Hideaki Kawashima (b.1969), Go Ahead, 2001. Acrylic on canvas. 91 x 116.8 cm (35? x 46 in). Estimate $4,000-6,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online

The new collector’s guide to Asian contemporary art

Who’s hot? Which regions are undervalued? How important is an artist’s auction history? Specialist Aisi Wang addresses these questions and more about a fast-growing market

  • 1
  • Are editions a good way to start an Asian art collection?

Editions are an excellent way to acquire a work by an Asian artist you admire at an accessible price point. Artists who offer high-quality editions of images from their iconic series include Liu Ye, Yoshitomo Nara and Yayoi Kusama

Yoshitomo Nara (b. 1959), Marching on a Butterbur Leaf, 2020. Offset lithograph. 60.7 x 45.5 cm (23? x 17? in). Estimate $1,000-1,5000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
Yoshitomo Nara (b. 1959), Marching on a Butterbur Leaf, 2020. Offset lithograph. 60.7 x 45.5 cm (23? x 17? in). Estimate: $1,000-1,5000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
  • 2
  • An artist I admire is best known for paintings. Should I collect the same artist’s works on paper or sculpture?

Works on paper and sculpture can give you a different perspective on an artist’s process. The works on paper of Yayoi Kusama, for example, offer the possibility of an alternative interpretation of the paintings that made her famous.

Similarly, Haegue Yang’s mixed-media flat works can be compared with her installations. Works on paper and sculpture complement the artist’s primary medium, and can be collected and appreciated as works in their own right. 

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Rain on the Pacific, 1979. Enamel and ink on paperboard. 27 x 24 cm (10? x 9½ in). Estimate $15,000-20,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Rain on the Pacific, 1979. Enamel and ink on paperboard. 27 x 24 cm (10? x 9½ in). Estimate: $15,000-20,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
  • 3
  • Should I focus on a particular region?

There’s no need to limit yourself. In the past the market for Asian artists was more regionally focused — Chinese collectors only seeking out works by Chinese artists, for example — but now we’re seeing more collectors acquiring works regardless of geography or nationality.

Artists from Asia are increasing their international presence and enjoying more attention from collectors globally. One example of this is Zao Wou-Ki, who has long been considered a modern master in Asia but has only recently received the same level of recognition in the United States. There have been Zao retrospectives in Taiwan since the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the first was held in an American museum, at the Asia Society in New York.

Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013), Embrasement (Conflagration), 1954. Lithograph. 38.5 x 48 cm (15? x 18? in). Estimate $3,000-5,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013), Embrasement (Conflagration), 1954. Lithograph. 38.5 x 48 cm (15? x 18? in). Estimate: $3,000-5,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
  • 4
  • What impact does the condition of an artwork have on its value?

That depends on the artwork and the artist. Takashi Murakami’s prints, for example, should be in pristine condition — anything less would negatively affect the value of the work.

Walasse Ting (1928-2010), Untitled (Flower - Bouquet and Parrots), circa 1990s. Ink and colour on rice paper. 48.5 x 59 cm (19? x 23¼ in). Estimate $2,000-3,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
Walasse Ting (1928-2010), Untitled (Flower - Bouquet and Parrots), circa 1990s. Ink and colour on rice paper. 48.5 x 59 cm (19? x 23¼ in). Estimate: $2,000-3,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online

For some artists, however, what may appear to be deterioration or damage can be an integral part of their practice. Walasse Ting’s works on paper are often creased because he saturates thin Chinese paper with brightly coloured ink or acrylic paint, and the wetting and drying of the paper and mixing of different media affects the condition of the work. The resulting marks of imperfection would be considered a part of the artist’s technique, and not a reflection of the artwork’s quality.

  • 5
  • Which is more important to consider, market value or historical value?

Market value doesn’t necessarily reflect the historical value of an artwork. The Taiwanese Fifth Moon and Ton Fan groups, for example, which included renowned artists such as Hsiao Chin, Li Yuan-Chia, and Hu Chi-Chung, are undervalued relative to their significance in the history of Asian post-war abstract art.

