How did you start collecting art?
Kou Jianjun: I started in 2003. I was interested in calligraphy and painting as a child, but didn’t realise they could be so valuable. When I attended an auction at the Beijing Asia Hotel, I was stunned by how quickly the prices went up, so I decided there and then to get involved. The market was quite bleak between 2006 and 2008. I bought most of my art in 2008 and those purchases later made me a lot of money.
What is the focus of your collection?
I focus on collecting the most prominent dozen or so modern Chinese masters of the past 100 years, such as Fu Baoshi, Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi. My goal is to make my collection as complete as possible. I am constantly getting rid of lesser works and replacing them with stronger ones.
Among the artists you collect, do you have a favourite?
Yes. I really like Qi Baishi and Huang Binhong because they are unique in their own right. They lived through the late Qing dynasty and the Republic of China as well as the New China, so their works link the traditional and modern eras in both Chinese calligraphy and painting.
My goal is to make my collection as complete as possible. I am constantly getting rid of lesser works and replacing them with stronger ones
Have you had any out-of-the-ordinary collecting experiences?
There is a painting, Sunshine in the Morning by Pan Tianshou, which I have bought and sold five times. This painting is 45 cm by 68 cm. In about September 2007, I bought it for RMB 710,000 (approximately US$113,680) at a special auction held by Hanhai in Beijing. In 2008, I sold it for RMB 860,000 at the spring auction held by the China Guardian Auctions Company. So I basically didn’t make any money from owning it for a year. In autumn 2009, the painting appeared in an auction by the Beijing Council International Auction. The market had started to recover by then and I bought it back for RMB 1.5 million. In September 2011, I realised that the painting was overvalued by the market and bound to slide soon. So I asked China Guardian to sell it for me. The hammer price was RMB 8 million, but the buyer dragged their heels and delayed payment. Having waited for three months, I got the painting back. You can see how much the price has fluctuated. I bet it wouldn’t fetch RMB 8 million today because the market is so depressed. However, when the market revives, you will not be able to get it at this price as Pan’s paintings are very rare. There are as few as 300 of his paintings in circulation at the moment, and I have 10 of them. There are more of Qi Baishi and Zhang Daqian’s paintings, but not that many of Pan Tianshou’s.
Do you paint yourself ?
Yes, I quite enjoy painting and calligraphy, mainly because it helps me understand how famous artists use their brushes, which can help me identify the authenticity of a work of art. I usually imitate their original works. I have a principle: I never buy a work of art unless I understand the artist.
Image courtesy private collection
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