Top 10 ups and downs of Chinese artists



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: resales of contemporary Chinese artists who sold for more than $100,000 in 2008.

Top 10 ups and downs of Chinese artists
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale Hammer Price 2013 Sale
1 HONG Ling $23,562 Lonely Night 1/6/2007 (Poly International PEKIN) $105,616 7/4/2013 (Poly Auction HONG KONG)
2 LI Songsong $86,640 National Geographic 12/2/2009 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDRES) $644,000 7/4/2013 (Poly Auction HONG KONG)
3 LUO Zhongli $183,039 Moonlight 29/4/2008 (Beijing Huachen Auctions PEKIN) $267,040 2/6/2013 (Ravenel TAIPEI)
4 ZHOU Chunya $216,150 Horse 28/5/2008 (Poly International PEKIN) $453,880 12/7/2013 (Xiling Yinshe HANGZHOU)
5 LIU Ye $1,113,500 Big Flagship 31/5/2007 (Poly International PEKIN) $2,346,100 1/6/2013 (Poly International PEKIN)
1 ZHANG Xiaogang $9,637 Bloodline: big family 28/5/2011 (United Asian Auctioneers WANCHAI) $6,000 29/4/2013 (Phillips NEW YORK)
2 GUO Wei $20,400 Inside with the Mosquitoes and Moths 10/6/2012 (Zhong Cheng Auctions TAIPEI) $11,592 26/5/2013 (Ravenel HONG KONG)
3 ZHANG Huan $38,112 Shanghaï Family Tree 28/10/2006 (Cornette de Saint-Cyr PARIS) $17,943 28/3/2013 (Cornette de Saint-Cyr PARIS)
4 QI Zhilong $40,000 Untitled 17/9/2008 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK) $15,456 5/4/2013 (Sotheby’s HONG KONG)
5 FENG Zhengjie $45,000 Untitled 13/11/2008 (Christie’s NEW YORK) $25,000 7/3/2013 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK)

It was in 2010 that the Chinese art market first established itself as the most powerful market on the planet. It went on to repeat this feat in 2011 and 2012 (in terms of receipts), in the wake of four years of scintillating sales that particularly benefited a number of contemporary artists. In 2008, 174 Chinese artists born after 1920 sold at least one work at auction for a price in excess of $100,000. Several « young  » artists (born after 1945) benefited from this price explosion. So how have these contemporary artists being faring at auction over recent years? Artprice takes a look at some of their results, including the fluctuations experienced by works sold before 2010 and then resold in 2013. We have selected five artists whose prices have risen and five whose prices have fallen in order to assess how some are still forging ahead while others are running out of steam.

Rising prices – time to sell?
The name LUO Zhongli is perhaps little known among Western collectors. Born in 1948, this Chinese realist was appointed professor at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in the early 1980s before spending some time in Europe. Despite his low profile in the West, he has broken the million-dollar barrier three times, including a record price of $5.547 million (for Spring Silkworms, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong on 23 November 2013). In Asia, his market is already quite mature. Even back in the early 1990s, his paintings were selling for thousands of dollars. The explosion in the Chinese market resulted in his first six-figure sales in 2006. Since then, Luo Zhongli has been riding high. Apart from his new record, set in 2013, the value of his painting Moonlight increased from $183,000 to $267,040 between 2008 and 2013.

Considered to be a master of contemporary art, HONG Ling (born in 1955) was selling for less than $5,000 in the Hong Kong sales rooms in the 1990s, but by 2000 his work had quadrupled in value. In 2007, an auspicious year for the Chinese market, he recorded his first six-figure sale. Since then, Hong Ling’s value has climbed steadily, as is demonstrated by Lonely Night, which soared from $23,500 to $105,600 between 2007 and 2013.


More contemporary works by Liu Ye, Zhou Chunya and Li Sonqsong have also escaped the predicted slowdown in the Chinese market.
Born in 1964 and based in Beijing, LIU Ye has created a childlike universe that is nourished by European art. His career really took off in the early 2000s, when his work immediately captured the attention of the international art scene. His wide reach and the attraction that his work holds for speculators resulted in five sales in excess of $1 million in 2013 alone, with a record equivalent to $4.773 million (Sword, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5 October 2013), and an increase of $1.3 million for Big Flagship, whose price soared from $1.113 million to $2.346 million between 2007 and 2013.

