The Art of Dr. Tsing-Fang Chen
An Appraisal and Investment Recommendation
Lawrence Jeppson is an art consultant, organizer and curator of art exhibitions, writer, editor and publisher, lecturer, art historian, and appraiser., He is expert on the works of several painters, including, Tsing-fang Chen, about whom he has written several books. Through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the American Federation of Arts, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and his own Art Circuit Services he has been a contributor to more than 200 art exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Japan. He owns AcroEditions, which publishes multiple-original art, and was co-founder and artistic director of Collectors’ Investment Fund.
In order to make an appraisal of the art of Dr. Tsing-fang Chen, it is essential that I present some background, both as to the importance of the artist and his work and to my special competence to analysis its current market and its long-range potential.
Dr. Tsing-fang Chen is a painter of extraordinary talent and world-class importance. His visionary brush opens mixing canals between huge and forbidding cultural oceans and digs deep toeholds into the steep telltales of time. In short, shorn of figures of speech, he is an illustrious painter who thinks and a profound thinker who paints.
There is an extensive biography and description of Dr. Chen’s artistic develop-ment in my book The Neo-Iconography of Tsing-fang Chen. Chen and I began our long association while he was still a French resident. I was among the first to understand what he was doing with his paints, brushes, and canvases, and to explain this to people who had no clue, I coined the term Neo-Iconography, wrote and designed my first book about him, and obtained Chen’s first museum exhibition in the United States at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 1978.
The Neo-Iconography of Tsing-fang Chen became a key to understanding how Chen takes familiar symbols and subjects from various periods of Western and Oriental art and visual habit–as well as from current events–and juxtaposes them in shattering visual images. Many passages have been widely quoted. The shortest of these is, “In Chen’s hands this recycling of images is not an imitation or a theft but a stroke of cunning.”
In June, 1980, Chen reestablished residence in New York City in the SoHo area, a move which proved to be a right one for the development of his career. He says, “With a mixture of Asian, European, and American influences, I grew up very conscious of being a ‘World Citizen’ . . . This kind of conscious awakening in the individual paves a way for a Global Culture based on Love, Peace, and Tolerance for all.”
Working from a New York base, Chen created several thematic series of paintings. The first of these was Liberty, a 100-painting commemoration of the centennial of the Statue of Liberty, followed by a 100-painting series on the centennial of the birth of Vincent van Gogh, and other “Centennial Productions.” He held hundreds of one-man shows, and lectured worldwide about his art and philosophy.
In SoHo Chen and his wife Lucia opened the non-profit T. F. Chen Cultural Center to promote a “Global New Renaissance in Love” and East-West cultural exchange. At this time Chen completed one of the most monumental outpourings in post-modern art, Towards the 21st Century, Symphony in World Culture, a seven panels of acrylic on canvas with a total measurement of 9’2″ high by 46’8″ long and a powerful amalgamation of dozens of the icons that mark his art.
For this Chen was honored as the first artist-painter to receive the Global Tolerance Award from the Friends of the United Nations, who named him a Cultural Ambassador for Tolerance and Peace.
Chen has had more than 200 one-man exhibitions, has published more than 20 books, and has seen his art portrayed in more than 300 textbooks, art histories, and learned journals. Some critics consider him among the 20 most important artists working today. Others place him in the top ten.
Now to the crux of this appraisal. In monetary terms, how much is Chen’s art worth? How much will it be worth in the future, near term and long term?
Although there are uncertainties, the answers to these questions are not based upon speculation, but upon market facts and evidence.
Year after year intelligent investment in art usually has proved to be a sound investment. Sometimes profits are spectacular. Art investment tends to be recession resistant, though not recession proof–nothing is–and can outpace inflation.
Back in the 1970s in support for my business selling old masters and in the development and financing of AcroEditions, my own enterprise for publishing fine, limited-edition original prints, I compiled a summary of the many reports, tapes, studies, investigations, and voluminous other information in my archives to describe and define the art market. The result, a 22-page Art Market Analysis. Although much of what I found remains valid today, some of that data is severely outdated. For instance, at the time it was very difficult to find any work of art that sold at public auction for more than one million dollars. It was rumored that the National Gallery in Washington had paid $5 million to the Duke of Lichtenstein for Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevera da Benci, which became the only da Vinci painting in the Western Hemisphere. The rumored price set the artworld on its ear–but today that painting on the open market would bring at least 20 times that much..
