Published in Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, December 2007
Located in the hills of La Jolla, a seaside resort community near San Diego, California, the residence of Chris and Eloisa Haudenschild is home to a major U.S. collection of contemporary Chinese video art and photography. It includes the work of roughly twenty-eight Chinese artists, including, significantly, Song Tao’s Life is Wonderful (2003), a large floor-top photo installation; Honey 2 (2003), a video by Hugo Boss Prize-nominated Yang Fudong; and Xu Zhen’s 1999 photomontage Sewer. In addition, the Haudenschild collection includes roughly one hundred and twenty holdings by ninety artists from the Americas, Europe, and other parts of Asia. Notable pieces include a triptych from Francis Alÿs’s series of paintings titled The Liar (ca. 1995), a photograph of Kristof Wodiczko’s Tijuana Projection (2002), and a painting from Komar & Melamid’s Most Wanted series dated at 2000 by the collector.(1)
The Haudenschilds began collecting contemporary Chinese video and photography in the late 1990s, when these mediums were beginning to become as widely used and important as they are today, and just before the beginning of the market’s current boom. Since then, prices for paintings by a few Chinese artists have topped two million dollars,(2) and domestic collectors have entered the market in a significant way.(3) In November 2006, for instance, a Chinese collector purchased a Liu Xiaodong painting at a Beijing auction for $2.7 million, the highest price paid at auction for a painting by a Chinese artist who began working after 1979. (4)
The current overall global art market also finds that contemporary art has, for the first time, “truly begun to rival the historically dominant Impressionism and Modern categories” at auction.(5) Evidence to the overall market’s growth, The Financial Times has recently been publishing how-to articles about art collecting in general and at least one art hedge fund has been established. Situated within this historic global market growth, expansion into China and other regions is seen as having contributed significantly overall. In addition to the work having dramatically appreciated, China has a new class of art collectors, with new levels of wealth among them. In fact, expansion into China and other “new” regions is often used in the case against the market’s potential crash.
Within this, the private collector maintains a unique position. On the one hand, as Britta Erickson writes, “Private collections are well suited to capturing the life of a vibrant art movement, driven as they are by passion, unencumbered by institutional impedimenta.”(6) Not necessarily affixed to any institution or gallery, today’s private collector has the flexibility to build a historically complete collection, so long as he or she has the means and access to do so. On the other hand, private collectors are not under any obligation to remain loyal to any particular mission. As Lu Jie, founder and director of the Long March Project, said, “ . . . we’ve observed that many [collectors] started out building a big collection and ended up selling the artwork in auctions . . . . It really takes time to get to know what the real agenda is that a collector has.” (7) However, there are standards and traditions by which collectors are judged, which the late Jonathan Napack, former Asia adviser to Art Basel describes: to be considered a “collector,” one must have a certain amount of commitment and knowledge.(8)
Chris and Eloisa Haudenschild’s level of commitment and knowledge is evidenced by the way they support contemporary art beyond collecting. The Haudenschild Foundation supports exhibitions and sponsors artists’ and scholars’ projects and programs such as symposia and residencies at the haudenschildGarage. Perhaps their most ambitious project yet was an exhibition entitled Zooming into Focus: Contemporary Chinese Photography and Video from the Haudenschild Collection, which took place from 2003 to 2005 and traveled to venues in San Diego, Shanghai, Tijuana, Singapore, and Beijing.
