Odile Chen / Ravenel Art & Investment 16
Most collectors should be familiar with the mentioning of Walasse Ting. Images of gentle delicate subjects such as women, flowers and animals, brought alive through a style full of vivid colors and happy emotions, have long been planted inside public minds. In particular, the women - loving cynical image linked with his self-adopted titles of "Butterfly Gangster"and "Mr. Romantic"leaves a lasting impression on others. In fact, he was known throughout Europe for as far back as twenty or thirty years ago. He certainly ranks as one of the most popular among Chinese painters. Back then, often compared with each other, Walasse Ting in New York and Zao Wou-ki of Paris were nominated as the two most popular Chinese painters alive. In the overseas market, prints and posters by Walasse did extremely well in sales. The diversity of his popularity appears to be a class above even that of Zao Wou-ki. However, during past auctions of Chinese western painting, there appeared little opportunities for his works to shine and prices for his works were also pretty moderate. Prices remained comparatively low despite many collectors around the world who enjoy his works. Comparatively, amidst the current popularity enjoyed by Chinese contemporary art, prices for the work by this internationally acclaimed senior master appears to be somewhat wrongfully subdued. Social values, as previously cited by gallery operators in Taiwan, are the primary reasons for the lesser attention showered by the Taiwanese market upon Walasse than on Zao Wou-ki. Hence, Walasse is generally far less well received in the Taiwanese market than abroad. In the past, the Taiwanese were more aesthetically inclined towards staid and gloomy colors. Now, with changes in times, the joyful and brilliant paintings by Walasse have found more appreciative fans, be it in Taiwan or abroad. At the Ravenel Spring Auction held in Taipei during this June, Walasse's beautiful oil painting "Margriet"rewrote the artist'，s global auction record of NT$5.81 million (US$181,364). This auction has already captured the attention of the international market. During my visit to the overseas market, it was further discovered that the new auction record had become the standard price of comparison for art dealers and collectors. In reality, prices have been on the verge of going up for quite a while, but only a few have quietly entered the market to add his works to their collections. Now, with the catalytic effect set in by "Margriet"during Ravanel's Spring Auction 2006, upward price movement in Walasse's paintings have been well and truly announced.
Despite similar margins of growth in price indices, painting prices still remain far lower than those for Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-chun.
In the recently brisk Chinese auction markets, Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-chun are two of the leading figures. Compared to other Chinese masters, they possess a more international overseas market. Other than the love lavished by collectors found in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China and in South East Asia, the two painters also have many collectors and agent galleries in Europe and America. Looking comprehensively at the major Chinese artists in the market today, it is safe to say that Walasse Ting is yet another heavyweight representative for the overseas Chinese masters, after Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-chun. However, Walasse's NT$5.81 million new auction record is still a great distance away from NT$110 million (US$3,364,400) for Chu Teh-chun and more than NT$70 million (US$2,318,468) for Zao Wou-ki. From the perspectives of investments in art, Walasse Ting is well worth keeping an eye on, given the international recognition that he already possess, the excellent quality and quantity of work and the favorable expectations for his market prices.
Judging solely on the diversity of his past sales, Walasse should have achieved more in the market for his works. In the late 1990s, Zao Wou-ki's paintings started to make successive bests in the Taiwan auction market. From then on, he remained highly popular. Turnover saw huge increases and prices for his painting continued to climb. Chu Teh-chun, on the other hand, caught the attention beginning from 2004 and prices quickly followed Zao Wou-ki's. In Sping this year, he even became the first to break the threshold for more than NT$100 million. Compared to the up market Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-chun, Walasse still lags far behind in market prices, having adopted the more moderate market "Pop art"flair. The interesting thing to note is that though Walasse's average prices falls far behind the two, data published from the French company Artprice show similar price index trends across all categories for all three artists. All three have recently been demonstrating a tendency to register huge margins of increase.
