Chinese Restaurant Mogul Zhang Lan Spent Millions at Christie’s

She spent $30 million at Christie's in under an hour and tried to buy even more.

Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) Untitled oil on canvas 79 3/8 x 95¼ in. (201.5 x 242 cm.) Painted in 1988.

Who is the ultra-wealthy Chinese collector who recently dropped nearly $30 million on two paintings at Christie’s in a single evening?

Zhang Lan, 55, a successful entrepreneur who runs the South Beauty Group chain of upscale restaurants throughout China, was a force to be reckoned with at the recent spring series of contemporary auctions in New York.

At Christie’s special theme sale, “If I live I’ll see you Tuesday,” held May 12, Zhang was the buyer of the star lot of the evening, Martin Kippenberger’s untitled self portrait (1988), which had a price tag of $9–12 million, but eventually sold for a record $18.6 million with premium after a dramatic two-way bidding war. Zhang was bidding through Christie’s specialist Xin Li over the telephone and she proved a tenacious competitor, sometimes jumping the bid higher in $1 million increments as opposed to the typical $250,000 or $500,000 jumps seen at the price level. At $12.5 million, she jumped to $13.5 million, drawing gasps in the saleroom. The tense but entertaining battle continued when she moved the bid to $15 million from $13.75 million and then up to $16 million. At one point the lively competition prompted auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen to remark “I like your style.”

Zhang’s other big purchase that evening was Warhol’s Little Electric Chair (1965), which sold for $10.5 million with premium (estimate: $7.5–9.5 million). Zhang won the painting after outbidding a collector seated in the room, again bidding on the phone with Christie’s Xin Li, for a hammer price of $9.2 million.

According to a profile on, Beijing-based South Beauty Group was set up in 2000 and has 71 restaurants, of which 43 are in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. The restaurants are well known for their innovative fusion style of authentic Sichuan cuisine and are popular among businessmen and expats. Philippe Starck was hired to design LAN, her 60,000-square-foot bar and dining complex in Beijing that opened in 2006. Zhang has said that she wants her company to become the “Louis Vuitton” of the global dining market.

With accumulated wealth of 3.1 billion yuan ($500 million) according to the profile, Zhang was ranked as China’s second richest woman entrepreneur in the 2011 China Restaurant Rich List. According to the profile, Zhang finds time to squeeze in visits to exhibitions and galleries despite her busy schedule.

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