How Chinese billionaire collector Liu Yiqian values his art

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 December, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 December, 2015, 1:05pm

Liu Yiqian, buyer of the world’s second-most expensive artwork at auction, says he specifically bids for high-priced pieces even though he may not know much about them.

The former taxi driver turned billionaire made headlines last month when he bought Italian modernist Amedeo Modigliani’s 1917 Nu Couché [Reclining Nude] for US$170.4 million at a Christie’s auction.

In an interview with the Guangzhou newspaper Nanfang Daily, Liu said he judged an artwork’s value by how many people were bidding.

“You may know nothing about the background, time and story behind the artwork. But we can make up for that by observing how many people are vying for it,” Liu said.

He added that extremely expensive art pieces were much less likely to be forgeries.

“When there are many bidders at auction, it proves the work is widely recognised and must be a good one,” he said.

READ MORE: Taxi driver-turned-billionaire Liu Yiqian, founder of China’s Long Museum, has big plans after US$170m purchase at New York auction

Liu has two private museums, including Shanghai’s Long Museum, to house his collections, mainly Chinese works.

Among his most expensive collections are a palm-sized Ming dynasty “chicken cup”, for which he paid HK$281 million, and a HK$348 million traditional Tibetan tapestry.

The Shanghai-based billionaire made much of his fortune on the mainland stock market. Unlike investing in stocks, Liu sees collecting art as long-term investment that “can hardly make a profit in the short term”.

It is very risky to invest in art in the hope of making a profit and so I don’t suggest investors do it
Liu Yiqian

“It is very risky to invest in art in the hope of making a profit and so I don’t suggest investors do it,” Liu said.

In recent years, affluent Chinese buyers have surprised international auction houses by bidding record prices for some of the world’s finest art.

Chinese media mogul Wang Zhongjun paid US$61.8 million for Vincent van Gogh’s Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies at Sotheby’s auction in New York in November last year.

Liu spoke at the Guangzhou International Art Fair last Thursday “to promote the development of the art industry and art market” in China.