Seemingly overnight, the art market was overrun by young people. After a two-year hiatus, Christie’s China has reopened on the Bund in Shanghai. At the preview site, almost all of them are young people who are at the forefront of the trend and well-dressed. This is very different from the situation before the arrival of the new crown pneumonia epidemic: At that time, their audience was not much different from that of the local auction houses in China – mostly prudent middle-aged people.
The data and the scene are intertwined: On March 1, in Christie’s China’s most important night auction, 28% of the registered customers were “Millennials”, that is, people born between 1984 and 2000. You must know that for a long time in the past, the night market of the top auction houses has always been the world of “old money men”.
This trend is not only happening at Christie’s, but also at West Bund Art Fair, one of the most important contemporary art fairs in China. At the West Bund Art Fair last November, there were more than 120 galleries from 18 countries, many of them world-leading galleries. “Younger, trendier and more international”, this is what Lin Han, the founder of Beijing Mumu Art Museum, thinks about it. Facing a dazzling array of works with strong visual impact and young people walking through them, the collector who was born in 1987 also sighed: “I’m old.”
Auctions and art fairs, offline art market From the close of shutdown due to the epidemic to the restart of operation, what happened during this period? Where do these young people come from? What changes have they brought to this market?
The popularity of an “emoji” aesthetic
”The eyes must be big, and the colors must be bright. I like to call them ‘cute without a head’.” Candice Gu, a collector and former director of a well-known gallery in Shanghai, summed up the popular taste of young Chinese collectors.
This is indeed a menacing trend. In the past few years, artists such as KAWS and Takashi Murakami have been highly sought after at auctions and art fairs in Asia. The industry insiders I interviewed all said that the aesthetics of young people today are related to the pandemic of Japanese animation at the end of the 20th century. “There has always been a need to pursue something that can be understood and played with, and this understandable thing is familiar with the toys we used to have.” This is the feeling of collector Lin Han.
Based on the observation of human spiritual condition in the digital information age, German philosopher Han Bingzhe put forward the concept of “burnout society”. People with this social syndrome generally pay great attention to personal achievements, and it is no longer external discipline but the will to constantly self-exploit that puts pressure on people. Information overload has become a common problem, and deep thinking can make people feel overwhelmed. The reading of words gradually gave way to the viewing of images, and something that is not bright, exaggerated, and clear at a glance cannot keep people’s erratic eyes. From the era of text to the era of reading pictures, people’s sensory needs are becoming flat.
From high-end artworks, “fashion play” to popular “blind boxes”, an aesthetic similar to “expression packs” covers the entire wealth pyramid from bottom to top. Just like the changing tastes of the Chinese, the need for direct stimulation of the mouth is far superior to the taste of multi-layered tastes.
As a result, from high-end artworks, “fashion play” to popular “blind boxes”, an aesthetic similar to “expression packs” covers the entire wealth pyramid from bottom to top. Just like the changing tastes of the Chinese, the need for direct stimulation of the mouth is far superior to the taste of multi-layered tastes.
The artist uses his works to stab people’s general mental state. Takashi Murakami is the most successful artist in Asia combining fashion and luxury. His sunflowers and big eyes swept the world with his childish, dazzling and exaggerated style. He calls his art style “Super flat” and has also published the Super Flat Manifesto and the Childish Force Manifesto. In the “Superflat Manifesto”, he wrote: “In the future, society, customs, art, and culture will become two-dimensional like Japan, and these will have a powerful force in world culture.”
Excellent market results can be seen as part of an artist’s social experiment, which in turn demonstrates the validity of art criticism. Asian collectors have made artists such as Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami on the altar with high enthusiasm, and they have become popular aesthetic symbols all over the world. “Asian people like cute things for a long time, but Europeans and Americans could not understand Murakami Takashi and Nara Yoshitomo at first. At the beginning of the 21st century, Nara Yoshitomo’s large-scale works were only $600,000 a piece in the secondary market, but now All of them are more than 10 million US dollars, and the people who buy these works are now also European and American collectors,” Candice said.
