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Michael Goedhuis


by Brook S. Mason
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The Dutch-born, London-based art dealer Michael Goedhuis, who has an extensive background in finance, has played a pivotal role in the contemporary Chinese painting market. His latest curatorial effort is “Ink: The Art of China,” June 19-July 5, 2012, at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Artnet Magazine talked to Goedhuis about this relatively new niche market and the degree to which it’s making headway in the West and abroad.

With this new niche category based on classical Chinese ink painting dating how far back, who are the artists creating a new pictorial language and how are they shifting the axis of Chinese art?

There are approximately 50 Chinese ink artists of international stature, with leading names as follows: Liu Dan, Wei Ligang, Qin Feng, Qiu Deshu, Gu Wenda, Xu Bing and Yang Jiechang.

What was the initial price structure for the work of Xu Lei, who is also known for designing a label for Chateau Mouton Rothschild label?

The price level has shifted from $100,000 to $500,000 in the last 18 months for Xu Lei. The buyers of Xu Lei are mainland Chinese.

You’ve said this area is ripe for collecting and investment. What are the entry points and the rewards? Is this also an emerging market in Asia?

The average price for the top tier ink artists is still ca. $50,000-$75,000. We believe these levels will appreciate substantially to conform more realistically to the level of Chinese oil paintings, which now range from $500,000 to $5 million. Yes, the field is still very much emerging in Asia.

New York billionaire Wilbur Ross collects in this area, but how many collectors are building substantial holdings in terms of scope, depth and quality? To what degree did Uli Sigg, who just donated and sold his vast collection to the new M+ museum in Hong Kong, own Chinese ink paintings?

Collectors of ink painting have now expanded from Europe and the U.S. to Asia, which is where the major thrust is expected in the future. Probably 15 committed collectors in the field are spread between Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia and mainland China, in that order of importance. Approximately 20 percent of Sigg’s collection is comprised of ink works. 

Are there any museum shows now and in the works? Which museums in the U.S. and the UK have been collecting in this area?

Two current shows include “Modern Chinese Ink Painting” at the British Museum and “Rochers de lettrés, itinéraires de l'art en Chine” at the Musée Guimet in Paris. Exhibitions are rumored for the Beijing National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Many other museums are now involved in this field, including the Sackler at Harvard, the MFA Boston, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and the Ashmolean, Oxford. They are both buying and accepting donations, of course.

The Chinese art market is on fire, with Sotheby’s CEO Bill Ruprecht estimating the size of the market for Chinese paintings at $4 billion a year -- more than Sotheby's and Christie's combined Impressionist, modern and contemporary sales last year. Can this market segment continue to grow?

Contemporary ink painting is the most important expression of China's classical civilization and as such will increasingly be acquired by Chinese collectors interested in contemporary art and particularly contemporary art that is quintessentially Chinese.

Although your Saatchi exhibition is a loan show, will you follow it up with a selling venue?

A small group of works in the Saatchi show, which is primarily a loan show, are for sale. And other works will be exhibited at the Masterpiece London fair [which opens June 28-July 4, 2012].

You just opened a space in Beijing. Are you still active at Cadogan Square? What of your New York gallery?

The New York gallery is closed. We deal from Cadogan Square in London and have an office in Beijing.

Back in 2007, you negotiated the sale of the Estella Collection for $23.5 million from an initial investment of $3.8 million over the prior three and a half years. It had been exhibited by the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and its quick turnover caused a bit of a ruckus. Who acquired that collection?

Estella was acquired by Bill Acquavella and subsequently sold by him through Sotheby's Hong Kong [for a total of almost $52 million].

“Ink: The Art of China,” June 19-July 5, 2012
Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York's Square, London, SW3 4SQ.

BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.