Beijing: a taste for tradition



Beijing now competes with New York in terms of revenue totals; however, it is in fact a very different market: firstly its deals exclusively in Asian artists and secondly, it is distinctly focused on its excellent traditional artistic talents such as drawing and painting. In Beijing, the tradition of the medium is of primary importance… as is the subject.

Liu Chunxi / the young traditional
Rich Chinese collectors generally prefer LIU Chunxi’s traditional subjects to AI Weiwei’s critical view of Chinese society and culture. At thirty, this young artist is completely unknown in the West. However he has already generated 7-figure auction results in China and on 20 December 2010 his works generated nearly €10m at Beijing CNTC International Auction! His Buddhas, black swans with lotuses, peacocks and trees in flower, painted on silk with formidable dexterity, occasionally sell for over €1m. At that 20 December sale, no less than six of his works generated million-plus results with a personal record of €2.5m for Divinity (141 x 242 cm, Ұ22m). Born in 1981, Liu Chunxi grew up a in a religious temple and has been drawing Buddhas since the age of five. He was admitted to the Beijing School of Fine Arts, the best in China, when just sixteen. After that training, his preferred subjects remain traditional, but the artist’s hand is more free and modern. His works have already travelled in Asia to exhibitions in Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Malaysia.
Sales of Liu Chunxi’s artworks gave Beijing CNTC International Auction fifth place this year in the revenue ranking of Beijing’s Contemporary art sales.

The other auctioneers owe their success to artists who are better known in the West like Chen Yifei, Wang Yidong, Liu Xiaodong, Zeng Fanzhi, Liu Chunxi, Ai Xuan, Leng Jun, Zhou Chunya, He Jiaying…

Chen Yifei at the top of the Beijing market
HHaving generated close to €20m this year (July 2010 – June 2011), CHEN Yifei was the best-selling Contemporary artist in Beijing. He also signed the best result in Beijing’s Contemporary segment. Last year, his performance was already remarkable at just half this year’s total (€8.8m from 14 auctions) which allowed him to overtake Damien HIRST by €500,000. This year his new record was equivalent to €7.78m thanks to the sale of Wind of Mountain Village, a large oil-on-canvas (28 May 2011at China Guardian). Like Liu Chunxi, his work is based on a superb mastery of technique and traditional painting in the sense that his works are figurative. These qualities reassure Asian collectors who are less inclined to invest such large sums in conceptual works, installations or more contemporary media.

In the same vein, the artist AI Xuan generated a personal auction record this year when his painting entitled The Sacred Mountain sold for €2.1m. Examples of the extraordinary value of figurative painting with impeccable realism abound: WANG Yidong, one of the best-selling artists in Beijing (second for the 2010/2011 year with an annual revenue total of €14.18m) and LENG Jun, whose realist photo-portrait of a young woman sold for €3.22m (1 December 2010, at Poly International).
Moreover, the cloying beauties on silk rolls by HE Jiaying now sell for hundreds of thousands of euros.

Contemporary creation and the results obtained in Beijing clearly illustrate the co-existence of two markets: One with traditional (or even conservative) affinities supported by extremely wealthy locals, and the other with a more non-conformist and international tendency, headed by artists like ZHOU Chunya, LIU Xiaodong and the famous ZENG Fanzhi, whose A Series No.3 : Marriage fetched the equivalent of €3.7m on 2 June 2011 at Poly International.