On Sunday Chen Yifei’s “Eulogy of the Yellow River” sold for a hammer price of RMB 40.32m (about US$ 5.25m) at China Guardian’s Spring sale. Painted in the middle of China’s Cultural Revolution, it is an example of the Chinese Socialist Realist style by the then-25-year-old patriotic Chen. The previous record for his work was RMB 4m (about US$500k) for one of his photorealist “pretty girls in traditional costumes and slightly artificial poses” series which have been quite popular. That ten-fold jump was attributed to the fact that this is the first major work of Chen’s to come to market since he unexpectedly died in 2005. But the interesting thing about the local reports on this sale is the constant benchmarking of Chinese Art values against those in the West; as if it was a matter of national pride, and a measure of how China was doing generally in the world. Rather than any comments about an overheated market.
So the heat continues. On May 27 Christies has their Spring Asian Contemporary sale in Hong Kong with the expected selections from Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, Fang Lijun, Wang GuangYi and Zeng Fanzhi. The point of interest this time is the inclusion of earlier works from these artists, who we are used to seeing at auction, including a really quite interesting Zhang Xiaogang (Portrait in Red from 1993) which clearly presages the later, and excessively popular, Bloodline series. If the heat continues, expect more exceeding of estimates.
For those keen to jump on the “hot five” Chinese artist bandwagon but unwilling to pay 7 (or 8?) figures in hard currency for something to fill a space on the wall, why not head down to PanJiaYuan, Beijing’s world renowned ‘art and curio’ market, and pick up original oil paintings “in the style of” whoever you would like, for US$30 max. (See pictures at right and below taken at PanJiaYuan last weekend.) Now doesn’t that seem reasonable for your own private piece of Chinese Contemporary Art Bubble history?
PanJiaYuan is experiencing a demand bubble of its own. 6 weeks ago there was only one such stall offering Zhang Xiaogang copies. This weekend there were three stalls offering similar pictures and the range of contemporary artists available had grown. “Very popular with laowai” I was told. (Laowai being foreigners.) It will be interesting to see how this little sub-market develops.