China / Society

Chinese collectors feeling allure of Western art

By ZHANG KUN in Shanghai ( Updated: 2014-05-08 22:07

Chinese art collectors are joining the global market, bidding handsomely on foreign masterpieces at auctions abroad.

Christie's declined to reveal the identity of the Chinese telephone bidder who paid $24 million for Claude Monet's Water Lilies at its Rockefeller Center sale on May 6. Guo Qingxiang, who is responsible for the art collection with Dalian Wanda Group, said that Wanda also bought a Monet painting at that auction, as well as a piece by Camille Pissarro.

Wanda paid $3 million for the Monet piece and $2.1 million for the Pissarro. "What we bought was a beautiful piece of country landscape by Monet, not his water lilies, but still a masterpiece," Guo told China Daily by phone.

Wanda spent $28.2 million – with Christie's fees – on a painting by Pablo Picasso in November. That marked the most expensive purchase of Western artwork by a Chinese enterprise.

Guo believed Picasso's Claude et Paloma was worth its price. Wanda made the purchase at that time because the slow economy brought art prices to a considerably reasonable level, he said. He revealed that Wanda was prepared to pay as much as $50 million for the piece.

Wanda Group has been collecting art for more than 30 years, and Western artwork has long been on the agenda, Guo said. "We have a group of more than 40 experts devoted to the study and search for good art from the West."

"China's art collectors and investors have realized there is a clear distinction between masterpieces and commodity artworks," Guo said.

They didn't know much about Western art when they first started buying, but now China's art collectors have learned and seen through the bubbles of the contemporary Chinese art market. They are ready to pay big prices for fine pieces recognized by art history, Guo said.

A study by JP Morgan found that the largest art buyer in 2013 was the United States, with China ranking second.

Chinese buyers accounted for 22 percent of global sales at Christie's in 2012, with a 63 percent increase in spending, according to the auction company.

Sotheby's brought to its first Beijing Art Week in November an important portrait by Rembrandt, along with works of Picasso, Renoir and Rodin.

David Norman, co-chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Department Worldwide, said the intention was "offering the increasingly sophisticated Chinese collectors an opportunity to view this work of great importance, and appreciate Rembrandt's powerful mastery of painting that has inspired later generations of artists."

Liu Yiqian, founder of the private Long Museum, said he will collect Western artwork "when I believe it’s needed". The problem with buying from overseas is that the artwork faces high tariffs upon entering Chinese territory, and he thinks that is unreasonable, especially when the art pieces are ancient Chinese treasures returning home.

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