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Asia Week Dealers Stress Provenance

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Author Topic: Asia Week Dealers Stress Provenance  (Read 565 times)
Peter Bentley 彭达理
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« on: April 13, 2011, 11:00:00 am »


But  first  : I do think  provenance  is  important  given all the  professional fake copies  these  days   in the inside  painted  bottle   field (  in which is especially easy to   fake  copies) , especially  if    provenance means  unbroken   chain of ownership  from the  original  artist   to the  present  day.   My  own  little   tiny , humble collection  is  fully  documented  as to where, how , when I bought  each bottle  and the price I paid  so that  if one day  my  family   sells off my collection (  perish the  thought ! but  it may happen)   every  bottle  has a  true  provenance   which  is  properly  documented.

Now my  hobby horse ....

Yes , sadly, but inevitably,  the  same   3,000  - 5,000   bottles  will continuously   circulate   around the  top  10 collections  in the  world  forever and the  prices  will  go up   every  time a bottle  changes  hands.   But hasn't that  always  been the case  for  fine art   when  the  artist  is  long since   dead  and there  are  a strictly   fixed  number  of  his artworks  in the  world  ( except for   new fakes)  ?   There  is  growing number of  collectors  in the  world, and I think that the snuff bottle   field is only just taking  off ...   Consider  :  how many   paintings  can you  hang  in your  home   compared to  how many  snuff bottles  you can  display  on a  few shelves ?  And  gradually homes   will become  smaller  ... and   smaller  ( especially here  in Asia)   in the  next 100  years.   And  Chinese  collectors in particular  will  become    richer.

But it's also the  same  with any collectible  , eg  stamps . Nothing we can   say  can   ever  change  that   so no  point to  get worked  up about it. 

But somehow  I feel   differently about   inside  painted  bottles  when  I look at the  love and skill  that goes  into them .

At  the  Yantai   Asian Collectors  conference and exhibition  in 2009  there  was   an afternoon meeting  given over to   presentations.  The  only presentation was  by a  Chinese-American  guy  who was  talking about the   astronomic  prices    now  fetched  at  auctions for   inside painted  bottles . I  distinctly   remember   the    highest  price  he   mentioned  for  an antique  IPB  was  USD 800,000.   There  were   over  100 artists    at the  exhibition  who had  travelled  overnight  from Hengshui and  elsewhere to  get  to  Yantai  ( could not afford a flight) and were  staying  2 -3  per room in a cheap hostel  near the  exhibition  centre   ( could not afford the  conference  hotel)   for   whom the  sale of  just  one or  two  bottles   at the  exhibition at   a  few  USD  hundreds  / bottle  would mean they  could make ends  meet that month .

I did  a  quick calculation and  worked  out that  USD800,000    divided  among  100 artists  would  keep them  all   going for  one year .  ONE YEAR  !   

So when  I    see these  crazy prices  at auctions  I think  :  " If  I  really  had  USD100,000 to spend on  IPBs   today , I would   much rather  use  it to buy  100  of the  most beautiful  bottles  by the  best  current  artists  , both  younger artists   who are  living  from  life to limb,  and older artists  who  are  fast  losing their  sight  and  have  nothing for   their retirement   having sold  all their  best  creations  for  peanuts  when they were much younger  but not yet  appreciated , than   to buy one  super-antique  bottle  at an auction  which  may  appreciate to  USD200,000  when I  re-auction  it in  5  years  time "  . 

darn the  appreciation  factor  !  I would   much  MUCH rather   have 100  beautiful  bottles  to  love and  admire  on my living room shelves ,  knowing that  by  buying them   100 artists   made it   through that  month  -   or months ( and  I don't  give  a  darn  if  they never  appreciate  at all)  - rather than buy one  super-bottle and    every day   take  it  out  of the  safe  to  look at  it  greedily and  think " in a  few  years  time I will  sell you  to I don't  care  whom, and   earn  USD100,000 profit"

I must confess that  when  I  first  started  collecting and  buying direct   from artists  I   still regarded  the  negotiation about  price  the  way  any collector  would  feel when   buying  from a  dealer. But then  I  started to  feel  differently and tried to  put myself   in  the  artist's  shoes.  Sure, some  Modern artists   have made it to the  big time  and have    200  sq  apartments  in Hengshui  in new    buildings ( I have been there and seen them) .   But  most of the  upcoming artists   whose work I most admire   have tiny  little   dusty  homes, a  wife and     two  young  kids ( and  I have also  been there and   seen  them) .  And the    young  artist  I admire the  most  uses his   basement  motorbike  garage  as his  studio   without  even  any natural  light. 

One of the  senior artists  I admire the  most    has recently agreed to sell me  several  of his  bottles.  His  asking price  was not  cheap  - in fact  very  expensive  based on my  salary and   limited   savings.    But  then it    suddenly occured to me that  :  (a) he could  have asked   twice  the price  from an indiscriminate  rich  collector   who just  " buys the big names"   - and  he knows   several  such buyers  ;   (b) he  prefers to  sell   to me  because  he  knows  I love  - really  LOVE -  his  works  and admire them  every day;  (c) this artist  is almost  60  and  cannot   possibly paint  much longer : he needs  money for  his retirement    just as  I do ;  so to fetch a  fair price  for  some of  his  last and possibly best    bottles  means a  lot  for his  peace of  mind, and his  family  who depend  on him.   So..... I actually offered to pay   more than  what he  asked .  It   cost me  an  arm and  a leg, and I have  never  forked out  so much  for  some   bottles  in my life   at one  time.  But  at least  I felt  I was  putting  my  money  where my mouth is  on this    hobby horse of mine  which is:


I created  my data base  primarily  as  a way for  new collectors    to   navigate  through the   jungle of   modern   artists and  to  find those  who paint the  kind of  bottles  they  like  . Otherwise   they  will     blunder about  in the    dark for ever and  never   find the   handful  of artists   whose  work  is the  perfect  macth for their  taste  in  IPBs.  I  have found my perfect  matches. So also - I believe - has Bill.   The   fact that we found  different    matches   does not  mean my taste  is   any   better  ( or worse)  than Bill's  or  vice  versa .  It   just means   we are  both  very happy with  our collections and  enjoy  them  every  day. 

Long live the  Modern School !   

So I  agree:  do not waste  one's  money on   expensive  bottles  at  auctions  unless you   really   like them  ( as I did  my one only Wang Xisan)

Do not  buy  for  investment  :  buy  just for  pure  LOVE  and  BEAUTY  ! 

And, if at all  possible , get to  Hengshui  or  wherever the  artist  lives  (  Shijiazhuang, BJ,  Zibo) and  meet the  artists  whose  work you  love .

By 9.2013  I will be  retired. I speak  Chinese and   I  have worked in China for  25 years. I would be happy to escort  any collector to  meet  any artist  he  wants to  meet   in China  at anytime  at my own expense .

Now there's an invitaton  you  can't   resist !

( Peter gets  down off   his  hobby  horse...)

Cheers  Peter  @ HK
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