(Hi Art Article) Cool Spring Sale, does Chinese contemporary art have any buyers?


(Hi Art Article) Cool Spring Sale, does Chinese contemporary art have any buyers?

From Hi Art by LIU Xia



From 2008, after an explosive growth, Chinese contemporary art and market embarked on a painful transformation of the road: foreign capital left, price lowered, and the value of urgent need to rebuild. During 2017 spring sale, Chinese contemporary art market seems to return to an unknown groping period: the international auction houses in Hong Kong market has been further away on the road of de-Sinofication; the mainland auction continues struggling and fighting in a sluggish market; Ullens collection is sold on the auction; buyers tend to be oligarchic; price of some popular artists’ artworks plummeted. A lot of people doubted: Chinese contemporary art was abandoned by the market? No buyers? Chinese contemporary art market is going to collapse! After interviewing a number of senior market experts, author decided to discuss these three issues in detail.

Did Chinese contemporary art be abandoned?

On this question, we must first clear, who abandoned it?


If we looking back spring sale, the ‘who’ seems to be two: Mr.&Mrs. Ullens and international auction companies such as Christie’s.


It is the biggest topic that Mr.&Mrs.Ullens sell their collection. Apart from criticism by moral guards, I’d like to discuss the meaning for Chinese contemporary art market with Ullens collection showing on auction.


Beijing Poly's 2017 Spring Sale, auction site view of "The Ullens Collection of Contemporary Art"


Many people think that, as the biggest institution for Chinese contemporary art academy and promotion, Ullens in this way to end its mission in China is a huge blow to market confidence. However, there are also many people considered that we had a blind faith in Ullens during the past years. Ullens started contemporary art market when they began to purchase artworks of Chinese contemporary art while their selling after many years is also kind of personal and normal collection resale, which cannot represent market trend. From the results we can know that important artworks in Ullens Collection have been sold successfully.


 LIU Wei, Untitled, 300×200cm×3, oil on canvas, 2015

Sold for 4.6 million RMB, Beijing Poly’s 2017 Spring Sale “The Ullens Collection of Contemporary Art”

QIU Xiaofei, Recurring, various sizes, oil on canvas, wood, metal, 2012

Sold for 2.53 million RMB, Beijing Poly’s 2017 Spring Sale “The Ullens Collection of Contemporary Art”


WANG Bing, a collector who bid 8 pieces artworks and installations in the auction, said “Ullens time has come to an end, now it is our turn to make standard and collect Chinese contemporary artworks. Ten years before, price of Chinese modern art came down because of the lack of academic standard and acknowledge of our own. Ten years later, the rise of China has attracted worldwide attention. Chinese contemporary art is on the stage of re-arrangement and reconstruction. Time is a forever friend; tomorrow will be better with patience and persistence.” We see the sense of belongings and responsibility for Chinese contemporary art value. In case of that, it is an opportunity to Chinese collectors to regain confidence for Chinese contemporary art.


 WANG Yuyang, Artificial Moon, energy saving bulbs, metal frame structure, 2007

On Beijing Poly’s 2017 Spring Sale “The Ullens Collection of Contemporary Art”, Sold for 2.07 million (three times higher than its starting price) after a few rounds of intense bidding.


The second ones to give up Chinese contemporary art are international auction houses in Hong Kong. From “pan-Asian” strategy to the introduction of western artworks, we cannot ignore that international arts market diverse a lot of Chinese buyers and capital focused on Chinese contemporary arts market but more people think that "de-Sinofication" is just one of strategies of the Hong Kong international auctions in the last few years. From the results of 2017spring sale, we can know that Chinese collectors are not blindly following or fully accepting the second-class western artworks. Even if internationalization is menacing, ZENG Fanzhi's mask series 1996 No.6 still became the most expensive ‘mask’ with price of 105 million Hong Kong dollars."


 ZENG Fanzhi, Mask series 1996 No.6, 199×358.6cm, oil on canvas, 1996

Sold for 105,020,000 HKD, Hong Kong Poly’s 2017 Spring Sale


It seems that the objective of the "abandoned" is not entirely the dominant force in the market, how subjective "accept", treat and adjust, is the final outcome.


Is there no buyer for Chinese contemporary art?

In mainland China auction market, not only Chinese 20 century and contemporary Evening Sale of China Guardian but also Poly Ullens Collection, the performance of the Beijing Spring sale is NOT LIVELY!


However, “not lively” doesn’t mean “no purchase intention”.


