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Interview with Shuyin Yang


Interview with Shuyin Yang
Jose Joya, Homage to Turner, 1965, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2015

The Artling interviewed Shuyin Yang, Associate Specialist in Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Southeast Asia Region, at Christie’s, ahead of the auction house’s upcoming ASIA+/First Open Auction during Hong Kong Art Week. Yang shares with us her thoughts on Asian Contemporary art and the direction she sees it going in the next few years. 

Over the past 5 years, where have you seen the most sales growth within the Asian 20th Century and Contemporary art department? 
Christie’s Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art department has seen significant overall growth since 2010, but perhaps the most remarkable vibrancy can be noted within the Southeast Asian art region, particularly for modern art from Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam, as well as the rise of contemporary Southeast Asian artists such as Ronald Ventura and I Nyoman Masriadi. Southeast Asia is still a growing market, compared to the relatively more mature Chinese art scene, therefore prices for top quality artworks have seen a favorable response due to regional collecting demand, leading to a rise in market interest and confidence. This cyclical effect combined with increasing awareness for emerging art markets has created global attention for the Southeast Asia sector.

Within our most recent Hong Kong auctions in November 2014, we posted strong artist records for SEA 20th Century artists such as Le Pho, Jose Joya, Thawan Duchanee and Singapore pioneer artist Cheong Soo Pieng, whose rare 1951 portrait of a Chinese opera singer, ‘Making Up’ sold for HK$5,920,000 (US$ $766,964).

Do you see artworks/artists from any particular region or country gaining popularity in the next few years within the genre of Asian Contemporary Art? 

Instead of discussing specific regions or countries independently it would be more relevant to note that collecting taste and demand within Pan-Asian art has become increasingly discerning, and the works which are presently most sought after may not necessarily be ‘blockbuster’ works but rather compositions which display a crucial combination of quality; rarity; historical, social or academic relevance; and also demonstrate specific high points within the artist’s career. ‘Making Up’ by Cheong Soo Pieng is an example of an artwork which meets all these criteria, despite being an early small format canvas and atypical of his more broadly known Balinese series.

Traditional ‘blue chip names’ such as Zao Wou-ki, Chu Teh-Chun, Sanyu, Zeng Fanzhi and Yoshitomo Nara will continue to command prices at the top end of the market. We have also observed increasing interest in abstract art, ranging from the Sino-French masters such as Zao and Chu, to the Gutai group, Korean minimalists, for example Lee U-Fan, and Southeast Asian abstract expressionists such as Fernando Zobel and Jose Joya. Christie’s has seen such interest especially from young Asian collectors and have started the ASIA+/First Open auction in Hong Kong in part to cater to such demand. In addition, we’ve also observed increasing interest in Contemporary Chinese ink, which highlights abstract forms of traditional calligraphy and brush painting.

Cheng Soo Pieng, Making Up, 1951, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2015 

What do you think is the role of an auction house in cultivating an emerging art market such as Southeast Asia?

In order to generate enthusiasm and collecting interest within an emerging market, firstly, collectors must feel that they have a span of choices to select from; and secondly, understand how works from a specific region, such as Southeast Asia, fit together in regional art history and chronology, as well as within the larger international context. An auction house is well equipped to deliver these two aspects, as we handle a broad and diverse range of material, produce fully researched catalogues through the combined expertise of our specialists, and also take a global viewpoint when positioning artworks at auction. An auction catalogue is a fantastic resource for a new collector attempting to gain an immediate overview of a regional art scene, and the subsequent prices achieved are also a good barometer of the market climate at that given moment. At Christie’s, we also advocate art education and awareness by organizing open-to-public exhibition tours, lectures and seminars; for example the Christie’s Art Forum series which takes place in several international locations and features respected guest speakers from within the industry.

What would you advise collectors who are still hesitant about diversifying into Southeast Asian art at the moment?​

Globally, Southeast Asia may appear to be a new or emergent market. However, if you study the social and cultural history of the region, you will realize that the proliferation of the art scene here is actually not a new phenomenon and has been in the making for several decades. The evolution of modern Southeast Asian art has been a carefully considered and sensitively expressed process by artists influenced by the socio-political fabric of their respective countries, and they have laid down established bodies of works which have reached a point of full artistic maturity. The only ‘new’ aspect within this region is the rise of the commercial market in tandem with the strengthened Southeast Asian economies, and perhaps also the increasing number of art-focused museums and institutions. Given that the foundation is firm and artworks are of high quality, collecting modern Southeast Asian art is relatively low risk taken against a long-term view of what consists stable art holdings. Speaking of contemporary artworks, while this is still an ‘in-progress’ category as the artists are living and variations can happen, collectors are at a distinct advantage due to the amount of available information, whether it is background material on the artists, price research, accessibility of primary galleries, art fairs, and auction houses, so they can be fully equipped to make sound acquisitions that augment their collecting vision.

What is the most exciting part of your job?​

Definitely the vast range of artworks I handle: modern and contemporary art across the Southeast Asian countries of Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam; as well as Pan-Asian and Western masterpieces. Interacting with artworks from warehouse to auction, researching their histories and stories, experiencing the emotional process of the artist during creation, and occasionally stumbling across rare treasures hidden for decades in someone’s attic (again – Cheong Soo Pieng’s ‘Making Up’, which is why I am so fond of this work!) which are then celebrated in a record-breaking auction sale, all make this an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling job.


Shuying Yang is a specialist in the Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art department, with a focus on the Southeast Asian region. She joined Christie’s London in 2009 as an Associate Specialist Trainee, working in Post-War and Contemporary Art, Old Master and British Paintings, Chinese Works of Art and South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art. In late 2010, Shuyin was seconded to Christie’s Asia and currently works on consigning and selling for the biannual Hong Kong auctions. She is especially interested in contemporary and emerging art, photography and new media. Shuyin holds a Masters in Art History and Archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 

Upcoming Events

Christie’s ASIA+/First Open auction

15 March 2015 (Sunday), 3pm

James Christie Room, 22/F Alexandra House, Central, Hong Kong

From works on paper by established artists to sculptures, installations and works in new media, ASIA+/First Open presents in-depth dialogues between different artists, which demonstrates a comprehensive view on how different art movements inspired artists and shows the diverse narratives brought together by Christie’s global specialist teams.



Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.


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