Chinese art collectors are shaking up the art world

China is a growing economy with growing up new-born riches. The new generation of Chinese young art collectors is shaking the art world and changing its face.

China is a new leading market globally, and as I wrote in the previous article, China’s predominant power is already evident in the art world.  Despite the coronavirus outbreak, 2020 was not that bad for the arts in China, especially if the art world is living due to pandemic restrictions compared to the general block.

Still, the impact of COVID-19 was widely felt, especially last March when the Hong Kong Art Basel was canceled, causing a great loss for one of the most important world’s art fairs and Asian contemporary art market. The online presence of Chinese collectors and galleries was still very strong. Most of the art institutions in China kept working assiduously online. When galleries and art institutions opened when the emergency ended in China, many collectors started showing up with the goal to “revenge shop” after a long period of seeing artworks online.

China has a rapidly growing market

According to Christie’s Asia Chief, serious money flows in China’s nascent yet rapidly-growing art market. In 2019, Christie’s sold a total of $353 million worth of artworks in the Greater China area, including a 1,000year-old ink painting by Song Dynasty Chinese scholar and artist Su Shi that fetched $51 million, a record for Christie’s Asia. The auction house disclosed that the scroll was sold to “a Chinese buyer.”

China accounted for a third of the $63 billion global art market as of 2017, according to The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2018. And it continues to grow. Even during a pandemic, the art market seems to flourish again, and the world is looking for the next Hong Kong Art Basel in May 2021.

The contemporary art sector can be attributed to the new-born generation of Chinese collectors, who are very rich and sometimes very young. Gen Y is considered the new generation of consumers in China: young, sophisticated, instructed, and with an eye for luxury brands and arts.

Today purchasing artworks have become a status symbol for wealthy businesspeople. Showing off a Kandinsky or a Modigliani on the living room wall is a way to show power.

Like other countries, Chinese artists find their artworks have become commodity pieces or potential investments.

The richest Chinese art collectors loves western art

Chinese collectors started making global headlines just over ten years ago, and they quickly gained a reputation for buying items from the best-known Western artists.

Among this early cohort was Joseph Lau, who bought one of Andy Warhol’s Mao Zedong portraits for $17.4 million in 2006. Wang Jianlin, one of China’s richest men, paid $28.2 million for a Picasso.

Pablo Picasso, Claude et Paloma. Oil and ripolin on panel, 45 5/8 x 35 in. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2013.

One of the most famous art collector billionaire and the former taxi driver is Liu Yiqian, who famously paid $170.4 million for an Amedeo Modigliani painting, making it among the 10th most expensive artworks in the world.

Most of the first generation of Chinese art collectors were interested in western art because they grew with China’s new opening to the west.

Still, now tastes are switching to Chinese art, thanks to the growing number of emergent Chinese artists.

Amedeo Modigliani, Nu Couché au coussin Bleu, Oil on panel 60,1 x 92,1 cm

The contradictory Gen Y

Millennials in China were growing up after Deng Xiaoping’s modernizations and openings to the word, which has made some of Gen Y’s parents wealthy. That’s why these young and rich peeps are also known as 富二代, the second generation of a wealthy family. Most of them had the chance to study abroad in top-rated universities such as Harvard, Oxford, or Cambridge and get international instruction. They are sophisticated but with a taste for showing off how rich they are.

But China’s new collectors aren’t only looking for big names. Heir to a property and jewelry empire, Hong Kong-based only forty-year-old Adrian Cheng says that he owns “hundreds” of Chinese and Western artists’ works.

The presence of the young collector is also leading Chinese artists to prioritize the domestic market. Chinese artists first found commercial success among foreign audiences in the 1990s. Nowadays, despite the attractive potential of selling abroad, Chinese artists put a lot of effort and dedication into the huge — and art-hungry — domestic market.

In China today, there’s growing popularity of art. The art sphere is a constantly evolving environment, which has seen the digital world gaining steam and interest, especially after the pandemic outbreak. Many galleries switched to an online mode to keep working actively and engaging the more smartphone-addicted young generation.

About the taste of the Chinese new-born riches, it is also changing and shaping the art world. Micheal Xufu Huang (26) is part of a new generation of Chinese art collectors. He began collecting art as a 16-year-old high school student in London and then returned home to Beijing, where he co-founded the visionary contemporary art museum, M Woods. Western art is still a big draw for Chinese collectors like Huang.

Xufu Huang, age 26

Co-founder of the MWoods museum, Lin Wanwan (32) is another rich and very young Chinese art collector. She began her first of many gallery jobs at age 17 while earning her undergraduate art history degree at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Art. Lin’s first purchase was a mask Series painting by contemporary Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi, whose artwork was recently auctioned for 23.3 million $.

Lin Wanwan and her husband

Chinese art collectors Lu Xun and his father Lu Jun are a collectors family.  Lu Xun (35)  is the young Chinese collector behind Sifang Art Museum, in the Laoshan National Forest Park.

Lu has not only inherited his family’s passion for collecting Chinese contemporary art, but he has also brought an international ethos to the site by way of a specific interest in working with globally renowned architects and artists for site-specific projects. The museum’s campus boasts 20 villas designed by some 20 international architects—including David Adjaye and Ai Weiwei.

China’s interest in local contemporary artists is growing, showing that Chinese art collectors are not only looking for big-names.

The three most prospering categories at Christie’s are modern Chinese paintings, non-paper works (primarily ceramics), and 20th century and contemporary art, mainly oil paintings and sculptures. But not all works under these categories have seen the same price appreciation level due to new buyers flocking to the market.

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