Backing tradition in the art market

08:54, December 14, 2009      

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A collector watching an ancient jadeware pre-enhibited for an auction held early this month in Wuxi, Jiangsu province.

There is drama at the auction house for contemporary Chinese art pieces these days. A crash in the world's markets has seen a fall in sales for red-hot vanguard artists such as Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi and Fang Lijun.

Contemporary Chinese art works, long held to be overpriced, may not recover any time soon, experts say.

This situation has given traditional Chinese art, ink art in particular, an opportunity to catch up. At the autumn auctions in Beijing, traditional Chinese paintings and calligraphy set new records.

In late November, a rare hand scroll titled Eighteen Arhats by Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) painter Wu Bin fetched 169.1 million yuan ($24.8 million), the highest price paid for a Chinese painting.

Eighteen Arhats was sold to Shanghai collector Liu Yiqian at a hefty markup from the price it fetched in 1992, when it was sold for $620,000, in New York.

The previous record for a classical Chinese painting was set by Settling Down the Western Regions and Presenting Prisoners, by Qing court painter Xu Yang, which fetched 134 million yuan in October, at Zhongmao Shengjia autumn auction.

Setting aside the high-end art market, there has been a remarkable surge in the public's interest in traditional art, ranging from porcelain, jewelry, to bronze wares and ancient wooden furnishings.

In response, auction houses such as China Guardian Auctions are arranging quarterly sales that are a platform for intermediate and lower-end art works and collectibles. Antique markets are booming too.

Game shows airing on China Central Television and provincial TV stations, featuring established collectors and celebrities building collections of traditional art have further encouraged interest in traditional art works. Ordinary people have got in on the action by showing off their family treasures, be it a small bronze statue, a jade pendant, or a piece of time-weathered wooden furniture.

The rise of the Chinese art market started with the enactment of a revised Law on Cultural Heritage Protection in October 2002, which allows individuals or entities other than government units and public museums to own and trade traditional art works that are acquired legally. Before that, it was forbidden for individuals to own a piece of ancient art. This interest in collecting art has been fanned by rising incomes.

It is possible the market for traditional art will experience the same ups and downs of the contemporary art market, but I believe public enthusiasm and pride in traditional Chinese art will be constant and the market will keep moving up.

Source: China Daily
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