In her catalogue essay for this exhibition, Erickson addresses the collection’s strengths: “Representing a personal vision, it has not been expected to present a complete or historic view of the field. Nevertheless, it has captured a major slice of Chinese photography and video, representative of a signal moment”(9) in the field’s entrance onto the global stage. Scholar Martina Köppel-Yang recognized it as the first collection of its kind, (10) and Tina Yapelli, Director of the University Gallery at San Diego State University and the exhibition’s organizer, lauded it as “the most important collection of contemporary Chinese video and photography in the world.” (11) Lorenz Helbling, the Haudenschilds’ longstanding dealer, writes, “The collection is a very ‘open’ collection . . .. It doesn’t aim to fix images people should have of China, or to transmit stereotypes of China. It’s not about ‘signature works’ or ‘trophy pieces’—it’s more about a spirit, about involvement.” The Haudenschilds, he writes, are “great collectors.”(12)
To date, in addition to work by Yang Fudong, Song Tao, and Xu Zhen, the Haudenschild collection consists of works by Cao Fei, Chen Shaoxiong, Feng Mengbo, Geng Jianyi, Gu Dexin, Hai Bo, Hong Hao, Hu Jieming, Kan Xuan, Liu Wei, Lu Chunsheng, Shi Yong, Tang Maohong, Wang Jin, Wang Youshen, Weng Fen, Xiang Liqing, Yang Yong, Yang Zhenzhong, Yu Youhan, Zhao Bandi, Zhao Nengzhi, Zheng Guogu, Zhou Tiehai, and Zhu Jia. All of the works in the collection are photography, video/animation or computer graphics, or photo-based installations, except for two oil paintings and one print. The photographs are from editions of one hundred or smaller, with the majority of them from editions of ten or fewer. All of the videos are from editions of fewer than ten. (13)
Of these seventy individual works produced by twenty-eight artists, two of the works were produced by women artists: Cao Fei and Kan Xuan. Three of the artists are thirty years old or younger, while ten are between thirty-one and forty, fourteen are between forty-one and fifty, and one artist is over sixty. Most of them are based in Shanghai, with a few based in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Yangjiang, Guangzhou, and Haikou, Hainan. Only Kan Xuan maintains a residence both in Beijing and abroad, in Amsterdam.
Eloisa Haudenschild said she is primarily interested in collecting as a way to assist and connect with emerging artists. She explained that when artists have been recognized and supported by other collectors, she maintains relationships with them, but her interest shifts from collecting their work to assisting them in other ways, such as funding projects. With charismatic ebullience, Haudenschild said she has never sold a work, nor has she bought work by an artist she has not met. She has never attempted to acquire work from an artist directly and has always used an agent or dealer. She said she has never asked the price of an artwork. The works have been acquired through studio visits and meetings with artists, stories she recounts with pleasure. Haudenschild refers to the first trips in which she began to acquire Chinese artwork as “my love affair.” (14)
Eloisa Haudenschild, née Rodriguez-Carbonell was born into an affluent family in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who were involved in real estate and politics. When asked, she said she probably could be considered a third- or fourth-generation collector, and keeps some of her family’s paintings and antiques in the La Jolla estate. She met Chris Haudenschild, an astrophysicist-entrepreneur and native of Los Angeles, skiing in Portillo in 1973. Chris Haudenschild, who has roots in Iowa and Indiana, is a first generation collector. Together they have two daughters, Rita and Anna, whose artwork is also listed in the collection’s catalogue.
Eloisa Haudenschild’s educational background is in psychology. She was involved in dance and choreography before pursuing her interest in contemporary art. She cut her art-collecting teeth in the early 1990s with contemporary work from Latin America. At that time, she was president of the bi-national board of inSite, a network of contemporary art programs and commissioned projects that map the liminal border area of San Diego and Tijuana.
Haudenschild said, “I traveled with the board and the directors to Mexico City every two months or so, visiting artists and studios, traveling with them and having fun. That afforded me the opportunity of meeting some extraordinary artists like Francis Alÿs, a good friend, who together with other good friends have since become international figures in the art world. There, I really got a firsthand experience of the situation. I saw firsthand their need of support.”
When Chris Haudenschild, founder and president of CliniComp, a healthcare information management system, began expanding his business into China, the couple began making regular trips to Shanghai. As she had done in Latin America, Eloisa Haudenschild sought to investigate the local art scene in Shanghai.
Fueled by passion and confidence, she says, they acquired twenty works with their first purchase of Chinese art. Her husband was very supportive, encouraging her to take those twenty and, in her words, “double it up—go for forty or fifty.”
