Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Art for the Uber Rich and Uber Brash

The auction scene when Zhang Daqian's painting was up for sale
In this economic climate the divide between the haves and havenots is even bigger.

Before Art Basel, the big art trade show two weeks ago, there were concerns buyers would not have the money to buy.

Peach Blossom Spring
But overall galleries reported decent sales, some did very well, a few hardly any.

This atmosphere bode well for the auctions which are now underway and Sotheby's has won big this season.

The other day it sold a 2 metre-long painting by Chinese master Zhang Daqian, Peach Blossom Spring for a jaw-dropping HK$271 million (US$34.7 million) including the buyer's premium. It was sold more than three times the pre-sale estimate.

Apparently bidding in the room was quite fierce, with 100 bids within 50 minutes. In the end a telephone bidder was triumphant. And again it was the high profile husband and wife Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei who own the Long Museum in Shanghai who bought the painting.

The brash Liu turned heads when in 2014 the taxi driver turned billionaire bought a tea cup for HK$281.24 million (US$36.3 million). He paid for it by maxing out a stack of credit cards and then celebrated the transaction by drinking tea in it in front of the media.

Wang Wei (left) and Liu Yiqian in their Long Museum
Done in 1982, Peach Blossom Spring is one of Zhang's last works before he died a year later, featuring his use of blue and green colours that is so vivid and rich, bold and quite fearless in how the combination of the inks would work out.

However the end result is fantastic, magical almost, glorious. Google "Peach Blossom Spring" and it's a fable by Tao Yuanming, who talks about a chance discovery of an ethereal utopia where people have an ideal existence with nature and are completely unaware of the outside world.

Contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Daqian
But is it worth that much?

Liu thinks so, exclaiming, "Nothing beats a painting by Zhang Daqian!" on his WeChat social media account.

We do too, but driving up the price that high makes one wonder if it's worth it. Like the Japanese before them in the 1980s, the Chinese are inflating prices on fine art... how long before we come back down to earth?

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