Zao and Chu have had a considerable mid year global turnover in 2006, both managing to register more than NT$330 million (approximately US$10 million). On the other hand, from January till June, Walasse's paintings have only accumulated a turnover of NT$38.32 million (approximately US$1.16 million). This is close to Chu Teh-chun's auction turnover during the top half of 2004 (for more details, please refer to "Art & Investments" Issue 9, autumn 2004). By comparison, there is considerable room available for improvement.
In general, the Taiwanese industry is accustomed to calculating painting prices according to different "haos"(unit size). Currently, early oil paintings by Zao Wou-ki fetch more than NT$400,000 to NT$500,000 for every "hao" For certain more interesting works, each "hao"has even surpassed more than NT$1 million. Recent works have been fetching at least NT$100,000 to NT$200,000. Currently, Chu Teh-chun's early oil paintings are between NT$200,000 to NT$400,000. Recent works are priced at around a NT$100,000 for every "hao" The best price for Walasse's oil paintings is now at NT$70,000 for every "hao" In general, works of oil averages around NT$50,000 per "hao" Watercolors and colored ink fetch between NT$20,000 to NT$30, 000 per "hao"
Gradually leaping onto the artistic stage through his free and passionate flairs to become a world class master
Zao, Chu and Walasse all hails from the Jiangsu province in China. One by one, they left China during the 1950s to arrive in Paris after many twists and turns. Walasse is 8 to 9 years younger than the two seniors, but artistic creation has nothing to do with seniority. The artist, whose maturity belied his age, demonstrated a keen interest in painting since young. In fact, he even managed to break into the Parisian art and literary circles before Chu Teh-chun. Needless to say, it was the same in New York as well as the art markets in other areas during subsequent days. The look of Walasse's painting is vastly different from the two painters residing in France. This is due in part on their vastly different characters. On the other hand, it is also the result of their family background and the environments surrounding their growing up.
Walasse Ting was born in 1929 into the family of a businessman in Wuxi, China. Soon after, the entire family moved to Shanghai. Spending his childhood in and about the prosperous Shanghai Bund during the 1930s, he personally witnessed the years of "luxury and dissipation" Stories have it that he started random roadside scribbling at the age of 4. By 10 his creations were left on the low walls along street sides. The process of drawing filled him with pleasure and made him immensely satisfied. Later, he studied in the Shanghai Fine Art School for a while, but his natural talents in painting and his love for freedom meant that he could never get accustomed to the shackles of academic teachings. This was especially so after he read the I-jing and decided to embark on his life journey. In 1946, he gave up traditional art training and headed to Hong Kong on his own. Fully intent on making his own ventures, he took a boat to Paris in 1952, beginning his life as a vagrant artist in foreign land. At just slightly more than 20 years old and with merely US$5 on him, he remained steadfast and unmoved. For the sake of his art, there was simply no way back. One by one, during his time in Paris, he became the best of friends with the Belgian CoBRA painter Pierre Alechinsky (b. 1927), Danish artist Asger Jorn (1914 - 1973) and Dutch painter Karel Appel (1921 - 2006). Together, they could often be seen making their ways in and out of the cafes in Paris. Walasse migrated to New York in the early 1960s and made the acquaintance of American Abstract artist Sam Francis (1923 - 1994), as well as pop artists Tom Wesselmann (1931 - 2004) and Claes Oldenburg (b.1929). Having seen the bright lights and colorful life in New York, Walasse revamped the dark and gloomy look from his Paris period to become a pop artist. He became an American citizen in 1974 and traveled often to places such as New York, Paris and Amsterdam. In 2001, he started residing in Amsterdam.
