NYU Shanghai: January 2018
SHANGHAI, Jan. Three — After the peppered beef carpaccio and before the pan-fried sea bass there have been raucous toasts and the clinking of wine glasses within the V.I.P. room of recent Heights, a jazzy restaurant on this city’s most luxurious location, overlooking the Bund.
Wang Guangyi, one of China’s pioneering contemporary artists, was there. So have been Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi and 20 different effectively-recognized Chinese artists and their visitors, a lot of whom had been flown in from Beijing to have fun the opening of a solo exhibition of new works by Zeng Hao, one other rising star in China’s bubbly artwork scene.
“We’ve had opening dinners earlier than,” stated the Shanghai artist Zhou Tiehai, sipping Chilean pink wine, “but nothing quite like this till very just lately.”
The dinner, held on a latest Saturday night time in a restaurant located on the top floor of a historic constructing that also houses an Armani retailer and the Shanghai Gallery of Art, was symbolic of the soaring fortunes of Chinese contemporary art.
In 2006 Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the world’s greatest auction homes, bought $190 million price of Asian contemporary artwork,
most of it Chinese, in a sequence of record-breaking auctions in New York, London and Hong Kong. In 2004 the 2 homes mixed sold $22 million in Asian contemporary art.
The climax came at a Beijing public sale in November when a painting by Liu Xiaodong, 43, offered to a Chinese entrepreneur for $2.7 million, the highest value ever paid for a piece by a Chinese language artist who started working after 1979, when loosened economic restrictions spurred a resurgence in contemporary art.
That worth put Mr. Liu in the corporate of the few residing artists, including Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, whose work has sold for $2 million or extra at public sale.
“This has come out of nowhere,” stated Henry Howard-Sneyd, world head of Asian arts at Sotheby’s, which, like Christie’s, has simply began a division specializing in contemporary Chinese artwork.
With public sale prices soaring, hundreds of recent studios, galleries and non-public art museums are opening in huge cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Chinese language auction homes that after specialized in conventional ink paintings are actually putting contemporary experimental artworks on the block.
Western galleries, especially in Europe, are dashing to sign up unknown painters; artists a yr out of college are promoting photographic works for as a lot as $10,000 every; effectively-recognized painters have yearlong ready lists; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Pompidou Middle in Paris are considering opening branches in China.
“What is going on in China is what occurred in Europe at first of the twentieth century,” said Michael Goedhuis, a collector and artwork dealer specializing in Asian contemporary art who has galleries in London and New York. “New ground is being broken. There’s a revolution beneath approach.”
However the auction frenzy has additionally sparked debate here about whether or not gross sales are artificially inflating costs and encouraging speculators, rather than actual collectors, to enter the artwork market.
Public sale houses “sell art like individuals promote cabbage,” mentioned Weng Ling, the director of the Shanghai Gallery of Art. “They are usually not educating the general public or helping artists develop. A lot of them know nothing about artwork.”
However the boom in Chinese contemporary artwork — reinforced by file sales in New York last yr — has also introduced higher recognition to a bunch of experimental artists who grew up throughout China’s brutal Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
After the 1989 authorities crackdown in Tiananmen Sq. avant-garde artwork was often banned from being proven here as a result of it was deemed hostile or anti-authoritarian. Through the nineteen nineties many artists struggled to earn a dwelling, considering themselves fortunate to sell a painting for $500.
That has all changed. As of late China’s leading avant-garde artists have morphed into multi-millionaires who present up at exhibitions sporting Gucci and Ferragamo.
Wang Guangyi, greatest-recognized for his Great Criticism sequence of Cultural Revolution-model paintings emblazoned with the names of standard Western manufacturers, like Coke, Swatch and Gucci, drives a Jaguar and owns a ten,000-square-foot luxurious villa on the outskirts of Beijing.
