Christie's Sees Recovery in Chinese Contemporary Art

Posted by: Frederik Balfour on October 29, 2009

Never before have I dined with so much wealth. At lunch in the newly refurbished offices of Christie’s in Hong Kong, we were surrounded on four sides by a collection of art valued between $5 million and $7 million. [The range reflects the range of estimates the works are expected to fetch at auction.] The works represented some of the best 20th century Chinese and contemporary artists: a still life by Changyu, an edgy oil by Zeng Fangzhi and whimsical piece by Liu Ye. All three artists have managed to sell well even during the darkest hours for the art market in the past 12 months.

These works will go under the hammer on November 29. This time last year the Chinese art auction market was in disarray as financial storm was still gathering force and the autumn sales saw only about half of the Chinese works sold. Ingrid Dudek, senior specialist for Chinese 20th Century Art & Asian Contemporary Art explained to me her reason for optimism. “In a market that is rebounding, the seller confidence has not recovered while the buyer confidence has.” So people are hoping to snap up works now before the market really picks up steam again, while the only sellers out there are people who bought their works long before the market went ballistic between 2006 and the first half of 2008. Vinci Chang, Vinci Chang, Vice President, Head of Sale for Chinese 20th Century & Asia Contemporary Art agrees. “Right now it’s very difficult to source top works by artists” like Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun whose works sold for millions during the frothy days of 2006 to 2007. “Most owners would rather hang onto them.”

That’s the nice thing about the art market. Even though the value of your assets may be distressed you can still enjoy them on your own walls. I was grateful to eat a single meal in the company of superb art works. One can only imagine the pleasure of living with them day after day.

Reader Comments

Xiang Yu

October 30, 2009 9:26 AM

Christie is a black market dealer for Chinese antiques. China need to ban this crime organization from operating in China.

Avery

October 30, 2009 11:21 AM

I think the key thing to note here is that the recovery of Chinese contemporary art is being driven primarily by the growth of the "New Chinese Collector." Their buying habits and spending are starting to parallel the growth in sales and consumption of luxury goods in China. As we've seen in recent auctions in Hong Kong and elsewhere, Mainland Chinese collectors (together with a broader Asian collector base) are highly motivated to buy works from antiquities to top Chinese contemporary artists.

Mainland collectors are becoming a real force in the auction market, and they've only just begun. All of this plays into what you mentioned, that it is becoming much harder to find works by the top Chinese artists, and even beyond Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun, Zeng Fanzhi, Liu Ye, and Cai Guo-Qiang works and even those by middle-tier artists are increasingly becoming more scarce.

From the trends of the last six months or so, it's probably not an exaggeration to say that these new buyers should drive prices higher, and we'll see Chinese contemporary artists continuing to break records and surpass their old ones in coming years. Quite simply, these Chinese "new collectors" don't need to watch Western auctions to know who they should be buying -- they're already informed and they know what they want, which is, for the most part, work by Chinese artists.

John

November 1, 2009 8:30 AM

If artists are Chinese and buyers are Chinese, why do they need Christie to do it. Why can't they use a Chinese auctioneer. This industry should not be dominated by foreigners.

ML Art Source

November 19, 2009 2:56 AM

Christie's and Sotheby's are big international names therefore the stories get out. There are still a ton of mainland buyers that buy a lot from auction house giant POLY but the amounts of money spent would probably not be published in Businessweek or any other foreign publication. The Chinese contemporary art industry is changing. I cover topics like this in my blog.

www.mlartsource.com/en/blog

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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