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The Nascent of the Avant-Garde
by Robin Peckham

Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Wanchai, Hong Kong
3 April 2011

Setting records for artists as varied as Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi, Zhang Peili, and Geng Jianyi, the Sotheby’s sale of the famed Ullens Collection appeared largely unaffected by the rumors and controversy that gripped media observers in the lead-up to the white glove evening. Buyers seemed more interested in the Ullens imprimatur than the fact that many of the pieces assembled were actually purchased in bulk from a certain dealer just five to seven years ago rather than at the beginning of their journey; while the possibility that the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art may be passed off to local partners as the collectors focus on emerging Indian art failed to temper the rabid appetites of others looking to build collections in Chinese contemporary. The major surprise of the night was that buyers of many top lots were not actually the fabled new Chinese collectors many might have been expecting; to the contrary, a major piece by Zhang Peili is said to have gone to a British museum, while mainland observers from the floor complained that the auctioneer was favoring absentee phone bidders.

All that aside, however, the real winners throughout this entire episode were indubitably that set of artists whose work has been massively influential over the past two decades but whom had yet to be recognized by the market apparatus or many private collections. Chief among those are the proponents of Rational Painting, a dispersed school that served to combat the more romantic and universal humanistic leanings of the 85 New Wave with a cool, calm, and collected eye -- one that would later become the lens. Major pieces from this movement included in the sale came from Shu Qun, Wang Guangyi, Geng Jianyi, Zhang Peili, and Guan Wei, hopefully stoking a revived recognition of that historical moment.

-- Robin Peckham

(Image courtesy of Sotheby's and Zhang Xiaogang.)

Posted by Robin Peckham on 4/18/11 | tags: auction

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