Art collectors show off their Chinese prizes

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“I would say the most shocking change in the Chinese art world is that the gallery system is now in effect,” said Mr Rubell, who says the new system has helped legitimize contemporary Chinese art. .

The Rubells could be abrupt when art did not appeal to them. “When they didn’t like the work, they found excuses to run away — but when they liked the artist, they would sit down and have a long talk,” said Ms. Lam, who advised them. One of the artists she directed them to was Zhu Jinshi, the oldest of the show’s artists but still unknown when the Rubells met him; his signature style is pouring paint over calligraphic compositions.

“It was amazing,” Ms Rubell recalled. “We walked into his studio, and there was 40 years of history in there. We asked if there was more to see, and they took us to three other studios full of paintings.

The couple’s son, Jason Rubell, 44, co-owner of the family business Rubell Hotels, accompanied his parents on several trips and helped with purchases. “People tend to visualize Chinese art as brightly colored, Warhol-style figurative stuff, but we found some pretty conceptual works,” he said. “The politics that have framed the Chinese art scene are there, but in a sophisticated way that’s a bit more subversive.”

Some artists in the collection, such as Li Songsong, represented by Pace, and Zhang Enli, represented by Hauser & Wirth, have sold for over $700,000 at auction in China. The Rubells, who negotiate with dealers by buying six or eight pieces from an artist at a time, say they rarely spend more than six figures on a Chinese work. And while their endorsement should raise prices in this choppy market, they say they’re not aiming to sell the work and benefit from those increases.

“In 50 years of collecting, we’ve collected over 5,000 pieces and sold less than 20,” Don Rubell said.

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