Haudenschild recounts the late 1990s as an environment very different from the art world in the large urban centers of today’s China. “I spent a lot of time looking around,” she said of her first trips. “My husband and I went to the Shanghai Art Museum and saw a show of work by the Corsinos, a brother and sister who live in France. I was so moved by the work, and was bummed about not being able to share it with anyone. It was so nice to see something besides calligraphy and ink washes. I thought, ‘Somebody did this, some curator—someone has this sensibility,’ but I didn’t know who it was. So, I saw this guy walking around [the Shanghai Art Museum] who looked a little like Salvador Dali. I thought, ‘I’m going to ask this guy.’ And of course, it was Dadou.”
Dadou, or Davide Quadrio, founded BizArt, a self-supported non-profit gallery, in Shanghai in 1998. Along with ShanghART, it shares billing as one of the oldest contemporary art institutions in the city.
“I said [to Dadou], I’ve been coming here for three years, where is the artwork?’ He said, ‘Go to ShanghART and see Lorenz.’ So, my husband and I immediately caught a cab and went to [the gallery in] Fuxing Park. As you may know, getting around in those days wasn’t as easy as it is now.”
“I walked into [ShanghART]. Then, I met Laura Zhou,” Mr. Helbling’s partner at ShanghART. “It was genius from that moment on with Laura. . . . We are very close. She calls me ‘mommy.’”
Previously, Mr. Helbling had been showing work at the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a massive hotel, convention centre and residence in Shanghai. “He used to carry paintings around on the back of his motorcycle trying to sell them, because at that time he didn’t have a space,” recounts Haudenschild. Since then, ShanghART has moved from its Fuxing Park location and expanded into three different spaces within Shanghai. A fourth space opened this year in Beijing.
“I loved the continual excitement. The best part was going to studios and apartments to look at the work,” Haudenschild says. Effusive with praise for Mr. Helbling, she said, “[Lorenz] is so good. If I wanted something and he wasn’t working with that artist, he’d get it for me. For instance Cao Fei. He facilitated that…You know, Lorenz wouldn’t sell to just anybody. He’s not as concerned with making a profit. We work together; he really wants to support the artists.”
She said he has never given her explicit advice, saying, “You know how it is with Lorenz, you never know [what he’s really thinking]. He’ll listen, smoking, with his coffee. And then he’ll say, ‘Eloisa, I think it’s time to think.’” Helbling and Zhou did, however, encourage her to look at certain artists.
After that initial trip, Haudenschild says she did a fair amount of research, contacting and meeting with scholars and curators in the field. She went to Paris and met with Hou Hanru, and exchanged emails with Britta Erickson. Perhaps in testament to the perceived need for a studied, serious, aesthetics-based treatment of contemporary Chinese art, Haudenschild said her queries to these noted curators and scholars—“from me, this little collector”—were enthusiastically received. Meantime, she continued collecting on her regular trips to China.
COLLECTING VIDEO AND PHOTOGRAPHY
In general, photography and video, like other edition-based media, have traditionally sold for less than paintings. Despite their lower value within the market, however, these media, as previously mentioned, are important to contemporary Chinese art and often become vehicles for highly conceptual projects. Critic and scholar Lu Leiping describes photography and video as the “most experimental and pioneering media today,” and “the media that more strongly maintain the Chinese characteristics.” (15) Indeed, many artists represented in the Haudenschild collection work solely in photography and video, and several are now highly sought after in large international exhibitions and biennials.
Haudenschild describes the process of arriving at the collection’s focus on video and photography as a product of following her own instincts. “You have to trust your eye,” she said. “I just get what I like, and the video and photography were what I liked . . .. There’s no one telling me what to do.” “I did not initially intend to collect video and photography,” she said, asserting that certain works she selected, such as Yang Fudong’s The First Intellectual photographs, did not initially appear collectible. When asked why more people don’t collect video, her response was, “I don’t know. Maybe they just haven’t warmed up to it yet.”
