Chinese Collector Liu Yiqian Aims West
The Chinese art collector discusses collecting Western Art and cultural exchange.
Chinese tycoon Liu Yiqian is known for snapping up expensive Chinese antiques… and sometimes even drinking from them too, with his infamous sip from a valuable porcelain Ming dynasty cup. The high profile art collector even has his collection displayed in the museum he himself founded in Shanghai. Last year, in an aggressive act of ‘cultural exchange’, Liu splashed out more than $170 million at Christie’s for Modigliani’s Nu Couche (Reclining Nude), making it the second highest price ever paid at auction for a work of art.
“The world is globalized…our collection is mainly Chinese traditional works of art, (but) we are going to expand into Western and Asian works. I hope in my life time I can collect more from both China and the West,” he told AFP in a recent interview at Christie’s regional headquarters in Hong Kong. Indeed, he plans to showcase the work at his museum next year, invoking a “social responsibility” to enable Chinese youngsters to experience the Western masters.
With a personal wealth of $1.38 billion, according to Forbes magazine, Liu is among the ranks of the new Chinese super-rich. He made his fortune in real estate and finance, and now runs a huge conglomerate across several industries from chemicals to investments. Among other Chinese pieces he’s purchased includes a painting by Chinese master Zhang Daqian for $35.93 million at Sotheby’s; a $45 million 15th-century Tibetan “thangka” tapestry at a Christie’s auction; and an $8.2 million purchase of an “ancient” scroll of nine Chinese characters, which led to more controversy when he brushed off a group of respected Chinese experts deriding it as fake.
Of course, some Western art connoisseurs were concerned at the time. The Mayor of Modigliani’s hometown (Livorno, Italy) commented that the Italian government should have spent money to acquire the painting so that it could have been retained locally. In the interview with AFP though, Liu noted that “It doesn’t matter where they are. The most important thing is for them to be preserved”.
“Other than Chinese traditional and contemporary works of art, younger generations in China have developed deeper recognition of Western works,” he said, relaxing in an armchair and talking through a haze of cigarette smoke. We can’t exactly say whether Liu is really aiming for true cultural good, or merely following art-collecting as a fashion, as countless have already spoken out on after the incident with the Ming cup, but we hope that things turn out the best for the cultural landscape of the world out there.