Contemporary Chinese Artist Assures Place Among Top Contemporary Artists, Selling For $685,694
Tentative signs of optimism are starting to show in the contemporary art world, which has not been spared by the economic downturn. Although recent auctions of Chinese and other Asian art have indicated that this region’s contemporary art remains popular among local collectors — who snapped up artwork at recent Ravenel auctions and festivals like HK09 — many predominantly Western art auctions have recently been met by restrained bidding. At last week’s Phillips de Pury & Company Contemporary Art auction in London, however, sometimes frenzied bidding has allowed major auction houses to breathe a slight sigh of relief. 30 of the auction’s 39 pieces sold, bringing in $8,451,540, just shy of the target of 8,692,240. Compared to some other recent sales, this is a huge success, and indicates that buyers are finally getting back into the game as prices have adjusted somewhat and created excellent buying opportunities.
Among the pieces by Koons, Warhol, Ruscha and others, one piece in particular surprised some observers — “Untitled” (2005) by contemporary Chinese artist Yue Minjun. The painting by Yue, who has become one of the world’s top 10-selling contemporary artists over the course of the last 10 years, brought in $196,959 more than its highest estimate, proving that even in tough economic times, historical artists and good quality art will always attract bidders. As Artinfo writes on the sale:
As the stiff competition for the Grotjahn indicated, there are buyers searching for excellent and fairly priced material. Though this didn’t exactly result in a bidding-war atmosphere, competition at times was fierce, as indicated by (surprise!) Yue Minjun’s large-scale, untitled 2005 composition of his signature smiling men flanked by a flock of birds in formation, which sold to a telephone bidder for £421,250 (est. £250–300,000).
Buttonholed moments after the sale, the underbidder, Swiss collector Ricardo Rossi, who says he owns a half-dozen “important” Yues, noted, “This was a nice one, but it was a bit too expensive. I didn’t expect it to go that high.”
The success of Yue Minjun at this London sale illustrates, to me at least, that contemporary Chinese art is holding its own as a global art form. With Yue holding steady in the ranks of top world artists for several years now, alongside other Chinese artists like Zhang and Zeng Fanzhi, more historical collectors are likely going to start looking into Chinese pieces. But with new and existing domestic Chinese collectors looking to buy new pieces, they’re going to be in for some stiff competition in coming years. What seems to be happening is that the dynamism of the Chinese art world has continued to reflect the dynamism of the country’s economy, which is to say that it is growing quickly yet is still not as well understood as western forms — all the while, contemporary Chinese art is growing in strength globally and attracting more passionate bidding than western art in recent auctions. Although some auction houses seem guarded in their optimism, I think it will be a pretty good season for art — especially Chinese art.