In the 21st century, intangible art is everywhere. For example, light and sound installations from teamlab have become extremely popular and attracted thousands of visitors. However, would people pay HK$900,000 (US$115,000) for the concept of a piece of untouchable art? We will find out the answer from Sotheby's coming autumn sales.
The artwork to be auctioned at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Contemporary Art Evening Sale is Xuzhen Supermarket by Chinese contemporary artist Xu Zhen. Estimated at HK$900,000m - 1.5m (US$115,000 - 192,000), the work has four versions in which three is kept by the artist himself. As to the one version that is featured in the sale, the auction house has the following comments:
'A humorous yet subversive work, XUZHEN SUPERMARKET replicates a Chinese convenience store, housing a functioning cash register and an assortment of familiar merchandise available for visitors to purchase at normal retail prices. From tubes of Colgate toothpaste to bottles of local Kweichow Moutai liquor, each item lacks content, consisting only of its packaging. For visitors, each act of purchasing – or not purchasing – and corresponding thought-process, contributes to a playful yet penetrating critique on consumerism, advertising and global capitalism. The fact that the work is – for the first time – offered for sale at auction adds to the irony.'
The above description and pictures, including the signs, aisles, bottles etc., are all physical representations of Xu Zhen’s concept. The bidder who wins the lot will not acquire a real, physical supermarket but the concept of the work.
To illustrate this, we will use the example of McDonald's. To be a franchise owner of McDonald's, you do not buy a physical shop but the concept of running the business. You need to follow the official procedures and requirements to sell, serve, employ, order stock and pay rent.
Xuzhen Supermarket shares similar features with the idea of running a franchise store. The buyer will receive a signed certificate from the artist and will have the right to commission new physical recreations and enactments of the concept. If you choose not to build a real store, the concept will forever remain a concept.
When the buyer finds a good location to build, he or she can inform Xu Zhen and ask for his help to create the supermarket. Due to locational restrictions, every Xuzhen supermarket will look different. All the construction fees are excluded from the hammer price. To resell your supermarket, you can sell the right to commission new physical recreations and enactments of the concept through an auction again.
Yuki Terase, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Art, Asia
An installation will be open for public participation at Sotheby’s autumn sale preview in Shanghai (1 - 2 September), Beijing (4 - 5 September) and Hong Kong (28 - 30 September). It will be for sale in Hong Kong on 30 September. This is the first time that a concept is offered at auction in Asia. Yuki Terase, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Art, Asia, the curator of the sale, commented:
‘A concept can be art, and with Conceptual Art like XUZHEN SUPERMARKET, we want to show the world a different, fresh, and stimulating side of Chinese Contemporary Art. This category is still new to auction – even on a global scale – and is therefore a testament to Sotheby’s creative spirit and our capacity to push new frontiers to expand the variety of art in the region.’
Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Hong Kong Contemporary Art Evening Sale
1-2 September｜Astor Ballroom 1, Level 3, The St. Regis Shanghai Jingan, 1008 West Beijing Road, Jingan District
4-5 September｜Ballroom 3, 3/F Park Hyatt, 2 Jianguomenwai Street, Chaoyang District
28-30 September｜Hall 1, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai
Estimate: HK$900,000 - 1,500,000 (US$115,000 – 192,000)