Emerging Market Reality
by Heidi Lee
While it is easy to target an emerging market as a hot bed for collecting art, after attending the Association for Professional Art Advisors (APAA) panel, “Emerging Markets/Emerging Artists: New Collecting Opportunities,” I came away with a much better understanding of the risks and challenges that are involved. Specialists representing the Brazilian, India, Turkish, and Chinese markets shared their personal experiences to reveal the realities of investing in their respective markets. Moderated by Lindsay Pollack, Art in America’s Editor in Chief, they talked about how these regions are reshaping collectors’ perceptions and creating new collecting opportunities. Although the market climates varied, they all agreed that collectors should take their time to thoroughly understand the political, economic, and social issues and nuances of that region.
According to art advisor and former Sotheby’s Latin American specialist, Ana Sokoloff, the four most crucial components for a successful emerging market are: maturity (in the market), scope, speed, and infrastructure. Brazil is unique because it has all four. It has an established art history, both the private and public sectors truly support the arts, and Brazilian artists have demonstrated rapid growth as seen by Beatriz Milhazes, Vik Muniz and Ernesto Neto. Their moderate government repression is superseded by their stable infrastructure. People can enjoy vibrant museum exhibitions and visit private collections. Top collectors frequently open their homes to make their art more accessible. Brazil is very welcoming to international collectors in general, and supportive of their local artists. Similarly, Turkey offers support for the arts, partly due to the market boom they have experienced in the last five to six years, said Turkish collector, Haro Cumbusyan. Their art market is mostly driven by private enterprise where institutions run by prominent third generation families who became industrialists are doing most of the collecting.
In contrast, China and India do not have government support for the arts nor can they benefit from a stable infrastructure like Brazil and to some extent Turkey. India’s art fair this year was called “dodgy” by Guggenheim assistant curator Sandhini Poddar. Artists are not showing outside of their local regions and there are no galleries in New York that represent and champion Indian artists only. Poddar also believes that local Indian governments do not even view their personal history as an effective cultural tool to gain international recognition. All these factors place tremendous limitations on the Indian art market.
China faces limitations with its horrific history of cultural repression (ie. the Cultural Revolution) and blatant censorship of the arts that continues today. There is still hope for the arts, however, according to the Vice Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia Art, Henry Howard-Sneyd. China’s rich history has helped it become the number one art market in the world with record-breaking auctions. Howard-Sneyd reminded us about the Qing dynasty’s Emperor Qianlong, who amassed more art than any other patron in the history of China. He also quickly pointed out that the recent auctions in China achieved $500 million at auction which included the historic Ullens sale that brought HK$ 427, 239,250, signaling a major sea change in China’s ineluctable art market. He went on to say that Chinese artists are starting to look into their own culture for inspiration. Given that many buyers at auction were internationally based, private collections are not accessible, forgeries and fakes run rampant, and we have yet to see how the government will respond to international protests against Ai Weiwei’s detainment, one can say that the emperor still has new clothes.
The collective insight of the panel interestingly excluded the Korean or Russian markets. Nonetheless, the reality of emerging markets is that they are inherently complex and fickle. Aspiring collectors should have local knowledge and a long-term vision before entering.
image: Zhang Xiaogang’s “Forever Lasting Love”