Masters bridge art gap

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 May, 2012, 12:00am


Leading international auction house Bonhams has just launched a newly configured department dedicated to contemporary art. The London-based department is presenting a unique single-owner collection, 'Voyages of Discovery', at its inaugural Hong Kong auction.

The sale, which has a total estimate of HK$3.6 million to HK$5.65 million, is being held on Sunday at 7pm in the Island Ballroom of the Island Shangri-La Hotel.

Highlights of the collection have already been shown in Singapore, Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai, London, Lisbon, Paris and New York.

The collection comprises an exciting selection of Imperial and contemporary Chinese objects: 15 paintings and works on paper by two of China's most important contemporary artists, Chu Teh-chun and Zao Wou-ki, along with 12 exquisite objects that include ceramic dishes, flambe-glazed vases and unique cloisonne enamel boxes.

Anthony McNerney, international head of contemporary art at Bonhams, says the auction house is delighted to be working with a collection that is unique in being so complete. 'We have works by two of the most important living Chinese artists alongside some of the most historically significant artworks from China, spanning almost a millennium. It is extremely rare to come across a collection of this breadth and high quality,' he says.

Chu (born in 1920) and Zao (born in 1921) trained in the historical painting styles of China before emigrating to the artistic milieu of 1950s Paris. Both artists were soon influenced by the painterly abstraction they found, creating their own unique styles - distinct fusions of Chinese tradition and European innovation.

The artists present an important bridge between the traditional calligraphy and painting aesthetics of China and the most innovative art movements of 20th-century Europe. The development of their artistic oeuvres culminates in bodies of work that confirm their status as two of the most important living Chinese artists.

The strength of this collection lies not only in its outstanding quality but also in the variety of the works. The collection provides a cross-section of the artists' development through the decades, illustrating the evolution of their unique styles from the 1960s up until 2006. Both artists experiment with abstraction to convey concepts of spirituality, showing the influence of Chinese philosophy and religion.

The sale has 11 works by Chu that vary widely in date, size, technique and medium. They span more than four decades of his career, from a 1963 work on paper to important paintings from 2006. One of the highlights is L'Odeur du Ciel No. 1, a truly monumental and rare painting, both in its scale and scope.

Chu, an alumnus of the Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, was initially inspired by the post-Impressionist tradition. He later moved away from the figurative, influenced by the abstract movement, particularly the work of Nicolas de Stael. His later abstract canvases attracted much attention from gallerists and collectors.

Prices of works by Chu have increased remarkably in recent years. His 1981 oil painting, Lueurs, sold for GBP109,250 (HK$1.33 million) at Bonhams' inaugural Contemporary One sale last October.

The global art market for works by Zao is similarly long-established but continually growing, with Bonhams' sales of the artist's works in both London and the United States achieving strong prices in recent years.

The four works by Zao in the 'Voyages of Discovery' collection illustrate the variety of this exceptional artist's paintings, ink works and watercolours on paper, again highlighting the way in which his oeuvre has changed over so many decades.

Zao began his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 14. Propelled to Paris by his preoccupation with the developments of European modernity, plus the limitations of living in post-war China, the artist was quick to integrate himself into a circle of similarly talented artists, including Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miro and Maria Elena Vieira da Silva.

By the mid-1950s, Zao was a regular exhibitor at the city's Galerie Pierre Loeb. It is impossible to deny the influence of Chinese calligraphy on the artist's earlier work, a method he made a brief return to in the 1970s, but this is a style he later neglected in lieu of the surreal and abstract.

The paintings by both Chu and Zao in the 'Voyages of Discovery' sale are a rare opportunity to view two important artists' works over many years. The 15 works have a total estimate of HK$26.4 million to HK$37.3 million.