Developments in the Chinese Art World

Recent Acquisitions by Museums and More Interest From Local Collectors Running in Parallel

Wang Qingsong - Can I Cooperate With You?, 2000

Wang Qingsong - Can I Cooperate With You?, 2000

While some art critics only see doom and gloom ahead for art markets around the world, it looks like there are pockets of good news for a handful of contemporary artists and art buffs.

Sichuan Province’s Chongqing News recently did a story on the Chinese art market , through the lens of how the global economic slowdown has brought down the price of nearly everything in China, from real estate to automobiles, and how this dive in prices has extended even to the realm of contemporary works of art. At this moment, the consensus seems to be: If you have the money, you might as well buy as much of this stuff as you can now, since

prices are going down (though [not as much] for the big names), and it could be a good time to invest.

The article mentions a quote from Sotheby’s, which takes a long-term view of investing in Chinese art (it makes no mention of investing in Chinese real estate or other equities):

“Unlike the former overheating phenomena, China’s contemporary art market is undergoing an adjustment phase and becoming more rational,” says Wang Jie, chief representative in Shanghai for Sotheby’s. “The economic downturn does have some effect on the market. However, an artwork’s price mainly depends on its own quality.”

Quality seems to be the lynchpin here. While works by major Chinese artists like Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, and others may not see significant drops in prices, there will be some “adjustment” across the spectrum, so for potential buyers who may find that Chinese art is starting to fall into their price range, the question becomes: Who is good, and whose work will appreciate in value?

As with all art, questions about who — aside from the “big names” — is “good” are pretty subjective, but a good place to look for relatively big name artists whose work should appreciate in time roughly in line with inflation and be less vulnerable to the big “bubble” ups-and-downs like we’ve seen recently is the artists who are being acquired by major museums. Since galleries tend to be among the first to “discover” artists and get the marketing machine going — often regardless of the inherent quality of the artist or artwork — if we look to institutions and who they’re buying, we can assume that these artists will have both legitimacy in the art world and career or artwork longevity.

This week, Art Daily reported that the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles just acquired nine works by contemporary Chinese photographers Hai Bo and Wang Qingsong for the museum’s permanent collection:

“The acquisition of these works affirms an important new direction for the Getty,” says noted photography dealer and collector Daniel Wolf, who helped establish the museum’s collection in the 1980s. “It reflects an interest in expanding the collection in this category. The Getty is a global institution, and this collecting strategy will help broaden the international scope of its contemporary holdings.”

The Getty’s purchase follows New York MOMA’s acquisition last November of 28 Chinese contemporary works. Art-world-wise, the movement by MOMA and the Getty could be an indication that major museums are starting to take Chinese art more seriously. Though the jury is still out whether the Chinese art market’s rapid rise was due more to quality or hype, developing stories like the Getty’s acquisition are definitely something to keep an eye on now that the price of good art has come “down to earth”…for the moment.

Lucky art buffs in Hong Kong will get their chance to get their piece of the pie this weekend, at Sotheby’s upcoming sale. While the stars of the show are undoubtedly the big names, there will definitely be some bargains to be had, although competition from local Chinese buyers is expected to be stiff, as recent events have shown that buyers from mainland and Greater China are looking to keep more Chinese art inside China. This promises to be an exciting sale, as Bloomberg writes:

The top lots in the Chinese contemporary-art category are Yue Minjun’s “Hat Series – Armed Forces” and Zhang Xiaogang’s “Untitled,” both of which may fetch as much as HK$5.5 million each

Keep an eye out for our Monday post on the outcome of this sale. Although, if you’re one of the attendees, maybe you can leave us a comment about what you managed to get at the auction, just to make us jealous.

Hai Bo - Lifetime, 2000

Hai Bo - Lifetime, 2000

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5 responses to “Developments in the Chinese Art World

  1. Just discovered this blog…I am a collector, and we know the chinese contemporary art is an important genre…but how do you suggest we demonstrate the value…in this market

    • chinaluxculturebiz

      It’s tough to say, since it’s not an exact science, but I’ve been keeping an eye on it for a while and it seems like the pricing of China and its assets, and the pricing of contemporary art in China runs pretty much parallel .except many of the china asset classes had a head start in the 90’s.

      China was priced low for many years in terms of all types of assets and they quickly caught up to comparative global values. Now it looks like Chinese art as well has started to catch up, although it is still comparatively low for their top historical artists. Top artists of major countries should be at a premium, with China being no exception.

      the Chinese collector base is just now starting to grow, with a lot a lot of potential ahead

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