Seasonal changes

By Lu Qianwen Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-2 19:28:01

2014 autumn auction period in review

A security guard stands watch at an auction preview hosted by the Beijing Council International Auction Company on Sunday at the Beijing International Hotel. Photo: Lu Qianwen/GT

Boasting the biggest art exhibition of the year, the 2014 autumn auction season, which runs from late October to this week, brought domestic collectors the highest number of top art works this year. While serving its traditional role of being a platform for collectors to fight each other with their wallets, this season was also a more down-to-earth occasion for less-affluent art lovers to approach these high-end artworks and gain valuable experience.

Given the current unstable macro-economic environment, the global art market has yet to recover during this period. While the Chinese art industry is also trying to pick up, judging from the actions of domestic auction companies as well as their auction results for this season, the Chinese art market is developing toward a healthier direction after four years of tempering and polishing since it hit its peak in 2010.

Bringing art to the people

The first mainland auction company to launch an art experience week (in 2012), the Beijing Council International Auction Company (BCIAC) upgraded its tradition this year in an attempt to attract more participation from the general public. Involving 12 lectures from November 29 to December 1, the company's art experience season introduced comprehensive knowledge that all collectors should know, from Pu'er tea, jewelry, Buddhist sculptures and Thangka, to ancient and contemporary Chinese paintings.

"Lectures this season were much more rich and varied, plus they were also very authoritative since all the lecturers were either top artists or collectors themselves," said Yan Yan, a budding collector who decided to try her hand at collecting two years ago.

At an auction preview hosted by BCIAC, Yan told the Global Times that for new entrants like her, these lectures are absolutely indispensable, and couldn't be held at a better time.

"Most importantly the art works previewed at the site make for the best learning materials to help me absorb what the lecturers have taught," Yan added.

Holding lectures in concert with auction preview events is a strategy adopted by a number of leading auction companies this season. Previously separating these activities, China Guardian Auctions discovered the advantages of combining them this year. During a lecture by Fu Yixuan, daughter of famous artist Fu Baoshi (1904-65), at the company's auction preview for Chinese paintings and calligraphy, more than 100 people were crowded in a room meant to hold only 30.

Additionally, the large number of rare and precious art works gathered in one place acted as a huge catalyst attracting more people among the general public to join the event and begin thinking about collecting.

"While in the past many new collectors would head right to the most expensive lots without possessing a lot of knowledge about their real artistic value, more collectors are now doing their homework before making any decisions," said Xie Xiaodong, deputy general manager of BCIAC.

"To a degree, this urges us to provide even more professional lectures for them."

"Even if someone doesn't buy any artwork, he or she will have a new understanding about art after participating in these events. Auction companies are taking an increasing role in public art education," Xie told the Global Times.

Another delightful surprise this auction season has been the move to digital e-catalogs by a majority of auction companies; a welcome replacement of traditional bulky and non-environmentally friendly paper versions.

Combining these e-catalogs with social media platforms such as WeChat, they have greatly facilitated public access to information about what art works are set to be auctioned during the season.

Unshakable position

Despite some high-key purchases of art work by famous Western artists such as Picasso or Van Gogh in the international auction market, Chinese paintings and calligraphy works still hold absolute dominion within the domestic market.

This season competition among leading auction companies has also been centered on these two categories. "For Chinese collectors, especially experienced ones, traditional Chinese paintings and calligraphy are still their first choice, since they are more familiar and collectors have stronger feelings towards traditional culture," Xie told the Global Times.

While the average price for traditional Chinese paintings have stabilized at more than 10 million yuan ($1.6 million), most record breaking acquisitions can still be attributed to a select group of collectors that include Huang Zhou, Huang Binhong, Xu Beihong and Zao Wou-ki.

In an attempt to raise the market value of art works to their highest point, auction companies have been brainstorming on the best way to present these works. For example, after the purchase of Jubilant Grasslands (1981) by Huang Zhou for more than 100 million yuan at the Poly Auction in December 2013 gave rise to an outbreak "Huang Zhou fever," in response China Guardian established a special auction "The Passionate Years of Huang Zhou" to showcase 17 of the artist's most representative works.

However, given the current lukewarm market, paintings still didn't sell as well as expected. The highly anticipated Soldiers on Plateau (1962) only sold for the passable price of 38.87 million yuan.

As 2015 marks the 120th anniversary of Chinese painter Xu Beihong (1895-1953), some companies chose to play this card hard this season. Xu's Galloping Horse (1951) was auctioned at 212.75 million yuan at a China Guardian auction on November 21, the highest among the six Xu paintings collected by the company.

His 1946 painting 12 Zodiac Animals collected by BCIAC is expected to be one of the most important highlights during the company's auction three days from now.

Emerging young artists

After the Chinese art market hit its peak in 2010, the following years seemed to spell a temporary end for contemporary Chinese art. Ten-million yuan works such as those by the "Big Four (Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi, Yue Minjun and Fang Lijun)" are hardly seen anymore in the current domestic auction market, replaced instead by the works of emerging artists mostly born in the 1970s.

During Sotheby's autumn auction in HK in October, works from three new faces were auctioned at surprisingly high prices that instantly attracted attention from domestic collectors and auction companies. Jia Aili, Wang Guangle and Liu Wei, all born during the 1970s, have become leading artists that have caused several domestic galleries to take note over the past few years.

After Jia's Wasteland Series No.1 broke the 10 million threshold by selling for HK$11.8 million ($1.5 million), many began predicting that these young post-1970 artists are poised to take a leading position in a contemporary Chinese art sector previously dominated by earlier generations.

Their influence can already be seen. Both China Guardian and BCIAC presented a large selection of works from rising young artists including Wang Guangle, Chen Ke and Liu Wei.

"As a group they have just started to shine. It will take maybe three to five years for them to become the mainstay of the market," Xie told the Global Times.

Posted in: Art

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