Chinese Contemporary Art Market – Cultural revelation



Speculation is showing no signs of slowing and auction sales are ever stronger, and prices ever higher. The price appreciation has been staggering for the generation of young Chinese artists and the number of investors continues to grow. It often takes only a few years for a Chinese artist to see a tenfold price increase, as with ZHANG Xiaogang or CAI Guoqiang to cite just a couple of examples. Symbolic of the price increases: the ten most successful auctions of contemporary Chinese art have been recorded over the past twelve months. In the end, in 2006, 31.3% of the Chinese contemporary artworks sold at auction achieved more than $100,000. Given such price levels, the proceeds on Chinese contemporary art sales increased by a factor of ten in 2006.

The most successful sales took place in New York or China. The major auction houses have established offices there to be closer to supply and demand. To date, LIU Xiaodong is achieving the highest valuations of the Chinese contemporary artists. His work was offered at auction for the first time in 1991 in Hong Kong. Back then, Christie’s-Swire brought the hammer down at 7,851 euros. Last November, his work New Displaced Population was sold for 20,000,000 CNY (1,982,600 euros) by Poly International Auction Co, Ltd in Beijing. CHEN Yifei was also introduced at auction in 1991 with Lingering Melodies from the Xunyang River already selling for 150,925 euros at Christie’s-Swire. On 27 June 2006, the Shangai Hosane auction house achieved 11,000,000 CNY (1,097,470 euros) for Warm Spring in the Jade Pavillon.

Attracted by the amazing results being achieved by the New York or Chinese auction houses, numerous European auctioneers have recently been organising sales dedicated to Chinese contemporary art. The prices reached are not yet up with the leaders in the market; the opportunity to open this market to a wider public.

In France, Artcurial now dedicates whole catalogues to this sector. No less than 109 lots will be up for sale on 5 June. Once again ZHANG Xiaogang has top billing. Two small canvases measuring 40×30 cm, created in 1999, are estimated at between 150,000 and 200,000 euros apiece. ZAO Wou-Ki will see one of his 1998 canvases offered for sale at an estimate of between 170,000 and 200,000 euros. His price index shows an increase of +406 over the last decade. For less than 10,000 euros the choice is wide: not less than 59 works offered for sale at under this estimate, including pieces by AN Hong, LIU Fengzhi, RU Xiaofan, MAO Lizi, TANG Haiwen, HUANG Yan or MA Desheng. Worthy of mention: an untitled, 100cmx100cm oil on canvas by LI Shuang, with an estimate of 5,000 to 7,000 euros. The artist made his auction debut in 1996 in Beijing with China Guardian. At that time, he achieved 22,000 CNY (2,300 euros) for an oil on canvas with collage, measuring 150x100cm. In 2005, he saw his work sold for 230,000 HKD (24,863 euros) by Sotheby’s Hong Kong followed by 350,000 CNY (34,738 euros) in 2006 in Beijing by China Guardian.

Switzerland will also see its own auction dedicated to contemporary Chinese art with the Galerie Koller sale in Zurich on 23 June 2007. Snowy Landscape by Lake Geneva, a 1967 canvas by CHU Teh-Chun measuring 160x129cm and estimated at 300,000 to 400,000 CHF (188,000 – 251,000 euros) is worth noting. The prices being achieved by the artist have increased by +390 over the past decade. Also YUE Minjun whose 40x40cm oil on canvas, Corner, has an estimate of 115,000 to 140,000 CHF (72,320 – 88,000 euros). Amongst the artists whose works have estimates at under 10,000 euros, we would mention WANG Guangyi, YUE Minjun, ZHOU Tiehai, WU Guanzhong and HOU Bo.