WU Guanzhong, Red Lotus, 54×73cm, oil on canvas, 1974

Sold for 32,775,000 RMB, Beijing Poly’s 2017 Spring Sale, Modern and Contemporary Arts Evening Sale


WU Dayu, Untitled 119, 54.6×39.5cm, oil on canvas,1980

Sold for 6,670,000 RMB, Beijing Poly’s 2017 Spring Sale, Modern and Contemporary Arts Evening Sale


From results of three Beijing auction companies spring sale, it can be known that there are 37 pieces sold (Ullens Collection not included) in Poly Modern and Contemporary Arts Evening Sale with robust sell-through rates of 79% by lot. WU Guanzhong artworks sold over the high estimate and his Longxu Island sold three times higher than its trigger price. Meanwhile old bosses, such as ZHANG Xiaogang, FANG Lijun and ZHOU Chunya, stay solid performance. Wang Yin, Duan Jianyu etc. of New Paintings are sold over high estimates. In addition, there are only 2 failed in Ullens Collection, while other 34 artworks are sold out. The rest of Ullens’ is private sale, of which 2 sculptures are sold in the auction. Untitled painted by Liu Wei sold 4.6 million while it’s the cover of Ullens Collection catalog. Another attractive installation made by WANG Yuyang - Artificial Moon is bought by an overseas collector of 2.07 million higher than its estimate, breaking his record. Five artist’s records were broken in our sales, including for works by ZHAO Zhao, YAN Lei, MadeIn, XU Qu and HU Xiaoyuan. China Guardian “China 20 Century and Contemporary Evening Sale” posted sold percentages of 85% by lot.


It is a quite solid result but why we say there is no enough buyers. After the last Contemporary Arts Evening Sale in China Guardian, WANG Conghui, a senior arts consultant, writes “modern and contemporary arts market is adjusting continually, lack of attendance of personal collectors and market is entering a competitive mode of new & old oligarchy of museums.” Plenty of high price works are bought by galleries and institutions making a market performance of oligarchy.


Let’s analyze market performance of oligarchy.


 LIU Tainai (Senior Collector


Collector LIU Tainai considers that it is a reflection of the increasing number of “serious collectors”. Many people agree with his opinion. LI Dajun comments, “Participation of oligarchs gives an objective influence to the market. It is an increasingly common phenomenon for enterprises or galleries & museums supported by enterprises to buy artworks, which is what Chinese arts market urgent need. ”


 WU Jin Senior Artworks Broker


Meanwhile we have a different view from WU Jin (a senior artworks broker). He illustrates, “Although museum-level collectors dominating the market have become the characteristics of this year, many works were bought by collectors we do not know. Those unknown collectors still cannot lead arts market from the view of wider environment. I think contemporary arts market tends to be retail. Oligarchs are not strong when compared to past years. ” He said that it’s a good opportunity to enter market for retail investors.

In the meanwhile, he also points out another pain point of market: “For the auction, it may be a more embarrassing period. It takes time to establish new standards.”


Does Chinese contemporary arts crash?

Oligarchy of collectors is good news for market, however, the attendance decreased at the same time. It is also an indisputable fact that artworks of “old bosses” facing problems of increasing abortion and price down.


 CHANG Tianhu, General manager of Poly modern and contemporary art

CHANG Tianhu, general manager of Poly modern and contemporary art, said, “It is no market demand that panic us not the fluctuation of price. In the past time, needs are real, and present, too. I am pleased that the market is always in demand. ” Demand is the key to market.


And for the Chinese contemporary art market demand, everyone can feel it from the crowded in major art museums, popular art fairs, and even the western artworks of international auction houses came in flocks to Chinese art market. The senior arts brokers HUA Yuzhou also said in an interview, “The number of new collectors doesn’t match the speed of economy development and proportion of the rich in China.”


 MAO Yan, Portrait of X, 200×100cm, oil on canvas, 1996

Sold for 10,120,000 RMB (estimate: 8 - 12 million, Top 3 in Modern and Contemporary Arts Evening Sale, TANG Ju won it)


 DUAN Jianyu, Monkey, Legs, Red Curtains, 120×250cm, oil on canvas,2007

Sold for 920,000 RMB (estimate: 380,000 - 480,000 RMB; on 2017 Hong Kong Poly’s Spring Sale failed to auction of estimate 1.6 - 2.6 million HKD)


There are buyers and demand. So what is the problem of market?

Auction mood and market confidence were mentioned by all people.


 ZHU Tong contemporary art curator


After experiencing the peak of 2006 and the bubble of 2008, market also recognized serious harm of funds operation. To rebuild confidence, we need more value systems and support of academic combing.


It is a common consensus that to establish a new value system of contemporary art, it needs to return to the primary market and tamp its basis. Auction, as a secondary market, oriented arts market with auction openness and quantitative data.


 XU Beihong, Self-portrait, sketch on paper, 1940

Sold for 1,667,500 RMB, Beijing Poly’s 2017 Spring Sale


We can see good news from this kind of adjustment. For example, 31 pieces of Xu Beihong sketch paintings were sold out in Poly Spring Sale with 7.97 million in total sale, gaining white gloves. Some of new painting artists promoted by Poly three years before started to be backbone force in the auction.


For collectors, through market experiencing, they become mature and no longer rely on ears. After Ullens Collection selling, supported by collectors WANG Bing, QIAO Zhibing etc., the right to formulate standards of Chinese contemporary art market turns to China. If the sense of belongings and responsibility of Chinese contemporary arts can become an industrial consensus, Chinese contemporary arts will sure retrieve its respect and future hope.

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