Yue Minjun, who makes legions of colorful smiling figures, has a walled-off suburban Beijing compound with an eight,000-sq.-foot home and studio. Fang Lijun, a “Cynical Realist” painter whose work captures artists’ put up-Tiananmen disillusionment, owns six eating places in Beijing and operates a small resort in western Yunnan province.
If China’s artwork scene might be likened to a booming inventory market, Zhang Xiaogang, forty eight, is its Google. More than any other Chinese language artist Mr. Zhang, together with his large paintings depicting family pictures taken throughout the Cultural Revolution, has captured the imagination of international collectors. Prices for his work have skyrocketed at public sale over the last two years.
When his work “Bloodline Collection: Comrade No. 120” bought for $979,000 at Sotheby’s public sale in March, many art insiders predicted the market had topped out and costs would plummet inside months.
However in October, the British collector Charles Saatchi purchased another of Mr. Zhang’s items at Christie’s in London for $1.5 million. Then in November at Christie’s Hong Kong auction, Mr. Zhang’s 1993 “Tiananmen ferragamo mens shoes bloomingdales Square” bought to a personal collector for $2.3 million. In response to Artnet.com, which tracks auction prices, sixteen of Mr. Zhang’s works have sold for $500,000 or extra in the course of the previous two years.
Are such prices justified Uli Sigg, the former Swiss ambassador to China and maybe the biggest collector of Chinese contemporary artwork with more than 1,500 pieces, calls the market frothy however not finished.
“I don’t see something in the meanwhile that will cease the rise in prices,” he stated. “More and more people are flocking to the market.”
Mr. Goedhuis insists that that is the start of an excellent larger boom in Chinese contemporary art.
“I don’t suppose there’s a bubble,” he said. “There’s lots of speculation however no bubble. That’s the paradox. In China there are solely a handful of consumers — 10, 20, 30 — out of a billion folks. You only want one other 10 to are available in and that can jack up prices.”
He added: “Another astonishing reality is there is not a single museum within the West that has committed itself to purchasing Chinese language art. It’s just beginning to happen. Guggenheim, the Tate Trendy, MoMA, they’re all looking.”
Representatives from those museums, as well as others, have made scouting missions to China. A rising variety of international collectors are taking a look at Chinese artwork too.
“After the 2005 Sotheby’s show I simply jumped in,” mentioned Didier Hirsch, a French-born California business executive who has lengthy collected American and European contemporary artwork. “People stated the next massive run-up in prices could be at Sotheby’s in March so I stated, ‘Now or by no means.’ ” Mr. Hirsch bought nearly his complete assortment — about 40 works — by telephone after doing research on the internet. He stated he went first for what he called the titans — the original group of submit-’79 painters — including Wang Guangyi and Liu Xiaodong.
Some critics here say the deal with costs has led to a decline in creativity as artists knock off variations of their finest-known work reasonably than exploring new territory. Some are even employing groups of employees in assembly-line vogue.
Christopher Phillips, a curator on the Worldwide Center of Photography in New York, has turn out to be an everyday customer to China, scouting young artists for the middle and other places. On a current trip “I went to go to the studio of a well-known Beijing painter,” Mr. Phillips mentioned. “The artist wasn’t there, but I noticed a group of canvases being painted by a group of younger ladies who seemed to be just in from the countryside. I discovered it a little bit disconcerting.”
There are additionally complaints that some artists are ignoring worldwide requirements by selling works directly into the auction market, reasonably than selling first to collectors. And many experts right here say that some gallery officials and artists are sending representatives to the auctions to bid on their own works to prop up prices, or “protect” the prices of some rising stars.
However Lorenz Helbling, director of the ShanghART Gallery right here, said Chinese language artists continue to supply a formidable array of works, and that speak concerning the market being overrun by commercialism is exaggerated.
“Things are significantly better than they have been 10 years ago,” he Salvatore stated. “Back then many artists have been commissioned to simply paint dozens of paintings for a gallery owner, who went out and sold these works.