Since 2010, ZHOU Chunya has broken the million-dollar barrier eleven times. He is one of the most international and dynamic artists on the contemporary Chinese scene. He has consistently made significant resale profits, as exemplified by his painting Horse. Between 2008 and 2013 the value of this work doubled from $216,150 to $453,880 (initially sold by Poly International on 28 May 2008, subsequently by Xiling Yinshe in Hangzhou on 12 July 2013)..

Another fine performance was recorded by an oil on canvas entitled National Geographic by LI Songsong, a young artist in his forties who saw the value of his painting increase by $557,000 in just four years. The work sold for $86,640 on 12 February 2009 in London, then soared to $644,000 on 7 April 2013 in Hong Kong. This is his current record at auction, beating his previous high of $581,580, achieved at Christie’s London in 2009 (Cuban Sugar, sold for £360,000 on 16 October).

Falling prices – a good time to buy? Many contemporary artists whose prices took off between 2006 and 2010 are now finding that their works are decreasing in value. Some artists who are popular in both Asia and the West found their prices increased so rapidly that in the end their buyers could no longer keep up. Notable artists who have run out of steam in this way include Zhang Xiaogang, Guo Wei, Qi Zhilong and Feng Zhengjie. But it seems likely that their estimates will once again become attractive in 2014.
The price explosion experienced by ZHANG Xiaogang was in the order of several millions for a single canvas. For example, the price of his Bloodline: Big Family No.1 rose by $5 million between 2008 and 2011 (sold for the equivalent of $2,574,000 on 4 October 2008 then for $7,453,000 on 3 October 2011, both times at Sotheby’s Hong Kong). The artist is certainly international and well-known, but he is still susceptible to the effects of fashion and speculation and a certain mistrust of price volatility, including that of multiples. The screen print Bloodline: Big Family is a series of 58 works that have had their ups and downs at auction. From a record price equivalent to $23,000 in 2008 (25 May 2008, Christie’s Hong Kong), by 2013 their value had declined to $7,740 (23 November 2013, Bonhams Hong Kong).

Times are hard for GUO Wei, whose Inside with the Mosquitoes and Moths almost halved in value in the space of one year, falling from $20,400 in 2012 to $11,600 in 2013 (initially sold by Zhong Cheng in Taipei on 10 June 2012 and subsequently by Ravenel Art Group, Hong Kong on 26 May 2013). His paintings only yielded between $10,000 and $29,250 in 2013, despite twelve sales in excess of $100,000 in 2007-2008.

QI Zhilong’s portraits of young Chinese girls have also experienced a loss of momentum. One of these, Chinese girl series (1997, 41.2 cm x 33 cm), which was sold for the equivalent of $33,400 in 2010 (or $41,000 including buyer’s premium, Christie’s Hong Kong, 30 May 2010) went unsold, despite a low estimate of $18,000, on 25 May 2013 at Bonhams Hong Kong. In 2008, Qi Zhilong was able to quadruple his estimates (Chinese Girl Series No.1 sold for $436,500 against a high estimate of $102,000 on 9 April 2008 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong). Between 2008 and 2013, his unsold rate increased from 14 % to 28 %, a clear sign of his buyers’ disaffection.

ZHANG Huan is another example of the severe price contraction that has afflicted some artists. His famous sequence of nine photographs entitled Family Tree fetched $358,000 at auction in 2007, but this was followed by successive dips in value that culminated in the work being unsold at a low estimate of $150,000 on 15 May 2013 at Christie’s New York (sold for the equivalent of $358,000 on 28 October 2007 at Borobudur in Singapore).

FENG Zhengjie was also the subject of extreme speculation, with the value of some of his works increasing by more than $100,000 in the space of just a few months (the large Chinese Portrait Series 2006 No.2 sold for $133,800 on 29 June 2009 at Phillips de Pury & Company London, then later the same year fetched $264,000 at Poly International in November). Prices have slumped over the last two years, and his unsold rate has exploded, soaring from 17 % to 40 % between 2008 and 2013. Certain two-metre portraits can now be snapped up for an average price of $50,000, and other canvases measuring 150 x 150 cm that were selling for $60,000 in 2008-2009 have seen their prices halved. But this drop in prices has its upside – now is a great time to buy!