The emergence of the Far East as a major force in the global art market
Chinese collectors typically acquire art with an interest in their cultural heritage but also see the value of international artists. In general, younger buyers acquire modern and contemporary Asian art such as Zeng Fanzhi (who is widely considered the zeitgeist for the art market), Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiogang, Ai Wei Wei, Yang Fudong and Lui Yi and mix them with international rising stars like Mark Bradford, Dana Schutz, Sterling Ruby and others. Older wealthy buyers usually prefer traditional or Imperial art driving up prices and have also been buying up blue-chip Impressionist and Modern artists such as Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet. In May, at China Guardian auction house sold a painting by Qi Baishi for US $65.0 million, a new record for the most valuable. Experts expect art prices to rise as China’s wealth continues to grow.Art as a Lifestyle
The Chinese tend to regard art not only as an attractive place to put their money but also as a viable means of reputability. Socializing around art exemplifies their new status and art collecting is increasingly de vigor. François Curiel, the president of Christie’s Asia stated, “They see works of art on their walls and think, ‘If I want to be not just a millionaire but someone who plays with the big boys, I’d better be someone who collects art.’ ”
This is in stark contrast to the Western old guard view where the base of art pricing is seen as pure irrational desire. They believe that commercial success has nothing to do with the importance of an artist and that artistic value can not be gauged in a quantifiable way. More speculative Americans, however are swaying the way collectors buy art today.
Where to Buy Art
Chinese collectors usually buy from art fairs, auctions or galleries and most have an independent art advisor to assist them with curating and buying. A good art advisor is able to sift through the myriad artists and select the best quality art helping the buyer save time and money in the long run. Art advisors can place the art within its historical context, determine its fair market value and conduct due diligence in transactions, valuations and appraisals. They are also able to handle the whole process from research to installation which involves shipping, customs, taxes, installation, and insurance.
The center of Asia’s contemporary art market is undoubtedly Hong Kong especially now that ArtBasel, the world’s leading art fair has taken over Asia’s number one fair, ArtHK. This year ArtHK received 63,500 visitors (up 38% from 2010) and 260 galleries from around world participated hailing from Seoul, Tokyo, Indonesia, Vietnam, New York, London, Paris and Los Angeles. In terms of artistic production, Bejing and Shanghai continue to be vibrant hubs for artists due to its more affordable and spacious real estate.
Numerous other biennials and art fairs around Asia are attracting large crowds such as Shanghai’s SHContemporary fair and Singapore’s ARTSingapore. Singapore in particular, is a popular destination among mainland Chinese collectors and proudly calls itself the “the Switzerland of the East”. With currency restrictions and daunting import duties on art as high as 34% mainland Chinese are buying art and storing it in the Singapore Freeport, a purpose-built warehouse.
All this is proof that art is not a fleeting trend in China but instead a welcome cultural revival that compliments their rich history and satisfies the new wealthy elite. With Andy Warhol as their hero, Chinese collectors and artists are sure to see their 15 minutes of fame.
*Arttactic Annual Art Investor’s Guide to the Chinese Contemporary Art Market