”Don’t underestimate the artistic value that a trend may bring. The promotion of high prices will eventually leave traces in the history of art.” said Huang Wenrui, a doctor of art history at Harvard University and a professor at Fudan Fanhai International School of Finance.
Who are they?
When eating together, Shesman was quick to discern which of his new friends were “rich second-generation” and who were self-made professional elites. This is not her intention to distinguish, but the obvious difference will awaken people’s subconscious feelings.
The bifurcation point is in the self-introduction when I first met. When Shesman introduced himself to work in the art industry, the first reaction of those investors, entrepreneurs or “executives of large companies with annual salary of several million” was often a surprised “Ah, art, so tall.”
”Then there was a burst of hypocritical touts, and then some very basic questions were asked, such as how to see art, where to see it, and why those things were so expensive. These people caught up with the trend of the times, combined with great diligence, and quickly accumulated A lot of money, but maybe I have never been to an art fair, I only go to a gallery occasionally, and then I don’t know the difference between a gallery and an art gallery.” The collector who studied Western art history and the head of Artsy China spoke to me in one breath. Go on.
”If it was another circle, the topic would be different,” Sheesman said. “They would naturally talk about professional issues, such as what is good to paint, where is it good, which artist is popular recently, and why. ”
In the past two years, on various occasions in the art market, the number of newly rich and “rich second-generation” has increased visibly to the naked eye. Xie Xiaodong, founder of Zaiyi App, believes that the influx of young people is a sign of social change at a certain point. “The ‘second generation’ of China’s wealthy class has grown up. On the other hand, professional investors and successful people in the ‘new economy’ field constitute the main force of new young collectors.” In 2020, with a group of Chinese Concept stocks were listed, and young Internet people who held early options quickly became “upstarts”, and artworks became their “new baskets” for placing “eggs”.
This has to do with the nature of the art market. This market has always been a “safe haven” for money. In the downturn of the capital market, especially under the anticipation of the epidemic and economic crisis, artworks can play the role of capital hedging and have strong resilience. Historically, whether in the 2003 SARS epidemic or the 2008 financial crisis, the art market has been one of the fastest-recovering investment areas.
On the other hand, after the outbreak of the new crown pneumonia, many “rich second-generation” international students in Europe and the United States also returned to China. Among this group of people, many are collectors of trendy games and artworks. In the two years that their studies have been delayed due to the epidemic, they have become another force flooding into the domestic art market.
Self-made young people and calm “rich second generation”
Young professional elites and “rich second generation”, the former are mostly still curiously looking outside the circle, while the latter have already made a big step into the market. The difference in attitude between the two is obvious at a glance. Shesman, who was in the circle, saw more of the inner differences between the two groups.
Behind this difference lies a wealth of personal growth information. The parents of many “rich second-generation” collectors have already set foot in collecting. In their upbringing, art is an accessible part of life, and taste is learned from childhood. Equally critical is the network of people in the circle. In a highly opaque market, they were able to know earlier. Who to buy from, who to ask for advice, and whom to buy from. Therefore, even if the field of collection is very different from that of their parents, they will quickly grasp the communication code of the art circle and integrate into it.
For self-made successful people, although they will also receive catalogues mailed by the auction house, and there are many friends who do collections around them, this contact is intermittent and indirect after all. There is still a gap between them and art.
The most important thing is the time you can put in. “These young people still have a lot of pursuits in their careers, and the pace is fast. Time is a luxury for them, and they don’t have time to go to exhibitions or art fairs at all,” Shesman said.
This has created a situation in which the elites who have always shown themselves professionally have become “amateurs” in the art world, while those “second-generation” who seem free and easy-going are actually shrewd experts.
”Don’t look at the ‘rich second generation’ money is easier to come by, but this group of people is under pressure, and their collections are also very focused on the rate of return, because they have to explain to the family.” Shesman told me that for many For the “rich second generation”, buying art is also a means of investment, and many people regard art trading as a profession. Therefore, whether it is viewing the exhibition or socializing in the circle, on the surface, this group of people are playing, but in essence they are working.
