Who Is Huang Yuxing? Barely Known Outside China, He’s One of the Year’s Breakout Art Stars, With Paintings Already Cracking $1 Million
A vibrant work by the Beijing painter was among the priciest works sold by young artists this year. Who is he?
The list of the top-selling young artists at auction in the first half of 2020 looks a lot like it did last year. There is Los Angeles painter Jonas Wood; Romanian fixture Adrian Ghenie; international phenom Eddie Martinez; and the American artist Dana Schutz. But one name is brand new: Huang Yuxing.
The Chinese painter is a relatively unknown quantity to the western gallery and fair circuit. But he has been gaining attention among Asian buyers—and, now, international ones—for his glowing depictions of pooling water and mountainous landscapes.
His painting Enlightening (2016–18) fetched $1.1 million at Christie’s Hong Kong in July, more than quadruple its high estimate. It became the sixth most expensive work by an ultra-contemporary artist (classified as an artist born after 1974) to sell at auction in the first half of 2020. (See the fall 2020 Artnet Intelligence Report for the full list.)
Over the past five years, Huang’s total auction sales have grown a staggering 533 percent, from $323,917 in 2015 to $2 million in 2020—and that’s only in the first six months of the year. The Huang phenomenon reveals how, even in an international, interconnected world, regional market stars can still emerge. The difference now is that they don’t stay regional for very long.
Jacky Ho, head of the Modern and contemporary art evening sale at Christie’s Asia Pacific branch, says that interest in Huang’s work has been growing thanks to notable exhibitions in Asian capitals like Taipei, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
The first work to crack the $1 million mark at auction, Enlightening is a large-scale painting that features the artist’s signature rippling colors, which form something between an oil slick and a neon-lit cityscape. “His style continues to evolve,” Ho says, but thanks in large part to his electric color palette, it “remains recognizable instantly.”
Despite rising prices—Huang’s average work sold at auction jumped from $117,635 in 2019 to $204,895 in 2020—the artist has not drawn the same level of attention in the West. “While we see many young artists from different regions rising up with their works being transacted and making new auction records in Hong Kong, New York, and London, the market for equally talented Asian artists look relatively more attractive when one compares the price points,” Ho says.
A New Generation of Landscape Art
Huang was born in 1975 in Beijing and graduated from the Department of Mural Painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2000. Fascinated with Chinese Zen and Eastern philosophy, he sought to blend meditative nature and a calm emptiness with electric colorways. This approach also helps Huang crest the waves of trends, which fluctuate between figuration, landscape, and abstraction.
Huang’s career started take off in 2015 after two solo exhibitions at important Shanghai museums, the Minsheng Modern Art Museum and the Yuz Museum, where he inaugurated a project room dedicated to emerging art. That year, his prices began to spike at auction, more than doubling from $323,917 worth of total sales in 2015 to $813,184 the following year. Soon after, he had an exhibition at Perrotin’s Hong Kong outpost. (The gallery declined to comment for this article.)
Even with these successes, the price for Enlightening was an outlier. (Huang’s second highest auction price is $293,147, set in 2019.) Still, auction houses think he is an emerging star. “Prices for works by Huang Yuxing are still affordable and reasonable to most of the art collectors and there is a lot of room to grow,” says Lihua Tung, a senior specialist at Phillips Asia.
Huang’s strength is his unique ability to layer colors, according to his gallery Whitestone, which has worked with the artist on shows in Taipei in 2018 and Tokyo in 2019.
The dealer Johann König also caught on to the artist, having been introduced to him at Art Basel Hong Kong. König decided to mount a solo show of his work at the gallery’s London outpost in 2019. Called “Essence of Landscape” and curated by Beijing-based curator Catherine Shi, it was Huang’s first solo exhibition in the West. The works ranged in price from $20,000 for smaller pieces to around $100,000 for larger ones.
The show launched Huang’s “Mountain Layer” series, which aims to fuse Chinese traditional ink painting with British landscape painting. The works were snapped up quickly.
“We have at least three collectors in every single painting,” Shi says. One small work, Ore and Tree (2019), had a 10-client waitlist from China. “But when the show opened, there were several western clients who wanted the painting,” she says. In the end, the gallery sold it to an important French collector who said they were drawn to Chinese-French painter Zao Wou-Ki’s influence on the work. The largest canvas went to an Asian art museum amid interest from three private museums.
Enlightening, the record-setting work at Christie’s, also had a long list of collectors bidding, according to Ho, including one in-room underbidder. It eventually sold over the phone to a private collector. Ho says the success of the sale—notably, of an older work, from 2010—was helped by the fact the painting incorporated two important elements the artist is known for, landscape and human forms.
Whitestone would not share details on the artist’s upcoming projects. Yet Huang’s shimmering works are immediately recognizable and somewhat hard to forget—especially for those who are fascinated by the sometimes-unpredictable ebbs and flows of the market.
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