Big news coming out of the Chinese art world today. Bloomberg reports that Guy Ullens, the Belgian industrialist and collector of Chinese art since the mid-1980s, has sold 18 works from his collection for over $20 million (151.7 yuan). Ullens, whose collection is made up of hundreds of pieces spanning centuries of China’s long artistic history, put these works, many of them duplicates or triplicates, up for auction to add to efforts by his popular Beijing museum of contemporary Chinese art to reach out to China’s burgeoning collector base and art enthusiasts.
According to Bloomberg, the huge returns on Ullens’s sale indicates two important developments in the Chinese art world — for one, the quality of the Ullens collection, and two, the motivation of Mainland Chinese collectors to buy Chinese art now. While the Ullens collection has long been considered one of the top collections of traditional and contemporary Chinese art, until recently the local Chinese collector base has stayed out of the picture, mainly sticking to purchasing the occasional western master or ancient Chinese antique. Now, however, as the Chinese New Collector becomes increasingly influential in art auctions around the world, sales like that of Ullens’s artwork are, as we’ve seen in the last year or so, becoming more heavily populated by Mainland buyers.
Bloomberg points out that the success of this sale reflects the trend that we have been observing since before the global downturn struck, of Chinese buyers (and Chinese auction houses) growing in number and influence. This extends not only to the sale of Ullens’s artwork, but to every corner of the auction market, from contemporary and traditiional Chinese art to wines and jewelry. As the article points out as well, the breadth of Ullens’s sale — which included contemporary artists like Zhang Xiaogang, who sold for 15 million yuan to a Chinese buyer — shows that the Chinese collector has truly arrived.