Art gallery Hauser & Wirth signs Zeng Fanzhi, one of China’s most famous painters, ahead of its Hong Kong opening

The artist who set an auction record for contemporary Chinese art with his US$23 million The Last Supper is one of only two Chinese artists to be represented by the international gallery

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 2:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 7:11pm

International gallery Hauser & Wirth has announced ahead of the opening of its Hong Kong gallery that it has signed Zeng Fanzhi, one of China’s best-known contemporary artists.

Zeng – best known for his “Mask” series and for setting the auction record for contemporary Chinese art when The Last Supper (2001) sold for HK$180.4 million (US$23.3 million) in 2013 – is one of only a handful of Chinese artists to be represented by top Western galleries.

Zhang Enli was the first Chinese artist to be signed to Hauser & Wirth, and Zeng is its second.

The artist, who has been represented by another art-world powerhouse, Gagosian Gallery, since 2011, says he is not switching stables.

How China’s most bankable artist, Zeng Fanzhi, found new way to make art

“I will continue to have a relationship with Gagosian Gallery, and in China, I will keep cooperating with ShanghART Gallery. Both of them have travelled with me along the lonely art journey and I appreciate their efforts very much!” he says via email.

He says the Swiss-UK gallery, owned by husband-and-wife team Iwan and Manuela Wirth, has shown an “open and progressive vision”, especially in its dealings with artists of different nationalities and backgrounds.

His collaboration with Hauser & Wirth is likely to have a strong academic focus, he says, as he embarks on new “experiments” that will be unveiled in an exhibition this autumn.

Once inspired by the West, best-selling Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi turns back to his roots

The timing of the collaboration coincides with the summer publication of first part of the 54-year-old’s catalogue raisonné – a list of all known works by him from 1986 to 2004 accompanied by detailed background information.

This is being published by Zeng’s own charitable foundation, The Fanzhi Foundation, which he set up in 2011 with offices in Hong Kong and Beijing. The foundation has supported the building of a Chinese modern art archive at Beijing’s Peking University, and the John Moores Painting Prize at the National Museum Liverpool in the UK, among other projects.

Iwan Wirth, president and co-founder of Hauser & Wirth, says he wants to take his gallerist and artist relationship further with Zeng.

The gallery and the foundation plan to develop an educational programme to promote art. “I have admired and loved Zeng’s work for many years, and since we began visiting China more frequently, I came to know him personally,” he says.

“We found that we share many of the same values – namely that our great passion for art is matched by a desire to forge new dialogues about art, and through scholarship to encourage the next generation to engage with contemporary art as well as everything that came before it.

“So our conversations turned to how we could collaborate in numerous ways – not only about how we can activate Hauser & Wirth’s global network on the commercial side of representing an artist, but also about more in-depth education projects we could create.”

How artist Zeng Fanzhi has put his life in frame through his work

He also promised to develop Zeng’s international profile further. Recently, Zeng, a huge admirer of Vincent van Gogh, painted a new series of works for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Hauser & Wirth’s Hong Kong gallery in Central will open on March 26 with an exhibition of American artist Mark Bradford.