Has Liu Yiqian got his $36m. back?

It seemed like the sale of the century when Shanghai taxi driver turned billionaire, 52 year-old Liu Yiqian, spent over US$36million on a tiny 500 year-old chicken cup at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong in July 2014. Those who thought he was mad, felt their fears confirmed when he paid for it ( with 24 separate swipes of his Amex card) and promptly sat down and drank tea from it.wpid-liu-drinks-from-chicken-cup-lr.jpg.jpeg

It seemed like an awful lot of money: he beat London art dealer Eskenazi to the post. But in Shanghai three weeks ago, we picked up word on the street that he has made all the $36m. back already. Apparently, he licensed reproduction of the chicken bowl and more than 100,000 have been produced in Jingdezhen, the porcelain city. They sell at around $50-60 a piece, complete with elegant box and are, indeed, selling like hotcakes! There is also a rather more expensive replica at around $1,000. He presented one of the replicas to the UK’s Prince William on his visit to Shanghai recently.

The production quality is really quite good and it has caught on with Chinese who can’t quite afford the real thing but would like to grace their coffee table with something associated with great wealth. There is also a rather more expensive reproduction for the better heeled.

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Two views of the reproduction chicken bowl, above

 

Highlights of 2014 on ChineseArt.co.uk

As 2014 drew to a close, we selected some highlights of the year in the world of Chinese art here in the UK as reported on ChineseArt.co.uk.

January

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In January, we launched our now popular series of Unusual Chines Art Images. This magnificent oil painting (1910) by Matilda Auchinschloss Brownall of a viewer at The Morgan Collection in New York was featured as one of our early images.

January brought in The Year of the Horse.

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Details of this painting (artist unknown) from Chinese Art in Scotland

February

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Xiao Wei and Yi Fei Li symbolise the new wave of adventurous fashion photography in modern China. Picture by Barrett Sweeger for Cream Magazine.

March

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March saw the tragic and mysterious loss of Malaysian airlines flight MH270 on a March 8 flight out of Singapore. There was a party of 19 Chinese artists, relatives and supporters on board, pictured above at their exhibition in the city state.

April

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Shanghai businessman Liu Yiqian opens his third private museum in the city and shells out US$33.6 million for a tiny chicken cup

chicken cup press

May

Lucy Liu Olympic Fashion shoot 2008

We featured this stunning image of actress and model Lucy Liu, shot in 2008, Olympic Games year, for Harper’s Bazaar

June

£427,250 moment of sale

record breaking charger

A record £427,250 for Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull when they sold this blue and white charger, estimated at £2-3,000.

July

fio sangdeboeuf bowl

The Fiorentini collection of 30 pieces of porcelain was exposed for sale at Bonham’s, Edinburgh and took £105,000. This sang-de-boeuf bowl was knocked down for £11,250.

August

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Shanghai-based Chinese sculptor Chen Dapeng appoints Paul Harris Asia Arts as his agents in the UK in advance of a series of exhibitions.

September

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Major UK exhibition for Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace

October

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The 17th Asian Art in London event opens. Our picture from an exhibition mounted by Michael Goedhuis of outstanding ink and watercolour paintings by Yang Yanping.

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November

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Woolley & Wallis Chinese expert Freya Yuan cradles the top selle, one of a pair of bowls which exceeded £420,000 from their £3.2m. November sale.

December

Royals Will and Kate visited New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was one Chinese picture they didn’t see . . .  Art critic Jerry Saltz posted it on Instagram and got booted off the site. We wonder why!

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Brought Christmas, as ever, but this Santa Claus print from Andy Warhol, offered by Artron in online auction, failed to find an owner.

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. . . and on to 2015. Happy New Year everyone!

‘Most expensive Chinese work of art ever sold at auction’

thangka_auction  The thangka sold a few hours ago Courtesy South China Morning Post

He’s done it again! Mainland tycoon Liu Yiqian, founder of Shanghai’s Long Museum, has smashed his own world auction record with the HK$348.4 million acquisition of a 600-year-old embroidered silk thangka at the Christie’s auction today in Hong Kong. HK$ 348m. equates to around US$45 million.

The purchase is said to set a new record for any Chinese work of art sold by any international auctioneer, breaking the record Liu set in April when he spent HK$281.24 million on the Meiyintang Chenghua “chicken cup”.

The massive piece, known as a thangka and sized bigger than a king-size bed, was entirely worked with silk embroidery, depicting Raktayamari, ‘The Red Killer of Death’, a meditational deity in Mahayana Buddhism. Made on command of the Ming dynasty Yongle Emperor, the thangka is the only one of its kind in private hands, according to Christie’s. The two other known examples are both kept in the Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet.

“It is a national treasure,” Mr. Liu, the billionaire collector who owns two Long Museums, told The Wall Street Journal. “We need top art works for our museum.”

