While the art market in China has suffered in recent years due to a flood of works of dubious provenance or debatable quality, collectors are now seeking to build their expertise and expand their knowledge of collectable artists.
That is the view of Hurun Report chairman and chief researcher Rupert Hoogewerf, speaking on the launch of the Hurun Art List 2015, a ranking of the top 100 Chinese artists alive today based on the sales of their works at public auction in the year ending 31 December 2014
“The anti-corruption drive seems to have had an impact on the art market, with Chinese collectors spending the least in the past three years. However, we are seeing collectors moving away from a handful of artists with superstar status to explore a broader base of artists,” he said.
“China may have plenty of superrich, but often they don’t know where to start with collecting. This is where the Hurun Art List comes in.”
The Hurun Art List, now in its eighth year, is compiled using data from Artron, China’s largest compiler of art statistics.
This year Cui Ruzhuo, 71, tops Hurun Art List for the first time with sales at public auction last year of US$77m. A 2006 piece by Cui became the most expensive Chinese work of art sold at public auction last year, selling for US$24 million. Zeng Fanzhi, last year’s Number One, dropped down one place to second place with sales of US$48m, followed by Fan Zeng with sales of US$44m.
Total sales of the Top 100 are down 7% to US$1.1 billion. This is the third year running that total sales are down, one third off the high water mark of 2012. Sales of 38 artists declined and 30 increased.
The report suggests a surge in interest in traditional Chinese ink painters: there are 74 on this year’s list. This is a record high, 5 more than last year and 17 more than as little as 3 years ago. Chinese ink painters sold 7 times the number of works sold by oil painters.
Collectors’ appetite for new faces is indicated by the arrival of 32 new faces on the list, of which 17 made the list for the first time. Jiang Guohua, 61, is the highest new entry with sales of US$9.9m, breaking straight into the Top 50.
Huang Jiannan, 63, is this year’s fastest riser. He saw his sales rise 128% to US$26m, propelling him into the Top 10 from 33rd last year.
There are some notable shortages in the list: only two of the Top 100 are female – the same as last year. They are Chen Peiqiu, 93, at Number 10 with sales of US24.6m and Xu Lele, 60, at Number 44 with sales of US$7.7m.
There is also a shortage of young artists. Only six are under the age of 50 – three less than last year. Jia Aili is the youngest at 36 years, breaking into the Hurun Art List for the first time with sales of US$4.3m. The average age of artists on the list is 65 years, down one from last year. Four artists are above 90 years, led by Rao Zongyi, aged 98.
In terms of the artists’ places of residence, Beijing is king, with 42 artists living there, followed by Guangdong and Jiangsu on 9. Some 21 artist on this year’s list are graduates of The China Central Academy of Fine Arts.
Some 39 artists made the Hurun Art List for five of the last eight years. Hoogewerf said: “These 39 artists are the closest China has to blue-chip artists.”