Mega ART galleries bank on Chinese art market.
Trend; the relocation of dealers to the oriental market
White Cube, the London gallery that is historically connected to the YBAs, has transferred its entire stand at Frieze London to a striking display by the Chinese artist Liu Wei.
Where ever paintings of Damien Hirst were hung, there is now a cage-like construction built by Liu to house his new paintings and sculptures. Most of the works, priced between £ 90,000 and £ 450,000, were sold on the opening day.
After a decade of Western Art dealers who export art to new Asian collectors, it seems that this one-way flow is beginning to reverse. As with many large international galleries that recently expanded to Asia, White Cube has promoted its largely Western artists’ stable there since its opening in Hong Kong in 2012.
White Cube’s booth also reflects what Art dealers describe as a revival of the popularity of Chinese contemporary art among Western collectors after a ten-year boom. “Our focus is to introduce Liu Wei in the West,” says Georgie Wimbush, associate director of the gallery, noting that French and American collectors are showing serious interest. White Cube Bermondsey will organize a solo show in April 2019 by Liu, with more planned for the US.
Adam Sheffer, the vice president of Pace Gallery, who has existed for ten years since opening a space in the 798 arts district of Beijing, says that Chinese art is “a phenomenon that people thought was a reality”.
In Frieze Pace shows works by two Chinese artists (16% of the selection comes from China, more than all other mega-galleries): two porcelain wall sculptures by Yin Xiuzhen, for $ 86,000 and $ 68,000 and a new mirror installation by Song Dong, who raised $ 65,000. Pace presents a full Chinese stand at the Art Fair Fiac, in Paris, in two weeks.
In the Lisson Gallery, a 2018 Liu Xiaodong portrait of a transsexual woman named Sasha in skin-colored tights (priced at $ 350,000) keeps fair-goers on their tracks. Although the artist is an established name in China, his market is relatively underdeveloped in the West, although his first retrospective, at two locations in Düsseldorf this summer, aroused interest among local collectors. There are no immediate plans for Lisson to open a gallery in China, but it is “definitely looking more for the region,” says the head of the Ossian Ward.
Younger Chinese artists also gather attention this week. The Hong Kong-born artist Wong Ping has won the inaugural Camden Arts Center Emerging Arts award and will hold a show at the London institution in the next year and a half. He is represented by Edouard Malingue Gallery from Hong Kong and Shanghai, which is participating in Frieze for the first time. The gallery presents the three-part animated film Fables (2018) by the artist in a compelling installation. Expenditure of his works, with a price of more than $ 12,000, has been sold to collectors from London, Paris and Düsseldorf, among others.
Jennifer Caroline Ellis, an employee of the gallery, says that the growing popularity of Chinese artists is simply the result of a more globalized art world, although she notes that few Asian galleries have been opened in Europe. They find other ways to show their artists abroad, for example by working together with European institutions and non-profit organizations.
Outside Frieze, Hauser & Wirth, who opened in Hong Kong in Hong Kong in March, is promoting another Chinese superstar, Zeng Fanzhi, with three exhibitions spanning his galleries in London, Zurich and Hong Kong. The strategy seems to be paying off. “For the two shows we have opened, all sold works are placed in Western collections and all with new Fanzhi collectors,” says owner Iwan Wirth of the gallery, who added Zeng to his selection in March, giving him the total number of Chinese artists to state for a maximum of two.
But is this just history that repeats itself? After all, ten years ago the market for contemporary Chinese art grew exponentially, but that spurt was short-lived. Not so, says Magnus Renfrew, co-founder of Art HK, who launched a new fair in Taipei in January.
He acknowledges that there was a “period of intense interest” between 2006 and 2008, during the “high-time auction market for Chinese contemporary art, which was fairly uncritical”, but a correction followed in 2010. Renfrew says that the “institutional scene is developing rapidly” “In China, providing critical and curatorial influence to a new generation of artists coming through the ranks, as well as those who have survived the bust.
Western galleries now also do “due diligence and create meaningful relationships with artists,” he says. “Their commitment is no longer primarily commercially driven.”