Tsuyoshi Maekawa (b. 1936), Work, 1963. Oil and Jute on canvas laid on wood board. 38.5 x 46 x 5 cm (15? x 18? x 2 in). Estimate $8,000-12,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
Tsuyoshi Maekawa (b. 1936), Work, 1963. Oil and Jute on canvas laid on wood board. 38.5 x 46 x 5 cm (15? x 18? x 2 in). Estimate: $8,000-12,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online

Tsuyoshi Maekawa is another example of an undervalued artist. He was a pioneering member of the Japanese Gutai group, who experimented with performance and painting — its most famous member being Kazuo Shiraga, who painted with his feet. Some of Shiraga’s paintings now sell for millions of dollars; in contrast, Maekawa’s works are relatively affordable when they appear at auction. 

  • 6
  • What are the prospects for Southeast Asian art?

The market for Southeast Asian artists is growing rapidly, and shows immense potential. Many of these artists have established careers and long sale histories in their own countries, but until recently their market has been very regional. Thanks to Biennales, art fairs and international exhibitions, they’re becoming more accessible to collectors across the world.  

Vu Cao Dam (1908-2000), Confidences, 1966. Oil on canvas. 46 x 38 cm (18? x 15 in). Estimate $10,000-15,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
Vu Cao Dam (1908-2000), Confidences, 1966. Oil on canvas. 46 x 38 cm (18? x 15 in). Estimate: $10,000-15,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online

Since Southeast Asian art is still an emerging market, the works are affordable, making this category an excellent entry point for new collectors. For example, paintings by the Vietnamese artist Vu Cao Dam, who spent much of his career living near Marc Chagall in the south of France, can still be found for relatively low prices.



  • 7
  • What is the trend in Asian contemporary sculpture?

We are finding many artists who are creating unique, highly conceptual pieces that blur the lines between sculpture and decorative art. For example, Zhan Wang’s artificial rock sculptures echo the traditional Chinese passion for ‘scholar’s rocks’ — fascinatingly shaped pieces of natural stone.

Zhan Wang (b. 1962), Artificial Rock, 2002. Stainless steel sculpture with wooden base. 47 x 32 x 21.5 cm (18½ x 12? x 8½ in). Estimate $12,000-22,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
Zhan Wang (b. 1962), Artificial Rock, 2002. Stainless steel sculpture with wooden base. 47 x 32 x 21.5 cm (18½ x 12? x 8½ in). Estimate: $12,000-22,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
  • 8
  • Who is collecting contemporary art from Asia at the moment?

There’s a global demand for Asian contemporary art, from the United States to Europe, and of course within Asia. We’re finding that collectors, particularly new buyers, are attracted to the affordability of this category. Many of the works sold at Christie’s are also reasonably sized and convenient to transport or hang, making them both beautiful and practical for apartments or small homes.

Chen Ke (b. 1978), Aged Frida & Diego, 2012. Acrylic on canvas. 50 x 40 cm (19? x 15¾  in). Estimate $15,000-20,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
Chen Ke (b. 1978), Aged Frida & Diego, 2012. Acrylic on canvas. 50 x 40 cm (19? x 15¾ in). Estimate: $15,000-20,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
  • 9
  • I like an artist for whom there seems to be little or no auction history. Should I be concerned?

If an artist has a short auction history, it doesn’t necessarily reflect their market value. Many Asian artists could be very successful in their own country through their studios, local blue-chip galleries or cultural institutions, but haven’t yet had the opportunity to establish themselves on the international scene or through auction houses.

Kojiro Matsumoto (b. 1976), Untitled, 2016. Pencil and acrylic on paper. 90 x 59.4 cm (35? x 23? in). Estimate $2,000-3,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
Kojiro Matsumoto (b. 1976), Untitled, 2016. Pencil and acrylic on paper. 90 x 59.4 cm (35? x 23? in). Estimate: $2,000-3,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
  • 10
  • Which new artists should I be looking out for?

Asian contemporary art is still a relatively new market in global terms, and we are regularly discovering artists, both emerging and established, who are worthy of attention. Right now, we recommend you keep an eye on Tatsuo Miyajima and Liu Shuishi

Lui Shuishi (b. 1962), The Smart One, 2014. Oil on canvas. 130 x 170 cm (51?  x 66? in). Estimate $30,000-50,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
Lui Shuishi (b. 1962), The Smart One, 2014. Oil on canvas. 130 x 170 cm (51? x 66? in). Estimate: $30,000-50,000. Offered in Contemporary Art Asia, until 12 March 2021, Online
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