December 12, 2011

Cautious Optimism at Chinese Art Auctions - by Nicholas Forrest

Although the latest round of auctions of Chinese artsuggest that the rate of growth of the Chinese art market appears to have slowed somewhat, the results are far from disappointing.  In fact, the sheer volume of works being sold combined with the prices being paid for many of the most desirable works appearing at auction in China is difficult to fathom.  While most of what we know about the market for Chinese art comes from Western sources, the true state of the Chinese art market can really only be determined by looking beyond the results of Western auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s, to the results of Chinese auction houses such as China Guardian auctions and Beijing Poly International auctions.
When delving into the depths of the epic auctions held by China Guardian and Beijing Poly International it becomes apparent that the Chinese art market is very much still dominated by works produced using traditional techniques and displaying a classical aesthetic.  Traditional style ink on paper paintings clearly influenced by Chinese calligraphy occupy so many of the top prices paid atauction in China that one could be forgiven for thinking that Chinese buyers aren’t buying anything else.  Although the 2011 Autumn auctions held by China Guardian and Beijing Poly yielded some truly remarkable results that seem to create a positive picture of the Chinese art market, the market’s reliance on such a narrow niche is cause for concern.
The highlight of the 2011 Chinese Autumn auction season was the sale of Xu Beihong’s ‘Cultivation on the Peaceful Land’ which was sold by Beijing Poly International for a record RMB 266,800,000(42,108,586.09 USD).  Coming in a close second was Fu Baoshi’s masterpiece ‘Chairman Mao’s poetry octavo volumes’ as sold by Beijing Hanhai auctions for an artist auction record of  RMB 200,000,000 million (31,565,656.74 USD). Shengjia auction sold “Chairman Mao’s poetry octavo volumes” in 2003 for 19,800,000 – a record at the time for Baoshi’s work.   The third highest price went to an album of landscape paintings by the master Qi Baishi which fetched RMB 194,000,000 (30,618,687.03 USD) at China Guardian’s “Grand View: Chinese Paintings Highlight” held on the 13th of November.  Previously sold by China Guardian for RMB 5.17 million in 1994, Baishi’s landscape album is an good example of how rapidly the market for Chinese art has developed. Also breaking the RMB 100 million mark was Wang Hui’s “Chinese poetic figure” which was also sold by China Guardian for RMB 126,500,000 (19,965,277.89 USD).
One of the most notable diversions from the traditional ink on paper paintings was the sale of San Yu’s CHRYSANTHEMUM oil on board for RMB 34,500,000 ( 5,445,075.78 USD).  The Chinese born, Paris trained artist’s CHRYSANTHEMUM resembles the work of European abstractionists more than the work of any traditional Chinese artist, but still exhibits elements reminiscent of the traditional Chinese aesthetic.  The auction record for a work by Yu is USD 14,726,564.
1. ‘Chairman Mao’s poetry octavo volumes’ by Fu Baoshi
2. ‘Cultivation on the Peaceful Land’ by Xu Beihong
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiquesand Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications. LINK

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