China: The New Contemporary-Art Frontier – New York Times (Updated)
Sitting in the back row among a crowd of 400 people at Sotheby’s York Avenue salesroom yesterday morning, a Singapore collector unknown to even the most knowledgeable of experts on Asian art spent nearly $1 million on a dreamy portrait of a dazed-looking comrade. The work, “Bloodline Series: Comrade No. 120″ (1998), by the Chinese figurative painter Zhang Xiaogang, brought the highest price yesterday at New York’s first auction of Asian contemporary art.
“It was a market waiting to happen,” said Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby’s managing director in Asia and Australia, after the first session of the all-day event. “It was amazing to see bidding from virtually all over the globe.”
In China’s headlong rush to modernize, few things have been so neglected as its past.
Compared with, say, neighbors like Japan and South Korea, this much larger country has rarely done a good job preserving ancient architecture. And despite the incomparable riches of Chinese civilization, world-class museums here are few and far between.
On a related topic, see “$200 Million Gift Prompts a Debate Over Antiquities.” See also “Appetite for the east” from the Financial Times. The auction catalogue for the recent Sotheby’s sale of Chinese art is now online.
UPDATE (4/6/06): See also “In cultural evolution, Chinese artists thrive” from the Chicago Tribune:
At his airy Beijing studio, painter Qi Zhilong laughed at the memory of how life used to be for his generation of Chinese artists.
“Penniless,” he said.
Not any longer. On March 31, one of Qi’s paintings fetched $206,000, and some peers’ work sold for far more, when Sotheby’s held its first New York auction of contemporary Asian art. The $13.2 million in sales far exceeded the highest predictions.
To global art watchers, the auction’s startling success affirmed that Chinese contemporary art is booming, turning once-starving artists into stars, sparking an intense hunt for the next big names and minting the first generation of Chinese collectors.