The Back Room: Deep-Pocketed Ding Yixiao

The latest collector who can't (or won't) pay, Martha Rosler’s feminist musings, when boxers become artists, and much more.

Phillips New Asia headquarters in West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong. Courtesy of Phillips. Illustration by Artnet News.

Every Friday, Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access to the Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy. 

This week in the Back Room: The latest collector who can’t (or won’t) pay, Martha Rosler’s feminist musings, when boxers become artists, and much more—all in a 5.5-minute read (1,524 words).

Top of the Market

From Big Spender to Banned

Emily Mae Smith, Broom Life.(2014) Image courtesy Phillips and Poly Auction.

Emily Mae Smith, Broom Life.(2014) Image courtesy Phillips and Poly Auction.

On American soil, we’re rather accustomed to the narrative of collector-turned-criminal. The Wild West of the unregulated American art market practically begs for the machinations of our art dealing ecosystem to be exploited for financial gain – we make it almost too easy. There are recent examples like last week’s story about Diego Cortez, and the classic names in grifting like Inigo Philbrick and Lisa Schiff.

This week a new alleged art malefactor was revealed by my colleagues Eileen Kinsella and Vivienne Chow, this time in the swelling Asian market. Chinese collector Ding Yixiao, who is better known as Xiao, has in recent months managed to get himself blacklisted by swaths of market participants, sources told Artnet News.

For years, Xiao made a reputation for himself at auction houses as an aggressive collector of paintings by young, emerging artists. In fact, he’s the buyer behind the current record auction price for an Emily Mae Smith painting, set with his purchase of Broom Life (2014) for HK$12.4 million ($1.6 million) at Phillips Hong Kong in June 2021, obliterating the high estimate of HK$600,000 ($78,000). He eventually built up enough of a critical mass to create a private museum, the Xiao Museum of Contemporary Art, in China’s Shandong province. He enthusiastically documented his triumphs on his Instagram page.

‘I Can Do Whatever I Want to Do’ 

From the exterior, Xiao was following a familiar path for a passionate collector of vast means. To those close to the situation, however, something was amiss. He fell out with some auction houses–Phillips has allegedly banned him from doing business with them–and a month ago he made the swift, mysterious decision to yank three artworks by Louise BonnetHilary Pecis, and Emily Mae Smith from Sotheby’s “The Now” sale in London.  His reason? “the market is ‘bad now.’” And, “These are my works, I can do whatever I want to do.”

If that sounds suspect, that’s because it almost certainly was. It appears that Xiao bid at auctions using proxies, perhaps sensing (or, possibly, having been told) that his business was not welcome. Phillips said it would commence legal proceedings within seven days if funds it alleges Xiao owes from a previous deal in Hong Kong were not paid by August 4. They were not paid, according to sources.

Xiao’s private museum has also closed due to a “tax investigation,” although the circumstances around that remain murky. And several sources described being advised not to do business with Xiao, with one finding himself on the hook for an artwork after acting as a proxy bidder for Xiao only to have him go silent on him on the other side of the hammer’s swing.

All this reflects Xiao’s obsessive desire to buy artwork, whether he was able to afford it or even legally able to obtain it. It also reflects the opacity that’s part and parcel to transacting in China—an issue that goes far beyond any one collector’s alleged misdeeds.

The Bottom Line 

Though there are some salacious details, Ding Yixao’s story is, ultimately, just another one-off in a string of deals gone sour in the art market. A dealer who chose to remain anonymous expressed concern that Xiao’s actions could impact the general reputation of the Chinese market. The collector-base in China is often completely new to the game, and without a complete transaction history to go off of, art dealers and auction houses don’t have many ways to vet a new buyer. Now, they have a vivid reminder of the importance of due diligence.

