoming Ullens Auction Is Important For Chinese Collectors

To Build Successful Collections, Ullens Is The Answer

Zhang Xiaogang: Lost Dream Series, 1958, Estimate HK$600,000-800,000 (US$ 76,842-102,456 ) (Image: Sotheby's)

Zhang Xiaogang: Lost Dream Series, 1958, Estimate HK$600,000-800,000 (US$ 76,842-102,456 ) (Image: Sotheby’s)

On October 2, more works from collector and philanthropist Guy Ullens will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. Earlier this year, the first selection of Ullens works were auctioned off in the city, causing a mad rush among Chinese collectors eager to get historical and important works from artist like Zhang Xiaogang, Li Shan and Liu Ye. Among collectors, the upcoming Ullens sale next month is widely anticipated.

The Ullens auction is much more of a positive for the collector and for the Chinese auction world than it may look on the surface. Much of the reason for this hinges on the fact that Ullens had the option to sell the entire collection, to many institutional investors and private and other museums, but chose not to, opting instead to sell many of the works  over the course of a series of auctions. This indicates a few things.

Ullens’s choice to sell pieces from his vast collection reinforces the point that he has more in mind than simply financial gain. Guy Ullens is very much committed to two things: philanthropy and his Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing. Some of the money raised in the upcoming auction will go towards supporting UCCA, as the organization itself is currently undergoing changes designed to put it on stronger curatorial and managerial footing .

Sui Jianguo: "The shadow of the century", 1997, Estimate HK$1,800,000-2,500,000 (US$ 846,713-1,175,990) (Image: Sotheby's)

Sui Jianguo: “The shadow of the century”, 1997, Estimate HK$1,800,000-2,500,000 (US$ 846,713-1,175,990) (Image: Sotheby’s)

Ullens has shown through the years that he sees UCCA as a vehicle for better arts education in China and a place to cultivate a broader audience, expanding the interest and connoisseurship in Chinese contemporary art. Much like the American financier, J.P. Morgan, whose art collection was divided among museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York after his death in 1913, Guy Ullens is effectively seeding new private collections making important historical works available.

Ullens’s choice to deacquisition more blue-chip works from his collection when the top-level Chinese contemporary art market shows no sign of slowing down shows that the main driver is to strategically disseminate important works  rather than purely economic motives.

Essentially, Ullens appears to see the coming sale as a positive thing for the cultivation of newer art collections in China. After the sale, which is expected to raise millions, Ullens will be able to put UCCA on a stronger foundation, while simultaneously seeding dozens of new art collections throughout mainland China and Hong Kong. Considering the pace at which wealthy Chinese new collectors are building private museums and important collections, this historical auction could be a start for many.

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Art & Auction, Culture