Billionaire’s art expert slams attack on Chinese collectors buying Western masterpieces

News website had suggested Chinese collectors buying foreigners works like a new form of the 19th-century opium trade

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 May, 2015, 3:34pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 May, 2015, 1:26am

The head of art at the company in China that paid over US$20 million for a painting by the French Impressionist artist Monet earlier this month has hit back at a suggestion that Chinese collectors buying Western works was like a new form of the opium trade.

The Shanghai-based news website Thepaper.cn said in a commentary that Chinese collectors were allowing their wealth to flood into foreign countries by buying pieces produced by overseas artists. It likened the trade to western nations selling opium to China in the early 19th century.

Guo Qingxiang, the head of art at the property giant Dalian Wanda, said in a commentary in the Shanghai-based newspaper the Oriental Morning Post that pieces from China were often overpriced and that Chinese collectors had become more knowledgeable and refined in their tastes.

“We should be happy for the improvement instead of likening artworks to drugs,” he said. “After all, in China’s prime in history, we were very open-minded.”

Dalian Wanda, which is controlled by China’s richest man Wang Jianlin, bought the Monet painting Bassin aux nympheas, les rosiers at auction in New York.

The painting depicts an arched bridge overlooking a sun-dappled water lily pond on the Impressionist painter’s property in Giverny in France.

Guo criticised Chinese artists in the newspaper article for often failing to produce innovative work and if they did they were frequently ignored by the art establishment in China, he said.

He has previously told the media that Wanda eyed the international art market partly because the global economic downturn meant fine pieces could be bought at a relatively low price.

Art experts have said Chinese collectors are increasingly buying Western masterpieces, while previously they concentrated on works from their own country.

Wang Zhongjun, the chairman and co-founder of the entertainment giant Huayi Brothers bought a Pablo Picasso portrait for US$29.9 million in New York this month.

The auction house Sotheby’s later confirmed that a Vincent Van Gogh painting that fetched more than US$66 million also went to an unnamed Asian buyer.

The criticism of art collectors on the Shanghai website comes after China’s government has warned against the dangers of the country unquestioningly adopting Western ideas and culture.

Education Minister Yuan Guiren called in January for a ban on school textbooks that “promote Western values”.