Paint Drippings

The latest Wet Paint was still being mixed at press time. But here’s what else made a mark around the industry since last Friday morning…

Art Fairs

  • Ahead of its 20th anniversary, Frieze London is introducing new schemes to boost the fair’s U.K. arts and culture section. Awards and initiatives like the newly formed Arts Council Collection Fund, pair private philanthropic groups and public organizations at a time when arts funding has been sharply cut in the U.K. (Press release)
  • Ahead of Armory Week in New York, Art on Paper returns to Pier 36 from September 7–10 under the direction of newly appointed artistic director Nato Thompson. (Press release)

Auction Houses

  • Phillips’ global sales for the first half of 2023 totaled $453 million, nearly 40 percent less than the $746 million tallied in the first half of 2022. Auction sales made up the bulk of that figure, coming in at $409 million, a 31 percent year-over-year decrease. (ARTnews)
  • Meanwhile, the auction house is getting into the direct art sale business with its new platform Dropshop(Artnet News)


  • Artist Jeffrey Gibson is suing Chicago-based Kavi Gupta gallery for allegedly withholding more than $600,000 in sales proceeds. Gibson, who was recently selected to represent the U.S. at the 2024 Venice Biennale, began consigning work with the gallery in late 2017. (Artnet News)
  • Vaunted downtown gallery JTT, which was founded by Jasmin T. Tsou in 2011 on the Lower East Side, is closing. Malin Gallery, which had spaces in New York and Aspen, has shuttered amid allegations of unpaid invoices. (Artnet NewsARTnews)
  • Jack Shainman Gallery now represents the estate of the late Brazilian artist Emanoel Araújo, and Pace Gallery has taken on the estate of late conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner(ARTnews, Press release)  


  • London’s Slade School of Fine Art has hired artist Mary Evans as its director. She joins from Chelsea College of Arts, and is the school’s first Black director. Meanwhile, the Israel Museum’s director Denis Weil has stepped down after just a year and a half in the job. And Will Gompertz  is set to become director of Sir John Soane’s Museum(The Art NewspaperTimes of IsraelGuardian)
  • Trevor Yeung is representing Hong Kong at the 2024 Venice Biennale; and Mark Salvatus was selected for the Philippines pavilion. (Press releases)
  • Workers at the Guggenheim Museum have voted by a 97 percent margin to ratify their first union contract. (Artnet News)  

Tech and Legal News

  • German court has ruled that the Berlin-based artist Götz Valien is now officially a co-author of two “Paris Bar” paintings that had previously been attributed to Martin Kippenberger(Artnet News)
  • A Connecticut man has pleaded guilty in federal court to forging 145 paintings and selling them as authentic Peter Max works to 43 different clients to the tune of just under $250,000(ARTnews
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s notorious, $450 million work Salvator Mundi is being minted as a series of NFTs. (The Art Newspaper

“There’s only one type of genius that matters, and it always comes with a penis.”

—Conceptual artist Martha Rosler on how the art market reaches consensus (T Magazine

Work of the Week

Caleb Hahne Quintana’s How A Fall Can Make You Real (2023)

Caleb Hahne Quintana, How A Fall Can Make You Real (2023). Image courtesy the artist and Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles.

Caleb Hahne Quintana, How A Fall Can Make You Real (2023). Image courtesy the artist and Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles.

Date: 2023

Seller: Anat Ebgi Gallery Los Angeles

Estimate: $38,000

Selling at: The Armory Show

Sale date: September 8-10 at The Javits Center, New York

The painting was one of the only pieces out of roughly 100 on display that was specifically commissioned for “Strike Fast, Dance Lightly: Art on Boxing” at the FLAG Art Foundation. Since FLAG and its partner in the two-venue display, The Church, are  nonprofits, some of the buzzed about works in the show that are actually for sale are being offered through the artists’ respective dealers shortly—hence Anat Ebgi offering this work at the Armory Show in just a few weeks. The show at the FLAG wraps today (August 11).

The artist himself described the powerful work at a recent panel, saying: “I was an amateur boxer for about seven years, and I’d done a lot of sports before that, and one of the things I learned about playing sports was that I hate losing more than I love winning. So I wanted to make a painting about defeat titled How A Fall Can Make You Real. I feel like loss, whether it be in sport, emotional, psychological, or whatever, is one of the only times we become aware of our bodies in this really interesting way. Boxing is one of those sports that make you really aware of your body. The first time I got concussed, first time I broke my nose, all of these things. It’s a pretty surreal feeling. So I wanted to make a painting about all of these things. It’s the only boxing painting I’ve ever made. I used to keep that part of my life pretty divorced from my career, my art practice. I liked having this dual identity, so it was actually exciting to be pushed to make a painting about such a significant part of my life.”

—Eileen Kinsella

Thanks for joining us in the Back Room. See you next Friday.

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