Trend in sight

Profiling the young generation of Chinese collectors

Art Market | China harbors more than 600 billionaires, every week new economic powers emerge, mainly in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Among them, some young people are standing out by investing in the art market.

Grand Opening Celebration at Shanghai K11 © K11
Grand Opening Celebration at Shanghai K11
© K11

A fully mastered global strategy

In 2013, Lin Han, 26, was still unknown among the art market’s main actors, until he bought Zeng Fanzhi’s Mask Series (1997) for HK $ 5 million, sparking the interest of galleries such as White Cube, ShanghART and SCAI The Bathhouse. In order to justify his investment he said :  » It’s like a war, before the war, you play military music to encourage people and make a sound. I made a sound to let people know I am here. »

The young generation of Chinese collectors does not go unnoticed in today’s art world. Besides their young age (most of them are between 20 and 35 years old) they share specific similarities. Their parents are commonly wealthy members of the Communist Party that have built economic empires in the fields of real estate, finance or business; such is the case of Lin Han, for instance. Some of these young collectors have invested in art from an early age, such as Michael Huang who began his collection at 16, or David Chau who launched his investment fund devoted to art when he was 21.

Unlike their elders, the young Chinese collectors are turning away from traditional painting, they are following a tendency based on more westernized models of collections. For instance, Dr. Uli Sigg’s acquisitions have been a source of inspiration for Chong Zhou, while Kelly Ying has been under the influence of the Rubell Family Collection. Their global approach to collections is no coincidence, it is the result of their education in Europe and North America, where they usually pursued studies related to the art world. Some of them have joined western institutions; such as Adrien Cheng, a creative collector who graduated from Harvard and developed the K11 Art Foundation in 2010. He is also a member of major Western cultural institutions’ committees : the Royal Academy of Arts, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Center Pompidou Circle. Michael Huang forms part of the New York Museum’s administration committee and Wan Wan Lei, who was trained at influential galleries such as Pace Beijing, Sperone Westwater, David Zwirner New York and 1301PE (Los Angeles) launched her won itinerant gallery “Wanwan Lei Projects” in 2013.

New territories of cultural nationalism

Back in China, the young art collectors have promptly brought new life to the national artistic and cultural scene. Counting on the support of recognized western institutions, they have simultaneously established substantial collaborations and built collections including major names. Under the guidance of his father, Lu Xun, 34, launched the Sifang Art Museum at Nanjing in 2013 : a 20.000 square meters platform whose design was conceived by American architect Steven Holl. Among the artists included in the Museum’s permanent collection, we find Olafur Eliasson, Marlene Dumas and Luc Tuymans, as well as Chinese artists such as Yang Fudong, Zhang Enli and Zhang Peili.

The young collectors rub shoulders with notorious Western artists, from Kader Attia to Anselm Kiefer, including new Chinese figures such as Qiu Xiaofei and Sun Xun. They have relied on the art scene’s key players in order to bring attention to Chinese emerging artists. In 2017 during the 5th edition of ART021, which was organized by Kelly Ying and David Chau at Shanghai, the art market reflected this tendency with 77% of Asian galleries exhibiting alongside Western galleries such as Perrotin Hong Kong or Hauser & Wirth.

For their part, Wanwan Lei and Lin Han, who are associated with Micheal Huang, have been developing M WOODS since 2014 : a private non-profit museum based in Beijing that has established partnerships with Western brands such as Christie’s or Hublot. Finally, having accomplished her collaboration with renowned curator Robin Peckham, Wanwan Lei recovered the monopoly over the design of her location’s exhibitions.

Through its mastery of both collections and curation, the young generation of Chinese collectors is structuring and spreading its own vision of art today. Playing with influencing strategies through partnerships based on reputation and visibility, the collectors have favored the introduction of hitherto unknown national artists into the art market. In this way, the new generation is creating new territories of cultural nationalism.

Valentin Heinrich / Vincent Kozsilovics
Publié le 15/11/2017
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Grand Opening Celebration at Shanghai K11 © K11

Grand Opening Celebration at Shanghai K11
© K11