$10 million painting boosts Chinese contemporary market

Mon Apr 4, 2011 6:45am EDT
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A triptych oil painting by Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang sold for $10.1 million in Hong Kong on Sunday, which Sotheby's said was a record auction price for a contemporary artwork from China.

In a $54.8 million sale of contemporary Chinese art from the collection of Belgian collector Baron Guy Ullens, a packed auction room bid ferociously for 106 works acquired over decades by the now retired tycoon.

The star lot was Zhang's early 1988 work "Forever Lasting Love" of half naked figures in an arid landscape suffused with mystical symbols. This fetched HK$79 million, more than double its pre-sale high estimate of HK$30 million.

The price was higher than the $9.5 million paid for a Zeng Fanzhi canvas in 2008 and a series of massive gunpowder works by Cai Guoqiang that fetched a similar price in 2007.

Sunday's auction tripled the pre-sale estimate and all works were sold. "This represents the entire spectrum of contemporary Chinese art," said Kevin Ching, chief executive of Sotheby's Asia. "I think everyone would be proud to be able to own a piece of that history, that process and a part of that vision."

Zeng, Cai and Zhang are among a vanguard of Chinese contemporary artists whose edgy, subversive early works were embraced by Western collectors and critics, driving a bubble in the market that burst with the global financial crisis in 2008.

Experts said the results were partly due to Ullens's stature as a Chinese art visionary but the sale could give a symbolic boost for the market.

"I would call this a recovery," said Uli Sigg, a European collector attending the sale. "I was bidding, but the prices were too high," Sigg, a former Swiss ambassador to China who has amassed around 2,000 works of Chinese art, told Reuters.   Continued...

<p>An undated handout photo of a triptych oil painting by Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang which titled "Forever Lasting Love" is released by auction house Sotheby's. REUTERS/Sotheby's Handout</p>