The thangka, which is three metres tall and two metres wide, was made in the Yongle period (1402 – 1424) of the Ming Dynasty. The imperial embroidered silk item came from an American private collection and had a pre-sale estimate of around HK$80 million, excluding buyer’s premium. The final price of HK$348.4 million included the buyer’s premium.

Liu, chairman of the Sunline Group in Shanghai, is one of the most flamboyant Chinese art collectors. He founded the Long Museum in Shanghai with his wife Wang Wei, also a well-known figure in the art world.

Liu, who successfully won the thangka by phone after a 22-minute bidding competition at Wan Chai’s Convention and Exhibition Centre, said the thangka will remain in his museum for years to come.

Liu caused controversy earlier this year when he drank tea from the historic “chicken cup”. He has an estimated personal wealth of around a billion US dollars.

‘But is it the real thing?’

opinion hl by Paul Harris

But is it the real thing? This must be one of the most oft heard queries at auction viewings of Chinese ceramics and works of art these days. Even if it’s not heard, it’s what is constantly going through the minds of collectors and dealers as they survey the offerings. The widespread prevalence of fakes, forgeries, copies, replicas or what ever you may care to term them, has led to much doubt, cynicism and downright disbelief in the marketplace. As a collector and dealer said to me last week, “You know, of course, that 90% of the stuff coming to the market these days is fake.”

Let’s look at that sort of assertion in a bit more detail. As we wrote in our recent articles on Yongzheng and Quianlong chargers, many of these are based on much earlier Ming examples. In that sense, they are later copies but still command very substantial prices. The skills devoted to making such copies are still regarded, rightly, extremely highly which is why such copies command six figure sums very often. The same chargers (or bowls, stem cups, whatever) were copied in the 19th century, sometimes together with the original marks, or with Guangxu, Daoguang or Jiaqing marks. They are, of course, copies but these often not created with the intention of straightforward fraud: like their Yoingzheng or Quianlong predecessors they represented an effort to produce works of equal quality in tribute to long gone craftsmen. Some of that work was rather good and tends to still command worthwhile prices.

cais yongzheng charger SONY DSC Yonzheng charger

Dragon chargers: one Yongzheng, one Quianlong and one late 20th century.            Take your choice!

Copies made later, in the 20th century, require some distinction as to intent. Things knocked off a few months ago on the outskirts of Jingdezhen in back rooms do not generally enjoy very much in terms of quality and, rightly, are looked down upon in the marketplace and are virtually worthless. That is not to say, of course, that some people don’t unwittingly pay good money for them.

However, some modern copies are extremely good and can test even the most expert of experts. Much time, skill and money is expended on producing authentic looking copies. Testing, with its 200-year leeway, is of little use when you are talking about 18th or 19th century pieces. It’s only any good with much earlier pieces. It is said that craftsmen in Jingdezhen in recent years have spent up to EIGHT years working on a single piece to the order of major museums in Beijing who desire to lock away the original and display the faithful copy. The replicas are, apparently, indistinguishable from the real thing. We wonder  if there are any rejects about which, let us say, just failed in some respect to meet the exacting criteria and which have managed to reach the market?

And then there are some really excellent copies produced under licence for sale by major museums, like the Shanghai Museum. Their copies are very pleasing, look good on display and, actually, aren’t that cheap. You can easily spend a couple of thousand in the museum shop acquiring a nice replica. Generally, however, they should be identified as such by any reasonably competent auction house . . .

I know a lot of people who only buy at Christie’s or Sotheby’s. They say the research is excellent and they have a copper-bottomed guarantee, so to speak, if anything they buy turns out to be in the slightest bit dubious. They feel they can buy with absolute confidence. Of course, that guarantee doesn’t come cheap. It usually comes with a price two, three or,even, four hundred per cent times the cost of acquisition in a provincial auction room without the magic cachet.

There again, the provincial room sometimes scores. Like very recently, when Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh exposed a blue and white charger for sale. Catalogued as late 19th/early 20th century with apocryphal Quianlong mark, and estimated at £3,000-5,000, by the time it came to be sold the market had decided rather differently after a great buzz on the grapevine. It got £427,250, inclusive of premium. So several bidders were convinced that the catalogue description was inaccurate. Personally, after viewing and handling it, I rather agreed with the auctioneers, as did some others. Sometimes it does just boil down to being a matter of opinion . . .  And even experts can disagree.

record breaking charger recordbreaking charger mark The £427,250 charger

When the hammer came down on a 1946 ink painting Eagle Standing on a Pine Tree by the master Qi Baishi, in May 2011, it was to cost the equivalent of US$65.4m. But the winning bidder declined to pay for it: he defaulted after a well known art critic, Mou Jianping, declared that it might be a fake, in direct contradiction to the auction house’s advisers, and the firm belief of the Shanghai billionaire collector who owned the picture, Liu Yiqian.

eagle standing on a prine tree Eagle Standing on a Pine Tree

In the end of the day, it is very often simply a matter of opinion. I have quite a number of pieces I fondly imagine to be early Ming but I am sure so-called experts would disagree with me. But I still get enormous pleasure from looking at them, handling them and appreciating their beauty. Dreams may not exactly come free. But you can get them for relatively little in cash and enjoy them just as a billionaire might enjoy his own somewhat pricier purchase.