For the self-made professional elite, art is currently only one way of hobby or investment. Instead, they maintain a more peaceful and pure state of mind. Also because of time constraints and lack of professionalism, many people will entrust brokers to come forward to buy art. Therefore, even though there have been many financial and Internet elites who have entered the collection in the past two years, compared with the high-profile professional collectors, these people are often more willing to dive under the water, and are invisible “invisible people” in the circle.
From “fashion play” to art
The art market is a lookout post for the advancement of Chinese entrepreneurs’ wealth. From the first generation of energy and manufacturing entrepreneurs to the second generation of real estate and financial tycoons, those who pick up the most dazzling artworks in the market are also the wave chasers at the cutting edge of the trend. In 1993, when art auctions were just starting, Liu Yiqian walked into Guardian Auctions and bought a calligraphy by Guo Moruo and a painting by Li Keran. He was just 30 years old that year. Since then, the public image of this “legal person stock king” who has set up a luggage stand and drove a taxi has gradually changed, and he has become a collector and the founder of China’s largest private art museum.
Today, the use of “post-80s and post-90s also grown up” to summarize the collection of the new generation hides an important question: how many “chicken cups” and “Zhang Daqian” are still waiting for their arrival? The previous generation of collectors has almost finished “dividing” the treasures of Chinese classical art, and this generation of young people is only faced with a barren open space. If so, what kind of targets can the newly born wealth be attached to?
Young people desperately need to find new symbols to represent themselves. They put aside their fathers who were devoted to sorting out history, and never looked back to participate in the production of contemporary art in the world, shaping their own discourse system. The aesthetic break between them and their parents is also the separation between the two waves of wealth in Chinese society.
Candice observes: “Many 20-somethings’ attention to artworks doesn’t come from art history at all, such as Van Gogh, Richter and other big names, but from KAWS, building block bears or even a pair of sneakers. “In their world, the really important artists are not Van Gogh, Monet, Zhang Daqian or Qi Baishi, but the “superflat” artist Takashi Murakami or the graffiti artist KAWS.
Jerry’s experience corroborates Candice’s observations. Jerry was born in Chengdu and came from a wealthy family. Two years ago, he was still studying economics at the University of California, Los Angeles. Because of the spread of the epidemic, he returned to his hometown as a junior in junior year. In early March, Jerry went to Shanghai with his parents to attend an order meeting. Due to the rapid spread of the epidemic, they only stayed in Shanghai for two days, but Jerry made a special trip to Juice, a fashion store on Changle Road. The owner of Juice is Edison Chen. Jerry’s attention to trends and art started from being obsessed with the star.
When he was in junior high school, because he saw Edison Chen selling a classic fashion shoe “Nike Air Yeezy2” in the store, Jerry immediately asked someone to find a channel and spent more than 10,000 yuan to buy a pair. Up to now, the number of trendy shoes in his collection has reached 40 pairs, and the price of the pair of “Nike Air Yeezy2” has risen to 80,000 to 90,000 yuan. Jerry feels very obvious, “In the past few years, more and more people have entered the fashion game circle, the market is very hot, and more and more money flows in.” A friend around him bought a Chanel co-branded Bear brick for 40,000 yuan. A few days later, the bear was sold for a price increase of 30,000 yuan. There are also trendy shoes that have been fired for more than 1 million yuan, and there are still classmates around them who buy them and wear them on their feet.
There are also many classmates around Jerry who are buying art with a lot of money, some for investment, and some “to deal with troublesome money for the family”. The more exaggerated thing in his impression is that a friend around him bought two paintings at a fashion exhibition. In Jerry’s understanding, these two paintings are very bland. But what he didn’t expect was that a few days later, the two paintings were sold by friends on Taobao for 9.99 million yuan. The friend proudly showed them the record of 19.98 million yuan that the buyer called. “This may be ‘money laundering’. He showed us that it was nothing more than showing off his strength.” Jerry recalled.
In Jerry’s circle, Takashi Murakami can be described as “top-notch”. Jerry also bought a print by Takashi Murakami. But for him, Takashi Murakami’s meaning is simply: “There is a wall full of sneakers at home, and I need to hang a suitable painting to match them.”
