On Dec 6th, 2011 autumn sales, an imperial seal “TAI SHANG HUANG DI” was hammered at RMB 161 million, refreshing world record of both imperial seal and jades. Another seal dated Dao Guang (1831) was sold at RMB 90.85 million [14.3m]. An couple of imperial jade seals also were sold at 43.125 million [$6.8m.]
Agence France Presse reports the record $65m sale of a Qi Baishi painting over the weekend at China Guardian in Beijing:
Sunday’s sale marked the second-highest amount ever paid for an artwork at auction in China, after the 436.8 million yuan paid in 2009 for a work by Song dynasty calligrapher Huang Tingjian, who lived during the 11th century.
Qi, who died in 1957, was one of the most prolific Chinese artists of the 20th century, and his works have recently become sought after.
It’s hard to make out what this announcement out of China really means. But many in the West have been calling for the art market to have some sort of regulation. By that, they usually mean they’re wary of the price of art. The Chinese government, however, seems to be taking some sort of steps toward policing the market with the establishment of the Beijing Imperial City Art Trading Center:
Lü Lixin, director of the Art Evaluation Committee with the Ministry of Culture, was appointed as director of the center, with all members of the 200-plus committee first-class experts enrolled in evaluating works for collectors. [...] With years of work experience in the art market as a professor and an official, Lü said that art sales in China have been booming in recent years, but still face the problem of disorder. “It will eventually harm the market if there are too many imitations circling as genuine works,” he said. [...]
The trading center will also incorporate various functions, such as auction houses, galleries and museums. With plans for masterpieces to be regularly on display, art lovers will be able to browse or buy at the center. Currently an exhibition of art master Li Kuchan is being held, with 60 rare pieces on show, some of which have never publicly been shown before. [Read more...]
China’s Xinhua News Agency spoke to Christie’s Pola Antebi who says that there’s a new flow of Chinese buyers coming from second-tier cities to compete with buyers from Beijing and Shanghai. These new buyers are pushing prices for classical works:
A recent report by the Beijing-based Artron Art Market Monitoring Center (AAMI) shows that Chinese painting and calligraphy accounted for nearly 59 percent of the Top 100 Auction Sales of Chinese Fine Art at last year’s domestic autumn auctions; and the classical painting category occupied about 49 percent of the market share other than contemporary art, ceramics and other works of art.
In a related story on the lopsided strength of Beijing’s auction houses versus Shanghai’s we get a better sense of what might be driving the market for classical Chinese works. There was a similar dynamic at work in Japan 25 years ago when they had a boom in Impressionist paintings:
“Chinese paintings and calligraphy are very popular, as many people use them as gifts in exchange for benefit. Although the purpose is clear, one cannot do this by giving piles of cash. This would be vulgar and offensive,” he explains. [Read more...]
The Financial Times looks at the quiet force driving the market for Chinese Works of Art:
Poly Culture is a curious beast. Its stated aim – beating swords into ploughshares – is laudable and straightforward. A loosely controlled army of agents trawl global galleries and auction houses hunting for specific cultural items. Three thousand-year-old bronzes are highly sought after, as are stone Buddhist sculptures from the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries AD – a high point in Chinese civilisation.
Early Buddhist stone sculptures are equally prized as an umbilical cord to ancient Chinese history and culture. Many are inscribed with the date they were commissioned or carved for a named temple, and can be identified fairly easily. British and French collectors photographed the relics in situ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That makes those relics surviving colonial appropriation and the violence of the Cultural Revolution easier to identify in their original locations. [Read more...]
Georgina Adam mentions a new Chinese art fund in her weekly Financial Times column:
Beijing’s Minsheng Bank, the nation’s first privately owned bank, has just launched its “No 2 Product, Works of Art Investment Scheme”, which was fully subscribed in a week. The fund will purchase a wide range of art, from ancient to contemporary. The success of the No 2 fund is no doubt due to the performance of China’s first art fund, launched by Minsheng in 2007, and which, according to the bank, produced returns of up to 25 per cent.
Nevertheless, the art data site Artprice.com reports that prices for Chinese contemporary art have nosedived in the last year. [Read more...]
Poly International had a very strong sale of Chinese classical art, including the top price paid for a classical work of nearly $25m above an estimate of $3m. The entire auction cycle just competed in Beijing brought in about $232m in sales. The lead lot and another calligraphy work were consigned by Guy and Myriam Ullens, important European collectors of Chinese art. But the auction house couldn’t resist a little jingoism in the general manager of Poly International Li Da’s comments to Reuters:
“Only the Chinese can truly appreciate the spirit, the philosophy and historical importance of such classical Chinese paintings,” said Li.
“I feel classic Chinese art is still undervalued compared with the prices paid for Western Impressionist and contemporary paintings by artists like Picasso or Renoir,” she added. [...] “The (classical) Chinese art market has now reached the 100 million yuan level, and given China’s economic strength I find this to be a natural development.” [Read more...]
Aric Chen files this report on the New York Times’s travel blog about the lack of love for Beijing’s once-hot 798 art district:
In just a few short years, Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, a vast, former factory complex turned scrappy artists’ haven in the Dashanzi Art District, went from being the epicenter of China’s contemporary art world to a tourist destination that everyone loves to hate. The curmudgeons have a point: map-toting crowds and corporate-sponsored events share space with enough bad art to outfit the walls of a Marriott. [Read more...]
China Daily goes over Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale results and proclaims a “warm breeze began to blow:”
“A lot of people were bidding like crazy. It goes against all recent trends,” said Hugh Moss, a veteran collector and dealer of Chinese art and ceramics who bid on, but failed to buy, three paintings. [ . . . ] In the more established fine Chinese paintings category, 89 percent of the lots sold on Sunday. Fu Baoshi’s “Drunken Monk” ink brush painting fetched $801,000, about twice the pre-sale estimate. Total sales were $16.6 million, well above expectations.
“It is a very encouraging sign for the market that quality works are highly sought after, with almost three-quarters of the lots sold going for more than the pre-sale estimate,” said C.K. Cheung, head of Chinese paintings for Sotheby’s. Most active collectors appear to be from Chinese mainland and Europe, analysts say. But Americans are starting to express interest again. [Read more...]
Forbes.com claims that the Chinese Contemporary Art market was a warning sign for the conduct of the entire Chinese investment economy.
In the contemporary art market, as Forbes detailed a year ago, China’s pay-for-play culture was a perfect match for the self-dealing ethos of the art world. Top Chinese artists were mass-producing paintings in almost assembly-line fashion, selling them directly out of their studios in unknown quantities for up to hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. Auction houses were working with lesser-known artists, galleries and dealers to bid up their works and set a good public price for private sales.
Artists routinely paid critics for praise and museums for exhibitions to build up their brands. Want to get prime show space at a top national museum? Artistic merit is nice, but money talks. Want the cover of an art magazine, or a lengthy article inside? That is all for sale–and still is, but presumably at a deep discount now.
The game is up, but for those who got in early enough and got out, the money’s been made. “That whole Chinese collector cartel, it was kind of like a big Ponzi scheme,” says Philip Tinari, an art critic and curator in Beijing. People kept recruiting new buyers to pour more money into the market, driving up prices. “It was quite clear what it was.”
Chinese Art: Tricks of the Trade (Forbes.com)