Shanghai’s Long Museum Founders Set to Auction Treasures at Sotheby’s

The art world is abuzz with anticipation as Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei, the influential duo behind the prestigious Long Museum in Shanghai, announced their decision to part with a portion of their expansive art collection. Sotheby’s in Hong Kong will host this event, where 50 esteemed artworks, including masterpieces by celebrated artists like Modigliani, Kusama, and others, will go under the hammer.

Nicholas Chow, the chairman of Sotheby’s, voiced his excitement and honour at housing such an iconic collection. He elaborated on Liu and Wang’s discerning eye for art, commenting on their knack for collecting pieces that range from historic masterworks to contemporary marvels. Their collection, he said, is a testament to their profound understanding and appreciation of the art world’s evolving landscape.

The forthcoming auction isn’t just about scaling down their collection; it has a grander vision. 

The proceeds will be funnelled back into the Long Museum, fostering new acquisitions and facilitating more profound cultural exchanges between artists from various backgrounds, ages, and regions. This move underlines the couple’s commitment to collecting art and nurturing and promoting it.

Liu’s life story adds another layer of fascination to this event. His meteoric rise from being a taxi driver to establishing himself as one of China’s wealthiest individuals and the co-founder of Guohua Life Insurance is the stuff of legend. However, recent financial reports have been less flattering, with Guohua registering losses between $23.3m and $28.7m in the early half of 2023.

Industry insiders whisper about another surprise in store. Rumours suggest a subsequent auction might be held at Sotheby’s New York, bringing another 50 artworks to the global market. Among these, there’s speculation of a significant, high-value piece from their collection appearing. While Sotheby’s remains tight-lipped, they haven’t dismissed these speculations.

Amidst this buzz, the future of the Long Museum hangs in the balance. Having grown significantly since its inception in Shanghai in 2012, with additional branches launched in the subsequent years, its trajectory seems uncertain. Notably, plans for a new addition in Wuhan appear to be shelved. Due to financial challenges, the art community still recalls the shuttering of Guangzhou’s Times Museum in 2021.

Over the years, Liu and Wang have not only collected art but have championed it, mainly showing keen interest in Chinese contemporary art. Their upcoming auctions, set against the backdrop of a lukewarm market, might set new precedents for art valuations, especially for Chinese artists who have, until now, enjoyed a consistent upward pricing trajectory.