ART: THE "ALTERNATIVE ASSET CLASS"
Mainstream media outlets have described the recent growth in art investment in the overall market. “Art has emerged as a serious alternative asset class in the past few years, in spite of the disdain of art lovers and the skepticism of many dealers and collectors,” wrote Deborah Brewster in an article about art collecting that appeared in the July 13, 2007 issue of The Financial Times.(16) She continues:
“Randall Willette, who advises collectors, says: ‘There are increasingly two types of buyer in the market. The idea that you should buy purely because of your passion is becoming less common. More buyers are coming from a financial background and people want to support their buying decisions with financial information. Increasingly, art is part of the balance sheet of private clients.’” (17)
Indeed, much of the current dialogue surrounding contemporary Chinese art, and contemporary art as a whole, is in the language of finance.
Texas-based venture capitalist and wildcatter oil tycoon Robert Chaney speaks in such financial terms about his extensive contemporary Chinese art holdings. On the eve of the current exhibition of his collection at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Red Hot: Asian Art Now, Chaney described his strategy for “acquiring masterpieces,” using a method that is, in his words, a studied adaptation of the Warren Buffet model for investing. In the meantime, Chaney invited art dealers to sit on a panel in conjunction with the exhibition and encouraged Houston galleries to hold concurrent exhibitions of Asian art. Chaney seems determined to establish himself as an important, involved collector who also vocalizes his financial interest in the art world. (18)
Haudenschild, on the other hand, downplays herself as an investor. “I think I am not a good collector,” she joked, pausing in front of I Usually Wait Under the Arch Roof for Sunshine, a 2001 photograph by Hong Hao, who is well known for his photographs of densely accumulated objects. “For instance, the smart collector would’ve gotten [the accumulated object photos]. But me, I liked this one.”
Mrs. Haudenschild stands apart from the object-focused connoisseur as well, giving importance instead to her relationships with artists and members of the community. “For me, the collecting is just a token, a way to support these young guys . . . . The reward is that I have the opportunity to be part of their path.” She affectionately describes the relationships among the artists represented in her collection, noting that they have maintained their integrity and loyalty to one another as friends in spite of experiencing unequal degrees of recognition. “You know, there are many collectors who are buying pieces and then putting them away until they become valuable—they don’t even show the work. And that is such a waste—these people need exposure,” she said.
FUTURE OF THE MARKET
Speculations on a crash or correction in the global and Chinese contemporary art markets circulate. Commenting on the market in general, Los Angeles-based billionaire collector Eli Broad was quoted in The New York Times in August 2007 as saying, “We’ve seen an unprecedented 68 appreciation of contemporary art in the thirty-five years that I’ve been collecting . . . . We’re bound to have a correction. I don’t know if it will happen at the November auctions, or it will happen next May.” (19) Other recent articles have described the Chinese market as “bubbly,” (20) and the overall market as “overblown,” (21) and “showing signs of a bubble.” (22)
Jonathan Napack wrote of a grim future, with a specific focus on China: “The current ‘boom’ in the Chinese economy is all about positioning and manipulating perceptions to help attain certain short-term goals. This infects the art world as much as anybody else.” He wrote, “It will one day crash, when the speculators who are now blindly following their ‘advisors’ realize prices have started to fall and dump their collections on the market.” (23)
Echoing Broad’s sentiments about the overall market, Eloisa Haudenschild commented on the contemporary Chinese art market’s future, saying, “I’m worried about the market. Will there be a crash or a correction? Hopefully it will be a correction. But [regardless, as a collector,] you either have integrity or you don’t.”
Art collected by individuals from a different country than the origin of the artist is now a common practice. Today, there are numerous galleries dealing exclusively in contemporary Chinese art in cities around the Western hemisphere. The question of what influence the foreign collector of contemporary Chinese art has on the globalized art world is a complex one.
