Don said that for Sotheby’s, growth in sales was brought on by a widening of the collector base for ink works around the globe. “There is an increasing number of collectors from not only China but internationally, with many of them being Asian diaspora,” she said.
Established names such as
are among the most sought-after names, and prices for their works have also seen a significant increase. Works by Lui, a key figure of the New Ink movement that took place in Hong Kong, were frequently sold for under HK$100,000 ($13,000) up until recently. But in the past few years, pieces have routinely soared above estimate, with Victoria harbour after rain
(1965) selling for HK$4.3 million ($545,997) on an estimate of HK$400,000 – HK$600,000 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2013 and Sketch of Hong Kong - Aberdeen
(1963) selling for HK$3.4 million ($438,127) on a HK$300,000 – 400,000 estimate at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2014.
Prices for Liu Kuo-Sung’s work have risen even higher. His ink work Scenery of Hong Kong (1987) fetched HK$16.8 million ($2.2 million), above its high estimate of HK$8 million, at a Christie’s Hong Kong sale in 2014, a world record for the Chinese master. The artist’s Blue Moon Landscape (1969, 1990) was the top lot at the Sotheby’s autumn contemporary ink sale this year, fetching an in-estimate HK$4.9 million ($625,641).
Galleries suggest that beyond these significant strides for the category’s market, there is more to be done to expand ink art’s reach outside of Asia. Da Xiang Art Space’s Chung said the 2013 ink art exhibition at the Met
in New York helped bringing in a wealth of international collectors. But she, like Christie’s, cited macro forces at play in dampening overall reception. “Prices could have gone up further, but the economy hasn’t been doing well these past two years. And hence prices remain stagnant for these conceptual ink artworks,” she said.
“The future of contemporary ink art lies in whether we can find a place where Western and Eastern philosophies can meet,” said Henrietta Tsui of Hong Kong-based Galerie Ora-Ora
, which showed artists including
from China and
from Hong Kong at Ink Asia. “With its long lineage in not just China but many parts of the world, ink is a universal visual language.”
Some dealers, like Beijing-based Ink Studio
founding director Craig Yee, point to ink’s close relationship to the natural world as an important conceptual juncture for international collectors and curators. But, he further noted, that there remains a need to educate global audiences if they are to truly appreciate this unique art form.
Yee said that currently there are not enough curators who have the confidence to articulate the story of ink in the context of history and philosophy. However, there is room for significant change on the horizon. The M+ visual culture museum will prominently feature contemporary ink art when it opens in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District in 2019. This is a first but important step in radically changing the way ink art is appreciated.