We’re delighted to introduce the newest member of Waddington’s:
Ting Zhang, Director of Asian Art
Joining specialists Amelia Zhu and Austin Yuen, Ting is taking the department in exciting new directions and bringing his invaluable experience to the company’s refreshed vision.
An expert in Chinese art, Ting has worked around the world in both public and private aspects of the art world, having spent time in museums, galleries and as a consultant.
Dara Vandor, from our Communications team, sat down with Ting to discuss the auction business, the best food in Toronto, and the piece that got away.
Welcome to the team! Tell us about your background. How did you end up working in the arts?
I was born and raised in Beijing. I came to Canada when I was 18 to study Psychology at McGill University, in Montreal. After graduation, I worked at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. Hoping to find a job in psychology, I relocated back to China, not realising that psychology was not a booming field there.
While I was searching for work, I had a lot of time to reconsider my career path. My mother introduced me to various people she knew, but what really changed the course of my life was reconnecting with an old family friend who would become my teacher and mentor. He offered me a position as his research assistant at the National Museum of China; not knowing much about traditional Chinese Art, at first I hesitated. To convince me, he reminded me that when I was a small child, he would take me to his office at the Chinese History Museum where I would draw my own catalogues. He was convinced the opportunity would suit me well. I took the position and that is how I started my journey in the art world.
Everything was new to me. I was cramming every day, trying to catch up little by little. I was motivated and feeling fulfilled. I am very thankful that I found such a great mentor; he was generous in sharing his knowledge, philosophy and experiences, and truly convinced me that switching my career to art was the most sensible choice. In the end, I discovered that I was the perfect fit for that position—I loved it.
I decided to get my Master’s degree in Art Business and Decorative Art from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York City and London. After graduation, I moved back to Beijing to work at Zheng Guan Tang, one of the leading oriental art galleries there.
What are you most excited about accomplishing in your new role at Waddington’s?
Developing the current Canadian market for Asian art, and bringing the best pieces of Asian art to collectors. In my opinion, the market is much more rational now than it was a decade ago. Collectors have defined their personal preferences and know how they’d like to spend their money.
I think that welcoming new collectors into the market is very important. In Canada, collections are often built based on personal preferences. However, I think it is also important to think about collecting art as another way to diversify assets. Becoming a collector can also be about putting your name on the map, and creating influence within your community. By broadening this understanding, there will be more people interested in collecting, which will contribute to the health and growth of the overall Canadian art market.
I am also passionate about introducing our collectors to new genres; areas that they might not have initially been interested in. In recent years, Chinese buyers have started collecting Western art, and in many cases, prefer it to Chinese art. Canada has a number of artists who are recognized internationally, such as the Group of Seven. Waddington’s leads the field in Inuit art, and I think there are a lot of people who will be excited by these pieces in other markets.
Do you have a favorite artist or artwork? Maybe something that changed the way you see art or was a major influence for you?
In terms of historical work, I like the small monochrome Kangxi or Yongzheng porcelains. I think that they are the finest and most innovative artworks of that time. In traditional Chinese ceramic works, artists were not allowed to put their name on the porcelain, because the process of creating these pieces was thought of as team effort that involved many different steps and artisans. The only identifying trace was the Emperor’s mark.
In terms of contemporary art, I like American abstraction and expressionism from the 1940s and 50s. These movements really changed my overall aesthetic preference while also reshaping my interests in Chinese art.
If you could own any piece of art that Waddington’s has sold, what would it be?
I have quite a list, but I think my favourite was an etching by Japanese-French artist Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita, “Recumbent Nude/Nue Allongé,” 1930. For those not familiar with his work, the artist is known for combining Japanese ink techniques with Western-style painting, and is especially famous for his drawings of cats and nudes. I believe the subject in this painting could either be the artist’s second wife, Fernande Barrey, or Kiki de Montparnasse, who posed for Foujita and his contemporaries. A work like this is very rarely seen on the current market, and I think it is a very interesting and collectible piece.
Is there something that you think everyone should know but doesn’t about the auction business?
From my experience, people have a lot of illusions about the field, even though the modern auction business has been around for 300 years. I’m not sure people realise how much behind the scenes work is involved. I spend tons of time sourcing, appraising, researching and marketing. I’m at museums, galleries and libraries doing research. I see as many exhibitions as I can. It’s all about continuously learning.
Is there something that you think everyone should know about Asian art?
I think a lot of people see Chinese ceramics and just think, “wow, this is so pretty.” But, they have no idea about the historical value and the innovative achievement of Chinese ceramics as a whole. I love explaining and introducing the many aspects of Chinese art to new collectors.
Best exhibition you’ve ever seen?
The most recent exhibition that made an impression was Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern in London, England in 2019. There was an installation, Din Blinde Passager, where the viewer had to walk through a tunnel filled with brightly illuminated fog. It was a sensational show–like a mirage you cannot escape. That experience changed my concept of what art is.
Most underrated artist working today?
I think most Chinese artists are underrated, especially the contemporary ones. Chinese contemporary art only really started in 1989 and is still in its infancy. The international exposure for Chinese contemporary art is still very limited as most of the artists only hold exhibitions in China. You also have to appreciate that collectors only really tuned in to the scene around 2004.
With the increasing popularity of Western art in China, many galleries were catering to that market, leaving less opportunity for Chinese artists to show their work and to compete at an international level. These artists just aren’t known outside of China. Not a lot of Western collectors buy Chinese contemporary art, though it’s exciting to see this is start to change. We have only started to see traction in the last two to three years – and I want Waddington’s to be part of that growing market.
Favourite city in the world?
Paris in summer, Kyoto in autumn.
Favourite place to eat in Toronto?
Definitely Dumpling House in Chinatown. I love the crispy lamb pot stickers with hot sweet and sour soup.
Favourite hidden gem in Toronto?
The East Asian Art Library inside the Royal Ontario Museum. Not a lot of people know about it, but it is truly special. Paradise for me!
What do you do when you’re not working?
I like to go to a coffeeshop and work on an upcoming auction catalogue. I might spend the afternoon doing some work before my day gets busy. In the evening, I might ask a couple of friends to go to an izakaya with me.
Note: This interview was conducted pre-Covid-19, and Ting is enjoying staying at home like the rest of us.
Interested in consigning or learning more about our Asian Art department?
Contact Ting by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 416-504-9100 ext. 6202.
View our March 28 – April 2 Asian Art Online Auction.