Inside Bonhams
Great leap forward

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 49, Winter 2016

Page 52

A Chinese revolution has revitalized the global art market, Ingrid Dudek tells Lucinda Bredin

I first moved to China in 1999 and immediately realized that everything we thought we knew about the country was ten years out of date," says Ingrid Dudek, Bonhams' Director of Modern and Contemporary Art, Asia.

It was the year that more than 20 Chinese artists – among them Ai Weiwei and Cai Guo-Qiang, now household names, of course – made the trek to the Arsenale in Venice. The latter scooped the Gold Lion for his Rent Collection Courtyard, a performance piece, with a cast list of 114 figures, that poked fun at 1960s social-realist propaganda.

Dudek, who spent three years working at the Courtyard Gallery in Beijing after studying Chinese and History of Art at Berkeley, is reflecting on the astonishing rise of the Asian contemporary art market in the 21st century. Now the market is thought to make up as much as 20 per cent of the global total for contemporary art.

Accordingly, in November, Dudek – who joined Bonhams last year after a decade at a major international auction house – will preside over not one but two sales in the company's Hong Kong saleroom.

Bonhams' tightly curated Modern and Contemporary Art sales in Hong Kong are already an established highlight of the season. They have seen record prices achieved for artists such as Yoshitomo Nara, whose work Long Long Way from Your Home sold for $268,000 in June.

To complement these sales, Dudek is launching Unplugged, which will explore the broader dialogs happening in and around Asian contemporary art, offering photographs, prints, paintings and other media. "We've put some interesting pieces in the sale – things to react to and not to overthink. We want people to have fun."

The success of Nara in particular highlights a trend: the wider region has benefitted as a whole from the explosion of interest in contemporary art in China during the last two decades. "The contemporary market in China has been ignited by what was, in many ways, a very small body of Chinese work." The consequence of this, says Dudek, has been a race by collectors and art historians to mine the rich, but long overshadowed history of 20th-century practice in the region.

"People have come to understand that you have at least 100 years of modern art-making in Asia. And that it is worth digging into every corner. That's why you see reappraisals of Japanese and Korean movements, such as Gutai or Monochrome, and also individual pioneers like Richard Lin, Lee Ufan, Tseng Kwong Chi, and Yayoi Kusama.

"One of the reasons that people gravitate to Chinese art, and also why they gravitate to new markets or even auctions in general, is because there is a democratic aspect to them. You don't have to wait your turn, which you might have to if you wanted to buy an established artist from a big blue-chip gallery."

Dudek has always been passionate about creativity. She grew up in California with bohemian parents – her mother was an artist – so she has been immersed in the world of modern art for as long as she can remember: "At the age of four, I had my first show in Tokyo. It was in a local community art gallery – part of an exchange with Japan," she says. "From my earliest years, I have been inspired by artists for whom art-making is as essential to life as eating or breathing."

It's a passion that is at the core of what Bonhams offers. As Dudek explains, "Because our contemporary art sales are small, they are ultimately defined by the drive of the team. So we don't have to load our sales with things we don't believe in or that are trending.

We are not trying to guess what the markets think – and we are not trying to tell the markets what to think. We are simply saying we are passionate about the items we are offering." The bottom line, says Dudek, is that "we are selling these pieces not because they are Asian, but because they are great".

Lucinda Bredin is Editor of Bonhams Magazine.

Sale: Unplugged
Hong Kong
Monday 21 November at 6pm
Enquiries: Ingrid Dudek +852 2918 4321

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