Over the past decade, the art market has moved towards Asia—a shift that has been driven by millennial collectors who are bringing the Chinese art market further into the global conversation.
Whilst international collectors were previously more attuned to works by well-known avant-garde Chinese artists creating work post-1989, such as Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang, and Zeng Fanzhi, a shift in taste is now occurring.
Shanghai's Don Gallery participated in Frieze London for the first time this year, choosing to present works by artists born around the post-Mao reform and opening-up period of 1978, including Zhang Yunyao, Zhang Ruyi, Lu Song, and Liu Ren.
These artists are making work with more direct connections with global issues. Young collectors attuned to these issues are interested in learning about artists who may be a similar age to them, but have a totally different cultural view of the world, which is often depicted in their works.
Don Gallery's place in the main section of Frieze London signalled increased interest in the new wave of emerging Chinese contemporary art. Since its founding in 2007, Don Gallery has grown into one of the most important contemporary galleries in Shanghai's burgeoning art market.
The careers of the young, dynamic, and experimental artists that the gallery has nurtured have elevated Don Gallery as a platform that pushes the boundaries of contemporary practice in Mainland China.
Following increased interest in the work of Zhang Yunyao, Zhang Ruyi, Lu Song, and Liu Ren internationally, Don Gallery's first time exhibiting outside of Mainland China and with the work of these artists comes at an opportune moment.
Xixing Cheng, owner and director of Don Gallery, believes that Frieze London is the perfect platform for these young artists to be exposed to international collectors. Roughly 70 percent the gallery's collector base comes from China, with Europeans making up the majority of the remaining 30 percent.
It is the view of Cheng that the younger Chinese generation has a more diverse taste in art, having grown up in a more open society, relative to their predecessors.
All of the artists showing with Don Gallery are based in Mainland China apart from Zhang Yunyao, who moved to Paris in 2020. He works with graphite and pastel on felt—a hazy, textured surface with an abundance of depth and tone. He often uses biblical, classical, and mythological scenes as immortalised by the master sculptors and painters of antiquity as his subjects.
Fellow Shanghai native Zhang Ruyi taps into contemporary sensations of isolation, alienation, and urban dysfunction. Her concrete sculptures are combinations of simple forms and intricate details, represented with single, paired, or grouped shapes. In 2019, she had her first solo exhibition outside of China at François Ghebaly in Los Angeles.
Lu Song studied abroad, receiving his BA and MA in painting in the U.K. His work is themed around jungle foliage, water, and flowers, reflecting upon the power of nature. His painterly techniques focus on situation and atmosphere, encouraging his audience to express feelings, memories, and emotions.
Time and life are fundamental motifs in Liu Ren's work; he explores the meeting between subjective feelings and objective reality. Liu's practice involves reforming mediums such as straw paper into pulp and using this hardened object to convey messages and personal information.
There is no single national cultural identity in China, and this is shown in the contemporary art currently being produced. Artists born after 1980 are confronting global issues such as the extensive commercialisation of society, an increasingly superficial cultural state, and inquiries into and resolutions for humanity's most basic problems of existence.
It is clear to see why international millennial collectors have a connection with this group and are starting to snap up their artworks. —[O]
Main image: Exhibition view: Don Gallery, Frieze London, London (13–17 October 2021). Courtesy Don Gallery. Photo: Damian Griffiths.