Melissa Lwee-Ramsay: You believe that contemporary ink painting is the next big thing. When did you realise this is an area of art worth paying attention to?
Michael Goedhuis: First of all, I think that contemporary ink painting is the most audacious and innovative area of the Chinese contemporary art market. What is happening is that ink painters in China are doing what Picasso, Cézanne, Kandinsky and Matisse were doing in the beginning of the 20th century — drawing inspiration from the past and studying the old masters in order to create a new revolutionary pictorial language. Chinese oil painters have been emulating Western styles and injecting Chinese subject matter into them but the ink painters, with their use of ink, paper and brush are, in essence, drawing from the Chinese classical canon but contextualising their work in order to create something that is relevant and meaningful to today’s world. There’s so much banality in contemporary art but Chinese ink painting is richly allusive. Chinese contemporary ink painters know how to paint and are technically very strong. I also think that they are intellectually richer because they tend to be well-read, cultivated and understand both western and Chinese culture.
And yet, interestingly, you say that Chinese contemporary ink paintings are still quite affordable, hence making them great investments.
Exactly. The top 20 artists of Chinese contemporary oil paintings, are now selling for something like $500,000 to $10 million, but the Chinese contemporary ink painters are priced around $25,000 to $500,000 with the average around the $50,000 to $75,000 mark, which is less than a tenth of what the oil paintings are commanding. Many Western museums, however, are now doing exhibitions of Chinese ink paintings and there is a considerate academic interest in it as well, so my view is that there is huge investment potential there. Chinese art has multiplied many times in price in the past two years and I believe that the Chinese ink painting market is going to go through the same kind of evolution. I think that almost inevitably it’s going to be propelled into the millions to align itself in market terms with its oil-painting counterparts.
So when do you see this shift in the market happening?
In China when things turn, when the Chinese start looking at a particular area, it can turn in 48 hours and you can have a rapid multiplication of investment. So whether it happens in three weeks or three months or three years, I just don’t know. But it is going to happen.
Who are some of the Chinese contemporary ink artists that you have your eye on?
I think that Liu Dan is obviously one of them and Qiu Deshu is another. There’s an artist called Qing Feng who soaks layers of Xuan paper [Chinese rice paper] in coffee and tea before he works on them in order to symbolise the blend of east and west, and how you cannot dissociate them anymore. And then there’s Wei Ligang, who is very influenced by Chinese calligraphy but also by western art. What I like about all of them is that they’re intellectually rigorous and they are, as I said before, drawing out elements of the past to create a new pictorial language. They’re creating a new language that is relevant and meaningful to today’s world via an understanding of the past.
Shifting gears a little, let’s talk a bit more about the Chinese art market in general. What is your take on the future of Chinese art?
Well, I think the reality is that Chinese art is going to be the most expensive art in the world — it’s already almost there. I think that’s a given, firstly because of the Chinese wealth and demand and secondly, because the Chinese are culturally very patriotic, and are determined to retrieve the culture that was ripped out of their belly by the colonial powers in the 19th century. Many of the great works of art that are now sitting in the finest museums in Europe and America were from China and the Chinese are, understandably, now determined to retrieve as much of their culture as possible and they are prepared to do so at any price. So these are the two reasons why I think that Chinese art is going to be the most expensive in the world.