China’s $10 Million Artist Pursues Spartan Life in NYC; “Every morning I wake up between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., have a cup of coffee, read the news and head to the studio,” says artist Zhang Xiaogang, “where I stay until 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.”

China’s $10 Million Artist Pursues Spartan Life in NYC

Zhang Xiaogang, Forever Lasting Love

“Every morning I wake up between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., have a cup of coffee, read the news and head to the studio,” says artist Zhang Xiaogang, “where I stay until 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.”

It’s a Spartan routine for China’s priciest living artist, who achieved that status when his triptych titled “Forever Lasting Love” sold for $10.2 million at a Hong Kong auction in 2011. His latest works, a mix of paintings and sculptures, are now on view at the Pace Gallery in New York’s Chelsea area where the opening last week attracted several hundred guests.

Four new canvases of parents and children and dreary rooms hang in one wing of the 8,000-square-foot gallery. In the main area, pedestals display 17 sculptures, including a 6-inch-tall head of a young girl and a bust of a bespectacled young man measuring 5 feet and weighing 600 pounds. Each sculpture was hand- or spray-painted, with some textures recalling clay or marble.

Zhang still lives in China where his works were banned until 1997, he said. The series that attracted Chinese censors and Western patrons was called “Bloodline: Big Family” and was inspired by a trove of family photographs from the days of the Cultural Revolution.

The paintings depicted stiff, vacant-eyed children and adults, wearing Communist garb and linked by thin, red lines.

In 2006, a “Bloodline” canvas fetched $979,200 at Sotheby’s (BID) in New York. At Pace, the prices are $50,000 to $250,000 for sculptures and $550,000 to $1.2 million for paintings. Most works sold within the show’s first week.

Moving Forward

“Since 2006, I am trying to move forward as an artist,” said Zhang, 56, through a translator during an interview at Pace. “But whenever people come to my studio, they always ask about the work I did 20 years ago.”

Bald and bespectacled, Zhang looks like an older incarnation of the children in his new paintings and sculptures. We spoke on the eve of the opening, as a forklift moved heavy sculptures around and assistants measured and hung the paintings.

The sculptures were cast at the Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry in upstate New York, which has produced works for artists including Jeff Koons and Claes Oldenburg.

Zhang spent the past month in New York, painting the sculptures by hand in a temporary studio on West 18th Street. They look like three-dimensional versions of his “Bloodline” characters: a girl with pigtails, a boy in sailor cap, naked infants.

Another Idea

Overall, preparations for the show took three years, Zhang said, and came down to the wire. The last bronze was completed at 10 p.m. on Tuesday before the Thursday opening.

“It’s hard to get the work away from him,” said Arne Glimcher, founder of Pace. “He paints it, then he gets another idea and he adds to it.”

In new paintings, the adults and children occupy sparsely furnished rooms, with walls painted green and gray and bonsai on side tables.

“It’s a typical Chinese setting from the 1970s,” said Zhang. “My parents kept this color until the 1990s.”

“The Position of Father” depicts a toddler leaning back in an armchair as if he were an adult and wearing blue pajamas with a big hole in the front.

“That’s a typical Chinese onesie,” said Zhang. “We didn’t have diapers. It was very convenient.”

In one painting, a neatly folded white shirt and blue trousers are laid out on a bed.

“It’s the outfit I wanted the most as a child,” said Zhang. “We could not afford it and I was very envious of the boys who had it.”

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater, Alec McCabe on books.

To contact the reporters of this story: Katya Kazakina in New York at

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Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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