The red-hot Chinese art market
Woody Wu/AFP If the global art market is hot right now—and it’s red-hot—then contemporary Chinese art are the coals stoking the fire. This weekend, Xu Beihong’s “Put Down Your Whip,” a 1939 oil painting protesting Japanese occupation of China, was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong for $8.2 million, a record for Chinese ...
If the global art market is hot right now—and it’s red-hot—then contemporary Chinese art are the coals stoking the fire. This weekend, Xu Beihong’s “Put Down Your Whip,” a 1939 oil painting protesting Japanese occupation of China, was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong for $8.2 million, a record for Chinese paintings.
And Xu is just the tip of the iceberg. For the past several years, modern Chinese artists have been the darlings of the international art market, with their work selling for double and triple auction estimates. Sales of contemporary Chinese art at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the two main global auction houses, have gone from about $20 million a year in 2004 to about $200 million last year. The high prices major Chinese artists are now commanding at auction not only rival well-known established Western artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, but reflect the interest that well-heeled Chinese consumers are now finding in their own home-grown artists. Galleries are booming in Beijing and Shanghai and Western art reps are eagerly signing every talented Chinese art student they can find.
This enthusiasm has some art watchers nervous that the Chinese market is just a bubble that could drive down the quality of the work produced. The Taipei Times reported recently that “rumors are rife that some work by well-known [Chinese] painters is now mass produced”—perhaps not unlike the forgeries of classic paintings that stream out of Dafen, a city in southern China known as the capital of the fake art world.
But for now, Chinese artists remain the hottest commodities in the global $6 billion art market. Want to learn what all the fuss is about? Check out a few of the best-known artists and their work: Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun, and Yue Minjun. See also The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China, the Tate Liverpool’s current exhibit featuring a dozen talented modern artists.
More from Foreign Policy
A New Multilateralism
How the United States can rejuvenate the global institutions it created.
America Prepares for a Pacific War With China It Doesn’t Want
Embedded with U.S. forces in the Pacific, I saw the dilemmas of deterrence firsthand.
The Endless Frustration of Chinese Diplomacy
Beijing’s representatives are always scared they could be the next to vanish.
The End of America’s Middle East
The region’s four major countries have all forfeited Washington’s trust.