Lu Jie put foreign collectors in a positive light, saying, “[the artists] feel more confident to have their works sent abroad. They respect the international collectors more and believe they are the real collectors. The local collectors very often use the building of a collection as an introduction or entry into the market. The artists feel safer with their work in foreign collections.” (24) There is also the idea that foreign collectors have helped contemporary Chinese art to be seen as valuable within China. Haudenschild said that the most important works in her collection have been shown at the Shanghai Art Museum and the National Museum of China in Beijing because she knows “how important it was for these young artists to get there.”
“Foreign collectors held out [the] olive branch,” according to critic Lu Leiping, in influencing the establishment of serious interest in contemporary Chinese new media art such as that in the Haudenschild Collection. (25) Jonathan Napack wrote: “That is not to say that there is no real basis for the current foreign interest in Chinese art. This huge country, for so long off the map, is producing artists who can draw on a wellspring of images, concepts, and issues that are totally unique to China and produce works that have that elusive ‘local flavour’ increasingly rare in a globalized world.” (26) However, an often-discussed problem is that the possibility for this “local flavour” is diminished once the artwork is brought to market.
A less-discussed question, whose answer remains to be seen, is, as they become part of the global art market, how are China and other “new markets” for contemporary art changing it? Will contemporary Chinese art be subsumed by the same practice seen in the Euro-American art market of limitation and marginalization of different groups, such as women and minority artists? Consistent with Western art, works by male Chinese artists generally sell for more at auction than those of women. Living Han male artists have appeared much more prominently in the exhibitions of important collections. This also fits with the Western art historical tradition of marginalizing, ignoring, and dismissing women artists within Chinese art history. (27) Just as Chinese art, which has not reached the heights that Euro-American art does at auction, is marginalized by art world regionalism, female Chinese artists may be marginalized even more.
Here again, private collections occupy a unique space. Private collections, “driven as they are by passion, unencumbered by institutional impedimenta” (as Erickson was quoted as saying in the introduction to this essay), are truly private in nature, and do not fall under the type of public scrutiny that attempts to address and confront the gender- and ethnicity-based biases about an artwork’s value that is at work in public collections. In addition, through the funding of exhibitions, the establishment of art centers, and the lending of artworks, private collections may indirectly promote the marginalizing practices of the institutional and historical art worlds. On the other hand, private collections also present the possibility of freely challenging and questioning such biases, which, as attested to by Lorenz Helbling, is perhaps what Eloisa Haudenschild has attempted to do.
The impact an individual collector can have on the market is another question. One of the indicators by which to measure the success of an artist is his or her inclusion in important and well-known collections. It follows that the larger and more important the collection, the more influence on the market the collector has. As Napack wrote of the recent inflation, “It prices younger or novice collectors out of the market, leaving many artists vulnerable to the whims of a few deep-pocketed collectors.” (28)
Finally, it remains to be seen how the market’s inflation will affect the artworks themselves. Napack wrote, “The current infusion of cash into the market brings [first-rate galleries] some short-term profits, but it is also destructive in the long run. It inflates the expectations of artists and makes them even more exploitative of their galleries.” (29) Marc Spiegler of New York magazine wrote, “Historically bad markets tend to produce better art—there’s less pressure on artists to produce and fewer temptations to sell out, and they’re dealing only with collectors and galleries willing to ride out the hard times.” (30)
Haudenschild stressed that ultimately what remains important to her is having the ability to support emerging artists and connect people in dialogue. She said, “The inflation of the market is problematic. When I was starting to collect, it was like these guys could really benefit from my collecting their work . . .. A lot of bad work has come to auction recently.”
She said, “You know, Chinese art has become this kind of cliché.” Gesturing around the garage that houses many of the collection’s significant photographs, including Yang Fudong’s The First Intellectual series of photos (2000), Song Tao’s In Loud Crowds I Dream of Hanging Myself (2002), and Lu Chunsheng’s Water photos (2002), she said, “I’m thankful I was able to get these pieces, but I know it’s become a little bit like a fashion show.” Expressing an increased interest in funding projects, she said, "I’m not even sure I want to be a collector anymore. But I have to make a choice that I can live with."
