Zhang Haoming looks like a million dollars. Or, more precisely, half a million, the amount he spent on a recent Saturday afternoon as he strolled around Beijing’s funky 798 district, a series of crumbling redbrick factories that house the Chinese capital’s largest concentration of art galleries. Appearing at an opening for the painter Yang Shaobin, the 44-year-old millionaire businessman stands out from the crowd of black-clad, ponytailed dealers, critics and artists, more John Travolta than Jasper Johns. His black hair is permed into loose curls that flounce slightly as he walks, his torso covered by a tight, long-sleeved silk shirt decorated with swirling white, brown and black shapes, a large medallion bearing a golden crown clasped around his neck.
As he moves from one gallery to the next, checking on works he has already booked and buying new ones, Zhang is treated like royalty. “That’s mine,” he says at a photo gallery, pointing to a picture of a man’s back that has been painted with a classical Chinese landscape, then to one in which raw meat has been arranged into the shape of Chinese characters. “And that, and that.”
Zhang is one of a new breed of Chinese collectors who are helping to turbocharge the contemporary-art scene in China from within. But his competition is not just local. Contemporary Chinese art is currently one of the hottest genres anywhere. In the past 18 months Sotheby’s has created a stand-alone modern-Chinese-art division, and Christie’s showcases the art alongside such modern masters as Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning. And at a Christie’s auction last week in New York City, pieces by Chinese painters Li Songsong and Yan Lei set record prices, while Zhang Xiaogang’s A Big Family Series No. 16 went for $1.36 million, surpassing its highest estimate. The Warhol Mao, of course, dwarfed all those sales, going for $17.4 million, suggesting that there’s plenty of life in Western art yet. (And that Mao is one popular guy.) [Full Text]