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NYU Shanghai: January 2018

SHANGHAI, Jan. 3 — 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 new Heights, a jazzy restaurant in this city’s most luxurious location, overlooking the Bund.

Wang Guangyi, certainly one of China’s pioneering contemporary artists, was there. So had been Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi and 20 different nicely-known Chinese language artists and their guests, a lot of whom had been flown in from Beijing to have fun the opening of a solo exhibition of latest works by Zeng Hao, one other rising star in China’s bubbly art scene.

“We’ve had opening dinners before,” said the Shanghai artist Zhou Tiehai, sipping Chilean purple wine, “but nothing quite like this till very just lately.”

The dinner, held on a current Saturday night in a restaurant positioned on the highest flooring 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 artwork.

In 2006 Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the world’s largest public sale houses, offered $190 million price of Asian contemporary artwork,

most of it Chinese, in a series of document-breaking auctions in New York, London and Hong Kong. In 2004 the two houses mixed bought $22 million in Asian contemporary art.

The climax came at a Beijing public sale in November when a painting by Liu Xiaodong, forty three, sold to a Chinese entrepreneur for $2.7 million, the best value ever paid for a piece by a Chinese language artist who began working after 1979, when loosened financial restrictions spurred a resurgence in contemporary artwork.

That price put Mr. Liu in the corporate of the few living artists, together with Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, whose work has sold for $2 million or more at auction.

“This has come out of nowhere,” mentioned Henry Howard-Sneyd, world head of Asian arts at Sotheby’s, which, like Christie’s, has just started a division focusing on contemporary Chinese language artwork.

With auction costs soaring, lots of of new studios, galleries and private artwork museums are opening in huge cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Chinese public sale homes that once specialized in traditional ink paintings at the moment are placing contemporary experimental artworks on the block.

Western galleries, particularly in Europe, are dashing to sign up unknown painters; artists a 12 months out of school are selling photographic works for as a lot as $10,000 each; well-identified painters have yearlong ready lists; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Pompidou Middle in Paris are contemplating opening branches in China.

“What is happening in China is what happened in Europe at first of the twentieth century,” mentioned Michael Goedhuis, a collector and art seller specializing in Asian contemporary art who has galleries in London and New York. “New ground is being damaged. There’s a revolution beneath method.”

But the public sale frenzy has additionally sparked debate right here about whether or not sales are artificially inflating costs and encouraging speculators, slightly than real collectors, to enter the art market.

Auction houses “sell artwork like people sell cabbage,” said Weng Ling, the director of the Shanghai Gallery of Art. “They will not be educating the public or helping artists develop. Many of them know nothing about artwork.”

But the boom in Chinese language contemporary art — strengthened by file gross sales in New York final year — has additionally introduced better recognition to a gaggle of experimental artists who grew up throughout China’s brutal Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

After the 1989 authorities crackdown in Tiananmen Square, avant-garde art was often banned from being shown right here because it was deemed hostile or anti-authoritarian. Through the 1990s many artists struggled to earn a living, contemplating themselves lucky to sell a painting for $500.

That has all changed. These days China’s leading avant-garde artists have morphed into multi-millionaires who show up at exhibitions carrying Gucci and Ferragamo.

Wang Guangyi, greatest-known for his Nice Criticism collection of Cultural Revolution-type paintings emblazoned with the names of widespread Western brands, like Coke, Swatch and Gucci, drives a Jaguar and owns a 10,000-sq.-foot luxury villa on the outskirts of Beijing.

Yue Minjun, who makes legions of colorful smiling figures, has a walled-off suburban Beijing compound with an 8,000-square-foot home and studio. Fang Lijun, a “Cynical Realist” painter whose work captures artists’ publish-Tiananmen disillusionment, owns six restaurants in Beijing and operates a small hotel in western Yunnan province.

If China’s art scene could be likened to a booming inventory market, Zhang Xiaogang, forty eight, is its Google. More than every other Chinese artist Mr. Zhang, together with his enormous paintings depicting family pictures taken through the Cultural Revolution, has captured the imagination of worldwide collectors. Costs for his work have skyrocketed at auction over the last two years.

When his work “Bloodline Series: Comrade No. 120” sold for $979,000 at Sotheby’s auction in March, many art insiders predicted the market had topped out and prices would plummet within months.

But in October, the British collector Charles Saatchi bought one other of Mr. Zhang’s items at Christie’s in London for $1.5 million. Then in November at Christie’s Hong Kong public sale, Mr. Zhang’s 1993 “Tiananmen Square” sold to a personal collector for $2.3 million. In response to, which tracks public sale prices, sixteen of Mr. Zhang’s works have offered for $500,000 or more throughout the past two years.

Are such costs justified Uli Sigg, the former Swiss ambassador to China and maybe the biggest collector of Chinese language contemporary artwork with greater than 1,500 pieces, calls the market frothy however not finished.

“I don’t see something in the mean time that will cease the rise in prices,” he stated. “More and extra people are salvatore ferragamo bags bloomingdales flocking to the market.”

Mr. Goedhuis insists that this is the start of an even greater increase in Chinese language contemporary art.
“I don’t suppose there’s a bubble,” he mentioned. “There’s lots of speculation however no bubble. That’s the paradox. In China there are solely a handful of buyers — 10, 20, 30 — out of a billion folks. You only want another 10 to are available and that can jack up prices.”

He added: “Another astonishing reality is there shouldn’t be a single museum in the West that has committed itself to buying Chinese language artwork. It’s just beginning to happen. Guggenheim, the Tate Fashionable, MoMA, they’re all looking.”

Representatives from those museums, in addition to 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 just jumped in,” said Didier Hirsch, a French-born California business govt who has long collected American and European contemporary artwork. “People said the next big run-up in costs would be at Sotheby’s in March so I mentioned, ‘Now or never.’ ” Mr. Hirsch bought nearly his total collection — about forty works — by cellphone after doing analysis on the web. He said he went first for what he called the titans — the original group of post-’79 painters — together with Wang Guangyi and Liu Xiaodong.

Some critics here say the concentrate on prices has led to a decline in creativity as artists knock off variations of their best-recognized work quite than exploring new territory. Some are even using teams of staff in meeting-line fashion.

Christopher Phillips, a curator at the International Middle of Photography in New York, has turn into a daily customer to China, scouting younger artists for the middle and different places. On a latest journey “I went to visit the studio of a well-known Beijing painter,” Mr. Phillips stated. “The artist wasn’t there, but I noticed a bunch of canvases being painted by a staff of young ladies who appeared to be simply in from the countryside. I found it slightly disconcerting.”

There are additionally complaints that some artists are ignoring worldwide requirements by promoting works immediately into the public sale market, fairly than promoting first to collectors. And many specialists here say that some gallery officials and artists are sending representatives to the auctions to bid on their very own works to prop up prices, or “protect” the prices of some rising stars.

However Lorenz Helbling, director of the ShanghART Gallery right here, mentioned Chinese artists proceed to provide an impressive array of works, and that talk concerning the market being overrun by commercialism is exaggerated.

“Things are much better than they were 10 years in the past,” he Salvatore said. “Back then many artists had been commissioned to easily paint dozens of paintings for a gallery proprietor, who went out and bought these works.

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