Mon, Oct 15, 2007 - Page 12 News List

Western collectors cash in on interest in Chinese paintings


A New York collector made 63 times his cost on a Chinese painting at a London auction yesterday, showing how money is being made by betting on trends in the contemporary art markets.

Howard Farber said he paid US$25,000 in 1996 for Wang Guangyi's (王廣義) Great Criticism: Coca-Cola, which portrays revolutionary soldiers stabbing at a Coca-Cola Co logo. It took ?780,000 (US$1.59 million) before commission at Phillips de Pury & Co, compared with a ?600,000 top estimate.

The buyer was Larry Warsh, a New York-based collector and art adviser who is Farber's son-in-law.

The political pop artist's 1993 critique of US consumer culture is "the most reproduced image of Chinese contemporary art," Farber, 65, a former real-estate financier, said before the sale.

"The artist sees the Coca-Cola logo as an invasion of Western brands into China, and every story in any magazine or book about Chinese art would probably use this image," he said.

"It's a lot of money," Warsh said in an interview.

It was the most he had ever paid for Chinese contemporary art.

"I am very nervous. Part of my plan is to create a traveling collection and send it to Asia, and this is the key piece. Wang Guangyi is the Warhol of China. This piece is one of the most famous samples of his work and one of the earliest," he said.

Warsh said that he planned to sell some of his collection, which includes pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, to focus on China.

The collector's decision shows that resources for many art buyers are finite, and purchases aren't always a sign that new money is coming into the market.

Phillips' sale is part of a five-day marathon of contemporary art sales estimated by auctioneers at as much as ?184 million. Sotheby's last night took in ?34.9 million, missing its ?40.4 million top estimate even after adding commissions, in a possible sign collectors are discounting some artworks after two months of turbulence in the financial markets.

Still, Yue Minjun's (岳敏君) Execution, a 1995 oil painting of laughing men in underwear, set a record at Sotheby's both for the artist and for a Chinese contemporary work, taking ?2.9 million including commission from a telephone buyer.

Sotheby's described Yue's 1995 painting, which was inspired by the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, as "arguably the artist's most vehement, candid and politically loaded work."

Recalling Francisco de Goya's The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid, it depicts figures pointing at others in a mock-execution, in front of a red wall that suggests Beijing's Forbidden City.

As China's economy grows, the country's art is captivating Western collectors. London's Charles Saatchi will open his new gallery with a Chinese contemporary show, and Belgium's Guy Ullens has built a Beijing museum. Farber's sales have enabled him to profit from a three-year boom in values and from the rules he applied to buying works since 1995.

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