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Friday, May 25, 2012

THE DODGY NUMBERS GAME



The dodgy numbers game
Was the 2011 joint turnover of the Chinese auction houses $154.2bn, $148.5bn, $88.1bn—or much less?

By Wang Tao. Market, Issue 235, May 2012
Published online: 17 May 2012

If you believe the statistics, as many art indexes and investment funds seem to, China is overtaking the US to become the world’s highest spending art and antiques market. But is this true?

The figures, after a closer look at the reality of the mainland Chinese auction scene, suggest that conclusion is debatable.

The dominant force in the Chinese art market is the auction. Art auctions did not exist in China before 1985; although there were auctions there in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these were closed down as “capitalist trade” after the establishment of the communist government in 1949. In the mid-1980s, when stamp-collecting was encouraged, philatelists began to trade their collections and stamp auctions proved to be a great success.

In those early days, art auctions were spontaneous and regional, and the sales were quite limited: for example, an auction held by the Beijing Antique Store on 3 June 1988 offered 33 lots, of which only seven sold. The first large-scale, international-style, auction was organised by the Beijing city government and took place in October 1992.

In February 1993, the first art auction house, Shanghai’s Duo Yun Xuan Art Auctioneers, was established under the Shanghai Calligraphy and Painting Publishing House. The same year, China Guardian started up in Beijing; as a limited company it followed the model of Western auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s. In 1994, the Beijing Hanhai Auction Company was established: its first auction made a then record of Rmb33.4m (at the time, $3.9m).


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