Zhang Xiaogang was the pre-eminent artist of the first wave of Chinese Contemporary artists. Eventually his work became a must-have for collectors which turned into a curse as well as a blessing.

The artist’s Bloodline: Big Family No. 3 sold for $12.1m in 2014. But the body of work remains the only thing the public recognizes. That’s partly his own fault, as he explains to the South China Morning Post:

“I tried doing other things after 1998 but the exhibition demand for the series left me little time. By 2000, I wanted to cut down on my output, but it was very hard after the market took off. It’s very difficult for my generation of artists to say no to patrons,” he says.

Most observers of the Chinese Contemporary market blame the artists for over-producing their most popular work. But Zhang offers another explanation worth considering, at least.

“The events of 1989 left me in shock,” says the artist. “[…]All the Western collectors who had supported us no longer had access. There was certainly no state support and we had to slowly build up relationships with new collectors.”
That is why, when those collectors came to Zhang, and others, with requests for yet another version of their chart-topping hits, the artists felt compelled to say “yes”, he explains. “You can’t very well say, sorry, I don’t need you any more,” he says.