Art market expands for new Asian photography

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 June, 2011, 12:00am


The market for Asian contemporary photography is expanding. This is particularly true for works by mainland photographers. According to Christie's, this is because of the growing number of works on offer and the enduring appeal of the photographic art form.

Demand for the genre peaked in 2007, when Zhang Huan's Skin series sold in New York for HK$3 million, says Gladys Chung, the auction house's specialist in Asian 20th century art and contemporary art. The market readjusted in 2008 due to the global financial crisis before rebounding this year, she adds.

'Though prices have not returned to 2007 levels, the auction market for photography is very dynamic. More artists are arriving on the scene. They are offering very diverse works and are not just tackling political issues,' says Chung.

Prices for photography tend to be relatively stable, unlike those for painting, sculpture and installation work. That is partly because there are often several editions. Entry price for the genre is also lower. According to Christie's, works by unknown, or lesser known, Chinese artists can now fetch between HK$100,000 and HK$150,000.

Works by bigger names, along with those of great historical significance, can sell for between HK$300,000 and HK$500,000. The average price for work by artists from Japan, Korea and India is around HK$100,000.

Chung says that contemporary photography remains a collectors' favourite - especially for newcomers - because of its accessibility and affordability. She also notes a new trend in the genre: Asian artists are starting to combine photography with art forms like sculpture and video. She says South Korean photographers are particularly bold in their use of different media.

Artist Gwon Osang, for instance, created photographic sculptures from hundreds of photos in Knee Slider. Won Seoung Won's surrealistic photography, like My Age of Seven: The Sea in My Mom's Hometown, has a painterly look.

But it is the mainland artists who command the biggest attention {minus} and money {minus} at auctions. Zhang Huan returns in Christie's upcoming sales with an edition of his Skin series, which comprises 20 photographs. This series has a total of 25 editions.

Chung says contemporary mainland photography is popular as most of it documents China's social, political and economic changes. 'Nowhere else has witnessed such a drastic transformation in such a short time. The country went from Communism to 'Socialism with Chinese characteristics',' she says. 'This unique historical development is reflected and captured in the artists' work.'

Contemporary mainland artists are also using photography to explore their own traditions. Qiu Zhijie's Writing the 'Orchid Pavilion Preface' One Thousand Times consists of video documentation, ink on paper and seven photographs.

'This work combines ink, calligraphy, video, photography and a performance. It is a dialogue between ink and calligraphy and video and photography,' says Chung. 'Artists in this region are now moving away from the traditions and vocabulary of western photography.'

Asian collectors are turning to these works, she adds. 'Buyers in this region feel they can relate to them because they are culturally and conceptually more relevant than western works.'