1 Plates of much of the Chinese collection can be found in the exhibition catalogue, Zooming Into Focus: Contemporary Photography and Video Art from the Haudenschild Collection, Shi Yong and Laura Zhou, eds. (Shanghai: ShanghART, 2005). Images of the Haudenschild’s other holdings may be found at www.haudenschildgarage.com.
2 David Barboza, “In China’s New Revolution, Art Greets Capitalism,” New York Times, January 4, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/04/arts/design/04arti.html
3 “Chinese art is now beginning to be aggressively collected by the Chinese themselves,” said Boriana Song, manager of the Chinese-owned Beijing Art Now Gallery. ”But now Chinese buyers are hungry for culture, and they see contemporary art as fashionable. The market is maturing, tastes are changing, and more than 60% of our clients are local Chinese.” Pallavi Aiyar, “Modern art scene grabbing investors,” Asia Times Online, April 11, 2006, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China_Business/HD11Cb05.html .
4 Barboza, “In China’s New Revolution, Art Greets Capitalism.”
5 Marc Spiegler, “Five Theories On Why the Art Market Can’t Crash (and Why It Will Anyway),” New York, April 3, 2006,
6 Britta Erickson, “Zooming Into Focus, Sliding Into History,” in Zooming Into Focus, 14–15.
7 Lu Jie, “Contemporary Art in Greater China: Under Pressure, A Discussion at the 52nd Venice Biennale,” Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (September 2007), 8–24.
8 Jonathan Napack, “An Art Market With Chinese Characteristics,” Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (March 2006), 16–17.
9 Erickson, “Zooming Into Focus, Sliding Into History,” in Zooming Into Focus, 14–15.
10 Martina Koppel-Yang, “Compelling Images of a Distant Life, Video as Expansion of Reality,” in Zooming Into Focus, 71–72.
11 Erickson, “Zooming Into Focus, Sliding Into History,” in Zooming Into Focus, 14–15.
13 Information about the collection provided by the haudenschildGarage.
14 Statements by and biographical information about Mrs. Haudenschild based on a conversation at the haudenschildGarage on September 5, 2007, a telephone conversation on September 12, 2007, and e-mail exchange.
15 Lu Leiping, “When Experiment Encounters Classics,” in Zooming Into Focus, 19–21.
16 Deborh Brewster, “Investing in the art market,” Financial Times, July 13, 2007, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/a531d0d2-3153-11dc-891f-0000779fd2ac.html .
18 Kelly Klaasmeyer, “RED HOT: Asian Art From the Chaney Family Collection,” Houston Press, September 13, 2007, http://www.houstonpress.com/2007-09-13/culture/red-hot-business/ .
19 Robin Pogrebin, “Volatile Markets? Art World Takes Stock,” New York Times, August 29, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/29/arts/design/29mark.html, accessed 08/24/07 .
20 Barboza, “In China’s New Revolution, Art Greets Capitalism.”
21 Spiegler, “Five Theories On Why the Art Market Can’t Crash (and Why It Will Anyway).”
22 Sharon Reier, “Contemporary Art: Follow the Money—The Latest Status Investment is Showing Signs of a Bubble,” International Herald Tribune, January 27, 2007, http://w4.stern.nyu.edu/news/news.cfm?doc_id=6894 .
23 Napack, “An Art Market With Chinese Characteristics,” Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (March 2006), 16–17.
24 Lu Jie, “Contemporary Art in Greater China: Under Pressure, A Discussion at the 52nd Venice Biennale,” Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, September/Fall 2007, 8–24.
25 Lu Leiping, “When Experiment Encounters Classics,” in Zooming Into Focus, 19–21.
26 Napack, “An Art Market With Chinese Characteristics,” Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (March 2006), 16–17.
27 Marsha Weidner, preface to Flowering in the Shadows, Women in the History of Chinese and Japanese Painting, ed. Marsha Weidner (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990), xi–xiv.
28 Napack, “An Art Market With Chinese Characteristics,” Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (March 2006), 16–17.
30 Spiegler, “Five Theories on Why the Art Market Can’t Crash (and Why It Will Anyway).”