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Thursday, May 24, 2012

WHAT CHINESE COLLECTORS ARE REALLY BUYING



What Chinese collectors are really buying
Buyers are still overwhelmingly focused on domestic art, ranging from archaic bronzes to "wet paint" works by contemporary Chinese artists

By Georgina Adam. Market, Issue 235, May 2012
Published online: 17 May 2012

China is the world’s largest art market—even if the figures are disputed (see above). The numbers vary according to whose research you read, but the French site Artprice claims that in 2011, China represented 41.4% of the fine art auction market. The art economist Clare McAndrew, in her latest report (“The International Art Market in 2011”), puts China’s share, taking both auction and dealer sales into account, at 30%, and both sets of figures put China ahead of the US and Europe.

Even if Chinese figures are subject to caution, there is no denying the importance of China in the market today. But it is still predominantly domestic, with the Chinese mainly buying in segments of the market ranging from archaic bronzes to “wet paint” works by the brand names of Chinese contemporary art, such as Yue Minjun and Zeng Fanzhi, jade, ceramics, furniture and traditional brush painting as well as modern painting in the Western style by Chinese artists.

Chinese buyers are not just based in the mainland and Hong Kong. “There are quite significant differences between what people in Taiwan, Hong Kong, the mainland, Indonesia or Singapore will buy,” says Kate Bryan of London’s Fine Art Society, who previously worked at the Cat Street Gallery in Hong Kong. “Because Taiwan did not have a cultural revolution as in the mainland, and because its industrialists travel more widely, buyers are more informed about Western art, and more adventurous,” she says, pointing to the £1.75m sale, to a Taiwanese collector, of Damien Hirst’s The Inescapable Truth, 2005, showing a pickled dove. It was the first Hirst formaldehyde piece to be shown in China and was sold at Art HK in 2010 by White Cube. But these sales are the exception. “There is no tradition of conceptual art in China,” says the art dealer Pearl Lam, who is opening a new space in the Pedder Building in her native Hong Kong on 15 May. “Basically, the Chinese like painting,” she says.

Chinese collectors also love traditional art, both in the fine and applied fields. “Ceramics and other decorative arts made up a substantial 24% of the market by value [of the Chinese art and antiques auction market] in 2011,” reports McAndrew. As newly wealthy Chinese entered the market over the past decade, their focus was mainly on the Qing period (1644-1911), with an emphasis on the reign of the great Qianlong emperor (1735–96). This is where some of the most stunning prices have been made, such as the famille-rose double-gourd vase that sold to the Hong Kong-based collector Alice Cheng in 2010 at Sotheby’s, for $32.4m.

“For Chinese looking for investment potential, this market [the Qing] offers volume, and the fact that these pieces have age, and were difficult to make adds to their appeal,” says Patti Wong, the chairman of Sotheby’s Asia. “Until recently Chinese investors felt that contemporary Chinese painting was too ‘new’ to have as much value.”


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