The Walasse painting style that everyone has become so used to has in fact undergone several evolutions. Prior to his move to Paris in the 1950s, he completed a batch of sketches and Chinese ink and wash. The creations followed him to France by sea. The paintings were all treated and cared for like precious jewels, but upon seeing the beauty and vibrancy in Paris, he deemed his initial works to be unworthy of another look. Having decided to start afresh in Paris as a result, he torched the entire bundle of works from his early years. During his time in Paris, he had hoped to express refined tastes within oriental art qualities that are abundant in Chinese ink and wash. Abstract ink splashes as well as lines from Chinese ink and wash were continued developments seen even in his later works. After arriving in New York, besides the original lines from ink and wash, dropping and splashing techniques were added to his repertoire. Monochromatic tones slowly transformed into brilliant colors. A switch to bright acrylic paint was made and abstract images became semi-representational. The artistic style featuring women and flowers, which everyone has come to expect from Walasse, was only developed after the 1970s. The presence of art deco and nudes in Walasse's works were mainly influenced by the paintings of Henri Matisse. American concepts of abstraction and the characteristics of concise lines in the styles of the 8 major recluses were also incorporated. He seldom used oil canvasses for his later works, preferring Xuan paper as the medium instead. The charms derived from mixing acrylic paint with Chinese ink painting became a unique feature of Walasse's style.
World class museums had begun collecting Walasse's works at a very early stage. These included several tens of art pantheons, such as MoMA, Art Institute of Chicago, SFMOMA, Guggenheim Museum, Tate Gallery, Mus? Cernuschi of Paris etc. It goes without saying that patronising institutions also hailed from museums in Northern Europe, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Besides establishing wide contacts, making good acquaintances and displaying all over Europe and America through galleries acting on his behalf, the reason behind Walasse's international reputation also has a lot to do with his works in print. In 1964 he wrote an anthology of poetry titled "One Cent Life" Works of print by more than twenty famous artists from Europe and America were compiled in the book. These included people such as Sam Francis, and Andy Warhol. In 1967 and 1969, he also published Chinese Moonlight a poetry anthology hot and Sour Soup a compilation of prints on stone engravings, demonstrating his love for poetry and literature. In 1977, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation provided a grant for Walasse to publish the art compilation ed MouthA series of erotic sketches and paintings were collected within the book. From then on, Walasse dedicated himself to the creation of prints, posters and replicas. His fame spread all over Europe and America.
With a market dispersed in more than 10 countries, collectors can be found in Europe, Asia and America.
To what extent are his creations beheld by the hearts of collectors? Here are two tales that we'd like to share with our readers. It is said that people started to collect his works from the second year after his arrival in New York. Even the owner of the American company Chrysler Motors during that period bought ten of his paintings in one go(US$500 each). For the next forty years, he continued to be active in Europe and America. Art galleries in Japan, Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore and later, even Shanghai, also showcased his works. Collectors were dispersed all over the world. A few years ago, a news article reported his painting to be equal in value to a luxurious car. It turns out that a collector in England had once driven a Porsche right up to the doorsteps of an art gallery asking to exchange the car for a piece of Walasse's ainting. In the end, the deal fell through as the painter reckoned that the taxes for driving a luxurious car were way too exorbitant. How much is a second-hand Porsche worth? I am not an expert on automobiles, but after some finding out, I gather that it is worth more than NT$ 2 million. If it is the classic 911 model, it should be worth about 3 million. Although this is an interesting bit of news, it is still somewhat a testament to his artistic appeal.
There are no boundaries in art. Indeed, good art transcends all language barriers. However, there aren't any other Chinese artists, besides Walasse Ting at the moment, who would find it easy to reach the heights of having a personal market distributed in more than 10 countries.
When I was sorting and analyzing the artist's ersonal auction data between 2000 and the top half of 2006 (please refer to attached table), I found out that 13 countries had successfully auctioned Walasse's rks before. Taiwan is the largest market among them, with a market capture reaching 29.2%. The order thereafter is China, Holland, Denmark, Hong Kong, America, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden etc.