Two weeks ago Christie’s, New York, held an auction of Impressionist and modern art. In a three-hour frenzy $491.4 million, nearly half a billion dollars, worth of art changed hands. (The total would have gone way above that record-breaking mark if an important Picasso painting had not been withdrawn from the sale at the last minute because of an ownership dispute.)
The star of the auction was a portrait by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) which attracted four tenacious telephone bidders. After two dropped out, another entered the fray, and the final cost was $87.9 million, a record at public auction for the artist. (But it was not the record in private sale: a few days before Ronald S. Lauder had paid $135 for another Klimt in a private transaction).
A Gauguin fetched $40.3 million, a record for the artist, and other paintings brought unexpected high prices.
In another private sale a different collector scooped the world by buying a 1952 Willem de Kooning, (1904-1997) painting for roughly $137.5 million. The seller had recently parted with a Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) for $140 million and a Jasper Johns (1930- ) for $80 million. Note that Johns is a contemporary of Chen, which is suggestive.
Chen has done a lot of work making multiple original, limited-edition prints using various processes. An Andy Warhol print recently sold for $17.4 million, an unbelievable sum.
Within this art market there is an exceptional opportunity for a collector/investor who has the vision to take a major position in the acquisition and promotion of Chen’s paintings.
There is an almost absolute correlation between the market price of a painting and the degree the artist is recognized. In spite of vagueries of fad, recognition usually comes to those artists who have talent and whose careers are carefully managed through a continuity of exhibitions, select exposure, significant sales, and published materials. This process is extremely important, in fact indispensable.
Once an artist begins to achieve this recognition his values usually have no alternative but to go up, for a creative artist is not a mass producer and can create only so many paintings in his lifetime. Recognition brings an ever-widening circle of collectors, museums, and other institutions who covet the limited quantity of his work. This causes the inexorable price pressures.
“Stocks may be split,” says a New York dealer, “but there are only so many Cezannes.”
And despite his productivity there will be only so many Chens.
Sometimes the recognitions comes fast, and sometimes it comes very slowly. Artists can be promoted, thereby vastly enhancing the value of the works by that artist which might be in a collector’s portfolio. Among investors who have been the most spectacularly successful in the art market are those who were fortunate enough to secure either very important works by an art or large blocks of the painter’s work while they are still undervalued and then carefully managed this block of art in such a way as to fuel a price spiral.
How this has been done is nicely illustrated by the case of Jacques Villon, as cited by British art writers John Russell Taylor and Brian Brooks in The Art Dealers.
Villon spent nearly 50 years working in relative obscurity, not quite at the center of any school or movement, until in 1942 he was put under contract by Louis Carré. By 1951, as ‘sold’ by Carré, he had got to the status of a retrospective at the Musée de l’Art Moderne (Paris) and had become one of the established masters. He had not changed, his work had not changed (beyond a certain amount of natural development, and the promotion was deserved. But it would never have been achieved–or not at least until some years after this death–if a dealer had not taken things in hand, planned ahead (selling virtually nothing for several years but seeing to it that Villon was well represented in various national and international exhibitions and building up the critical attention paid to him) and generally arranged the presentation of a coherent Villon image to many for whom, previously, Villon had been hardly ore than a name.
Dr. Chen and his art have been intelligently promoted. As documented in catalogs, books, and clippings, as well as on television and radio, he has achieved significant world recognition. Even in the early days of his study in Paris he was enjoying one-man and group shows in Europe and at home and was writing regularly for Taiwanese art journals. This pursuit of recognition has never slackened, and his wife Lucia has been his imaginative and indefatigable champion, the engine that makes things work, along with his children.
Thirty years ago, at the beginning of Chen’s plunge into Neo-Iconography a dealer might have acquired one of his large paintings for $1500. By the time he settled in New York this was closer to $25,000. Now that painting would be one hundred times the original amount, at least $150,000, and I am convinced that price will continue to appreciate significantly. I look for the best of these paintings to break the million dollar barrier–and in the long term, who knows how high they can go?