Largest privately owned museum in China opens its doors

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Photo by Andreea Dragut

We have written previously about China’s new museums and also about billionaire entrepreneur Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei. Well, this pair are unstoppable. Last week saw the opening of the second branch of the Long Museum in the Xuhui Riverside Development Area of Shanghai.

The new museum is the largest privately owned museum in China founded by the glamorous couple and is vast and ambitious in size: it spans over 33.000 square meters and has 16.000 square meters of exhibition space.

long-museum-west-bund-1 Modernist or brutalist?

Photo by Andreea Dragut

Designed by Chinese architect Liu Yichun, the museum is over 4 floors and includes exhibition galleries, reading rooms, a shop and a café overlooking the Pudong River (currently only the galleries are open to the public. In reality, it’s not quite ready yet although it is a phenomenal achievement to almost complete the building in a year – the opening reception took place on March 28 but, really, it is still under construction. The official description sums up the project:

The Long Museum West Bund does not adopt the closed spatial pattern typical of ordinary museums but functionally embraces openness and public involvement. For instance, on the above-ground floors, there is a river-view restaurant, a public courtyard, a concert hall, a café, and an art shop; in the first basement, there is an exhibition hall for children, a library, rooms for artifact restoration, and an art bookshop; in the second basement, there is a parking lot available for over 300 cars. Thanks to all these, art is no longer far away from the public but is seamlessly integrated into people’s daily life and leisure.

The opening exhibition is entitled “Re-View”. It is concerned with the relationship between Eastern and Western Art. As with all of Yiqian’s initiatives, it is nothing if not ambitious:

For the opening exhibition, Long Museum has invited Mr. Wang Huangsheng to be the chief curator and Cao Qinghui and Guo Xiaoyan as co-curators. Taking the lineages in art history as the thread and leveraging the features of Long Museum collection, we proudly present “Re-View”: Opening Exhibition of Long Museum West Bund in three sections: Ancient / Contemporary, Chinese Paintings / Western Paintings, and Cases / History. The exhibition will show more than 300 artworks by over 200 artists, covering contemporary, modern, and traditional Chinese art.

long-museum-west-bund-9 Space for appreciation

Photo by Andreea Dragut

Admission information

Adult (One museum): 50RMB/person / (Two museums): 80RMB/person Concessions: 50% discount for seniors over 70, teachers and college students with valid certificates; Free Admission: Secondary and primary school students, servicemen and persons with disabilities. Discounts for Visitors in Groups: 30% discount for groups with 20 or more persons (Telephone reservation at two days’ notice is required. This discount cannot be applied with any other preferential treatment.)

Opening Hours: 10:00am-6:00pm, Monday-Sunday. Last admission is at 5:00pm.

Address: 3398 Longteng Avenue, Xuhui District Shanghai

[Photographs by Andreea Dragut]

‘As long as it’s Chinese, I’ll collect it’

Reading a back number of The New York Times recently, I was intrigued to see an interesting quote from the Shanghai billionaire businessman, Liu Yiqian.  Asked what category of art he was engaged in acquiring, he replied bluntly: “I don’t have a specialisation. As long as it’s Chinese, I’ll collect it.”

liu yiqian Liu Yiqian

Courtesy BBC

As I don’t know Mr Yiqian, I was driven to wonder if he was some sort of an eccentric who lived in a suitably large house, or palace, indeed, stacked to the rafters with piles of blue and white plates, ginger jars by the thousand and walls crammed floor to ceiling with ink paintings, calligraphy and ancestral portraits . . .

I have to admit that this mental image couldn’t have been more wrong. Mr Yiqian and his wife, Wang Wei, might have been extremely active collectors for more than twenty years, but there is nothing disorganised or random about their buying. According to some reports, they have spent between 300 and 400 million dollars (equivalent) on the best: the best ranging from ancient porcelains and jades to the work of the best contemporary Chinese artists. They may buy rather a lot, but they only buy the best . . .

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Liu Yiqian and his wife, Wang Wei

Indeed, they have bought so much over the years, that they have had to build their own museums to house their art. In 2012, they opened the Long Museum, which was then China’s largest privately-owned museum: an ultra-modern 10,000 square meter granite-square building near to the Shanghai New International Expo Centre. There are regular contemporary art shows on a grand scale; on the second floor are revolutionary artworks and ‘Red-classic’ paintings from the recent bygone era; and the third floor contains a permanent exhibition hall for Chinese artifacts . . .

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Long Museum, Interior, conference room

The taste of Mr Yiqian and his wife is not random, just all-encompassing. They want the best, and have the funds to acquire rather a lot of it . . . in that, they are not too untypical of the expanding number of Chinese billionaires. That can only be good news for the Chinese art market.