From the market distribution, it is easy for one to visualize the large many collectors present in each locality. In Taiwan, for example, he first started showcasing his works at the Lung Men Art Gallery in Taipei. One by one, other galleries in Taichung and Kaohsiung also followed suit. Taiwanese collectors from the early periods were all very familiar with Walasse. Having once spent 6 years living there during the 1940s, Walasse also shares a certain affinity with Hong Kong. He returned to hold his first show in Hong Kong during 1986 and made many good friends in the art and literary circles, for example, the Chinese martial arts novelist, Jin Yong. Gourmet writer Chua Lam, who has a private collection of his paintings on women, even became a formal student of his. Jimmy Lai Chee Ying, Chairman of Next Media Group, is one of the collectors with the most of Walasse's paintings. In 2001, the two of them co-authored a book titled Let's Laugh! Don't forget to be Thankful!?(《笑吧！別忘了感恩》). Many of Walasse's works were compiled inside the book, demonstrating the exchange of friendship between the two. A few years ago, The true colors of Shanghai n art cum fashion boutique started by Shanghai Xintiandi, which specializes in the sales of merchandises based on Walasse's art, was quite well received by both the locals and the tourists. Many in Singapore and Indonesia also collect Walasse Ting'screations. Several galleries over there had continually been importing his works. Europe and America had always been the main fortress for Walasse's collectors. Following more rosy outlooks, trade in the areas became more and more frequent. The majority of these were for works on paper as well as prints.
With excellent quality and quantity in this year's auction items, prices and turnover are expected to continue increasing sharply.
Since 2000, there have not been major changes in the number of Walasse's works in the auction market, but by 2005 last year, the turnover started to increase in huge quantities, reaching NT$25.88 million, which is an increase of 390% over 2004. One third of these transactions occurred in Taiwan. The number of lots sold in 2005 was also more than one fold higher then the previous year. By the spring auction this year, the rising trend was proving even more unstoppable. The NT$38.32 million midyear global turnover this year has already far surpassed the total turnover last year. By midyear, 45 lots were sold, which is the equivalent of the whole year total in the previous year. It is easy to foresee an even stronger performance in the latter half of the year. By that time, more Walasse paintings would surely have appeared in the auction market.
As the market prices have taken a turn for the better, the first half of the year saw the appearance of many thrilling pieces produced by Walasse, especially the works on oil canvass which are seldom seen. Most of these works were done before 1990. There were considerably less of such works after the 1990s, thus creating a huge market demand for such works. It was under such circumstances that the auction record for the 1986 oil painting Margriet was set. A total of 39 pieces of Walasse's oil paintings were sold between 2000 and the first half of 2006. This was far less than the 133 pieces in watercolors or ink and wash. In terms of proportion in rates of turnover, oil paintings take up merely 27.8% while works on paper such as watercolors account for 70.9%. Prints fare even lower with only 1.3%. Hence, even though the market for Chinese western paintings has a strong preference for collecting oil paintings, watercolors and Chinese ink and wash form the major part of Walasse' sart. They are the typical styles that most people are familiar with and hence make the most important contributions towards turnover among all mediums.
New rising benchmarks expected for painting prices with the appearance of major oil painting "Goya's Lover"
With the better market outlook, one can anticipate quite a number of fine works by Walasse to appear in this year's Autumn market. 6 beautiful Walasse paintings will be rolled out in Ravenel's2006 autumn auction--3 oil and 3 colored ink. Among these, the one that has caught the most attention is Goya'sLover? the 1977 tribute towards the master. Inspiration for the painting comes from La maja desnuda?(The Nude Maja, 97 x 190cm, now kept in the collection of Madrid's Prado Museum), a piece completed in 1800 by the 18th century Spanish master Francisco de Goya (1746 - 1828). The painting is regarded as one of the greatest nude paintings in art history. For the women and nude painting loving Walasse Ting, the romanticism in Goya was a truly inspiring. Walasse also incorporated decorative materials such as his beloved flowers and cats into his painting.The rarely seen 120 hao Goya's Lover was completed during the New York period. Its size is larger than the Amsterdam period 80 hao Margriet sold in this year's spring auction. Subject and materials are more special too, making it highly likely to break the latter's recently set record of NT$5.81 million. The other oil paintings in this autumn auction such as Hot Love and I Want You are filled with the painters assionate singing on feminine beauty. They are also set to be one of the centers of attention at the upcoming auction. Just wait and you'll see.