The best-known Chinese expatriate painter in Paris was Zao Wou-ki, a near contemporary of Chen. He belonged to a school of painters that the French called Tachistes, a word for spot; the American counterparts were called action painters. His work often took inspiration from Chinese calligraphy. In recent Hong Kong auction houses, his 1959 oil topped a Sotheby’s sale at $733,604, and an abstract triptych from 1985 hit $2.3 million at Christies. (These are US dollars.)
China’s home-grown modernist artists, Ai Weiwei, Xu Bing, Yang Fudong, and expatriot Cai GuoQiang have been well above the half-a-million-dollar mark.
These are Chen’s current market prices (2005-6) for paintings on canvas;
66 x 96″ $250,000 to $350,000
50 x 72″ $150,000 to $170,000
36 x 48″ $ 75,000 to $ 80,000
30 x 40″ $ 50,000 to $ 65,000
24 x 36″ $ 30,000 to $ 35,000
This table is based upon the French system for new paintings by which all works of the same dimension carry the same gallery price. In the real world, especially in the after market, certain especially well-regarded works will command premium amounts.
I expect these prices to increase.
It might be possible for a serious collector/investor/promoter/syndicate to negotiate with the Chens for the purchase a substantial number of past and/or future paintings for an accommodating price, if that individual or group were committed to underwrite a substantial, long-term promotional campaign. The significant profit will come not from how low the purchasers can negotiate the original acquisition price but how high they can stimulate and ride the market for this art.
I will not be so presumptuous to suggest what the terms of this negotiation should be, but for the sake of illustration, let us assume that I am the purchaser and have acquired 100 Neo-Iconography paintings. My financial objective would be to see those paintings eventually average a million dollars per picture. This won’t happen overnight, but I am looking for a long-term appreciation. Perhaps the greatest benefit will accrue to my children. Or to the institution to which I bequeath my art.
If I had that money invested in the paintings, here are some of the steps I’d undertake:
- I would take over the world-wide management/sponsorship of Chen’s great project, Art for Humanity and the exhibition his monumental Toward the 21st Century: Symphony of World Culture, and I would not stop until its images made it the most famous picture in the world. I would write the catalogs for this collection.
- I would organize more specific exhibitions of Chen’s series paintings, e.g. The Liberty Collection, the Van Gogh Collection, etc. and I would promote their worldwide showings in as many museums, cultural centers, as other venues as possible. And I’d write the catalogs for these shows.
- If I shared reproduction rights, I’d make and merchandise limited-edition prints of the paintings.
- I would consider and evaluate all other promotional options. They must preserve Chen’s time–personal involvement limited to the most important occasions.
If the patron/collector/investor/syndicate wishes to see the investment’s value multiply, he must take an active interest in it. He must promote. Many promotion costs can be recouped. Books and catalogs are sold at exhibitions and through bookstores. Many promotional costs will be paid for by third parties, particularly museums and other exhibitors who pay hanging fees for showing the exhibitions.
Whatever the arrangements, they must be fair and beneficial to Chen and the purchaser.
For Chen there is more than money: there is the opportunity to be more productive and creative, further assuring his immortal enshrinement in the Pantheon of time.
For the purchaser there is the opportunity to realize substantial profit–and to enjoy a great deal of pleasure from encouraging the arts.
For the public–ultimately it will be the people who benefit most–many of these paintings will find their way into museums and other public collections to inspire viewers and provoke thought.
As an international appraiser and consultant in art investment, I recognized Chen’s genius years ago. My early judgment has been fully justified, and I have no hesitancy in continuing to place my reputation and advocacy behind him and his work.
Lawrence S. Jeppson
29 November 2006
66 x 96″ $250,000 to $350,000
50 x 72″ $150,000 to $170,000
36 x 48″ $ 75,000 to $ 80,000
30 x 40″ $ 50,000 to $ 65,000
24 x 36″ $ 30,000 to $ 35,000
Re mark: as now 2013 TF Chen Art Market price as following
These are Chen’s current market prices (2013) for paintings on canvas:
66 x 96″: ————$700,000-$800,000
50 x 72″: ________ $600,000-$700,000
36 x 48 ________ $500,000-$600,000
30 x 40″: $450,000 -$500,000
24 x 36″: _______ $300,000-$400,000