Marcello Kwan, Senior Specialist Head of Sale in Asian Contemporary Art, from Christie’s shares his thoughts on Chinese art
On 30 May 2016, art auction house Christie’s will be conducting its Hong Kong Spring Auctions, 30 Years: The Sale, in Hong Kong. It marks the 30th year of Christie’s in Asia and is set to feature 30 lots across all categories. We catch up with Marcello Kwan, Senior Specialist Head of Sale in Asian Contemporary Art, who shares his thoughts on the burgeoning interest in Chinese paintings and artists to note.
Let’s start with the popularity of Chinese paintings, which have grown in the past decade or so. What are the main reasons for the increasing popularity?
The art market is constantly evolving, and we have seen a take-off of the Asian art category. Taste is a key influencing factor, with the gap between values for Chinese and Western art closing as collectors are increasingly starting to look for new and dynamic works that stir new excitement and expand their horizons. China as the major force in Asia has built up its own cultural power for thousands of years. Many revolutionary works in the 90s reflect the evolution of China, and these have attracted collectors to zoom in on China after the revolution period. The resurgence of Chinese ink works for example, can be attributed to the fact that ink painting is so distinctive of a particular cultural period, and such traits garner an international appeal amongst collectors.
Since China implemented the ‘open door’ policy in the 90s, their works have gained additional exposure. Reforms initiated in 2011 have also helped boost the national art market in China, cultivating genuine connoisseurs who are now able to acquire great works of their own past.
Why are collectors shifting their investments to works with greater longevity?
Not all collectors buy blue chip artworks only. Many collectors enjoy exploring new talents whose works are priced at more attractive and affordable prices. While the basic criteria of quality – rarity, freshness and provenance – still stands, collectors without fail respond well to material which comes fresh to the market.
What’s the level of interest for contemporary Chinese art today?
In general, there is strong and growing interest in Chinese and Asian art, as we see new buyers coming into the market every succeeding season. Another way to measure the level of interest is to look at the top ten artists by auction revenue. We continue to see modern Chinese artists enjoying a strong presence in the art market.
This year being Christie’s 30 years in Asia, you have artworks from artists all across Asia. What are the notable works to look out for at the special anniversary sale?
In the Asian Contemporary art section, we have iconic works Sex-Obsession C by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and Enigmatic Night (07-18) by Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi.
As for Chinese art works, what are the highlights at the Christie’s Spring Auctions in Hong Kong?
For Asian Contemporary art section, we have a collection of early Chinese contemporary art with strong exhibition and literary support. The top work is an early oil painting called Meat No. 3: Nativity by Zeng Fanzhi, an icon in the art world. Other important works include Bathing Beauty III by Liu Wei and Arcadia by Wang Xingwei.
What percentages of the works are made up of classical Chinese paintings and calligraphy works?
Christie’s specialist department for Chinese art is defined by Classical, namely classical Chinese paintings and calligraphy by artists active before the late Qing Dynasty, which was before the 19th century, and Modern, with works that date from late 19th and 20th century onwards. The 2016 Spring auction only contains works on 20th-century contemporary art.
Is there a difference in the kind of Chinese art that appeals to collectors in the West and Asia?
This depends on the content but there is really no rule at all in reality. Pieces with a stronger relation to Chinese history or culture tend to be appreciated more by Chinese collectors, who identify with the expressiveness of the works. Some artworks in abstract or more contemporary style could be easier for international buyers to relate to and understand.
Can you name three notable Chinese artists and why collectors should look out for them?
This Spring Auction, collectors can look out for Wu Guanzhong whose art had great influence in Singapore. In 2008, Wu Guanzhong donated 113 oil and ink paintings to the Singapore Art Museum, his largest donation to any public museum. Today, the National Gallery Singapore has a gallery named after Wu Guanzhong in honour of his affinity with Singapore. Another artist to note is Xu Bei Hung, most notable for traditional style ink and wash paintings of horses and birds. Xu’s works give light to his years spent at the Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, amalgamating Western perspectives with the traditional Chinese ink and brush form.
Finally, we would like to highlight Cheong Soo Pieng, a prominent Singapore modern artist who pioneered Nanyang art and played a pivotal role in the history of Southeast Asian Art. Trained in the arts at the Xiamen Academy of Fine Art and subsequently relocating to Singapore in late 1946, Cheong taught at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts before becoming a full-time artist. Cheong is most noted for his Nanyang Style paintings, which drew inspiration from observations of material culture and people in the region.