Chinese revolution across the Art World
Posted By aidan on April 11, 2011
Dong Li’s striking work at the Oxford Gallery
A hugely ambitious programme of modernisation and economic development has succeeded the dark years of Mao’s cultural revolution. This has created a Chinese economic boom that is changing the dynamics of the international art market at an astonishingly fast pace. Rising levels of personal wealth have given birth to the Chinese collector: although a new phenomenon for the auction world, it has quickly become one of the most significant forces to date. Chinese collectors are intent on accumulating work by modern masters and contemporary superstars well known to the West, which has enabled new opportunities for these markets to expand. In addition, eager to own a piece of their history, they are now beginning to compete with western collectors for the purchase of Chinese contemporary art – an area which is currently proving tremendously buoyant.
During the reign of Mao Zedong, the function of Chinese art was to serve society. It embraced the collective mindset and was largely used as a propaganda tool by the political elite. In the wake of Mao’s death, art began to be utilised more widely, providing a vehicle through which individuals sought to critique the government and society. It gave rise to a movement of Chinese avant garde art which is now highly sought after by collectors in both the East and the West. This interest was clearly evident at a recent sale held by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong where one of the most important collections of contemporary Chinese art went up for auction. ‘The Ullens Collection: The Nascence of Avant Garde China’ had been accumulated by the Belgian baron Guy Ullens since the mid 1980s. He opened a museum in Beijing in November 2007 in order to showcase the work but his desire to support new and emerging artists offered the motivation behind the sale of this collection. The work produced by artists such as Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun are a form of visual commentary which track the progression of recent Chinese history and the responses of the people who directly experienced it. It was a sell out auction with all 106 pieces purchased within or above their estimated values. The collection generated £34 million in sales, far surpassing its pre-sale estimate of £12 – 16 million. The 3 panel oil painting ‘Forever Lasting Love by artist Zhang Xiaogang sold for £6.3 million, setting a new record auction price for Chinese contemporary art. There were a large number of buyers from the Chinese mainland and according to a recent TEFAF report, China has overtaken the UK and now has the world’s second largest art market – the USA securely retains prime position. If you are interested in ascertaining a piece of Chinese contemporary art at a more accessible price point Dong Li’s figurative, watercolour paintings are extremely topical and offer a powerful form of social commentary on China’s period of radical change. For those who would like to know more about the use of visual images during the era of Mao the Ashmolean Museum in central oxford will be displaying Chinese graphic art from the period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) from the 8th March 2011 to 3rd July 2011.
Written by Kyle Reeves