Commercial establishments are also changing to accommodate the preferences of young collectors.
”There is a clear trend that the marketing methods of auction houses and galleries are now more and more like luxury marketing,” said Huang Wenrui, a scholar who has studied art finance for a long time. “They will create a situation of rare goods in a circle, just like girls buying bags , if there is one person by your side, others will want it too.”
Another typical marketing method is to ask celebrities to “endorsement”. Basquiat’s work leading Christie’s China Evening Show is a typical example. The graffiti artist’s work is the first to meet a mainland collector at a public auction. For the general public, the name is even more unfamiliar. In the year before entering the mainland, two auction giants Christie’s and Sotheby’s first launched Basquiat’s works in Hong Kong. In those two auctions, Jay Chou’s figure flashed.
In March last year, before the Christie’s Hong Kong auction, Jay Chou wore a sweater printed with Basquiat’s painting and sat in front of the painting for a group photo. He wrote the words “loyal fan” on the photo and posted it on social media, attracting retweets and messages from celebrities such as JJ Lin and Wilber Pan. Not only that, Jay Chou’s related Weibo account also participated in the campaign. The account posted that: Jay Chou and his wife Kunling are fans of Basquiat, and even their children are fascinated by them. The post also distributed photos of Jay Chou’s youngest son with his hands behind his back and appreciating his works. In the end, the “Warrior” that was put up for auction was sold for about HK$324 million.
The attempt to further internationalize and rejuvenate is exactly Christie’s strategy of overtaking in corners – by attracting young collectors, bypassing traditional collection categories, and focusing on modern and contemporary art. This multinational company, which has always focused on serving “old money”, is opening its tentacles to attract the new generation of China.
When it came to Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong in June, Jay Chou simply went directly to the battle and acted as a special co-planner. Before the auction, he also imitated Basquiat’s pose on the cover of The New York Times in 1985, and took a group photo in front of the same painting, “Untitled”, which was about to be auctioned. “Untitled” finally sold for HK$289 million. The buyer also bought another lot at the same auction: a Jay Chou costume.
Christie’s, 256, is also building a youthful image in China. Before the spring auction this year, the newly opened Christie’s Gallery on the Bund has a new look: the paintings hanging on the walls are no longer the elegant, hazy, and deep paintings of the past, but bright red, orange, yellow, green, cyan and blue. ,purple.
Unlike the past several chairman of Christie’s China who gave people the impression of being stable and comprehensive, the newly appointed Yang Yuancao is young, straightforward and outspoken. This media person who participated in the creation of popular variety shows such as “The Voice of China” and “China’s Got Talent” is also the wife of Li Ruigang, the former president of Shanghai Media Group and chairman of the Chinese Culture Group.
In a salon before the auction, Yang Yuancao said bluntly: “The artistic atmosphere in Shanghai is very tolerant. If it was 30 years ago, it would have been impossible for me to enter the industry, and the circle of art circles would be narrowed and fixed.” , she also took the initiative to mention that in her spare time, she is still making documentaries about women. These speeches all released distinct personal characteristics, and quickly shortened the distance between the old brand and the young people.
Christie’s’ approach to creating a youthful image may have something to do with the constraints it faces. Since entering China to set up a wholly-owned company in 2013, Christie’s China has been limited by the regulations that “foreign investors cannot participate in the auction of cultural relics”, and cannot engage in the auction of Chinese antiques, ancient Chinese and modern paintings and calligraphy. But in the domestic market, these categories have always been the absolute mainstream, and they are also the most deeply involved parts of the “old money man” at the top of the wealth pyramid. Industry insiders have commented that the restrictions faced by foreign auction companies are tantamount to “opening a restaurant in China but not being able to sell stir-fried vegetables.”
Today, the attempt to further internationalize and rejuvenate is exactly Christie’s strategy of overtaking in the corner – by attracting young collectors, bypassing the traditional collection category, and focusing on modern and contemporary art. This multinational company, which has always focused on serving “old money”, is opening its tentacles to attract the new generation of China.