Chinese Collectors Go West!

December 16, 2014

As it has been hinted by the numerous art market watchers about a year ago, wealthy collectors from China have been flocking to Europe in search for new pieces, where they’ve discovered Western art. The Chinese art market has been thriving since 2003, but since the 2011 peak, the prices in China started dropping. According to Wall Street Journal and Art Market Monitor, the reason behind the drop is the fact more and more Chinese collectors prefer to purchase their art in Europe, where they can often get a great deal on big names, such as Van Gogh, while paintings by local masters, such as Zao Wou Ki, stay above the limit they are willing to pay. However, pricing is not the only reason for this monetary migration.

Christie's Auction
Zao Wou-Ki, 1965 - from Christie's Art Contemporain Auction

Collectors Flock to Europe

Since China was prospering rapidly and the art market followed, more and more young Chinese collectors have started to discover the solidity behind the investment in Western art, and many of them re-oriented towards it, abandoning traditional Chinese masters and china. Over the years, tastes for the Western expression developed, and today most of the Chinese collectors know exactly what they want, as the big dealers and auction houses court them to the highest extent. It was reported in August that a quarter of all auction sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s was made by first time buyers from all over the world, with a very strong presence of Asian deep-pocketed, often young, collectors. Predictions were that in the coming decade or less, the Chinese will surpass the Americans as the biggest clients in the Western art market, as they are now interested in both Chinese and European art alike.
An auction Christie’s held in Hong Kong last week pulled in a little under $386 million, which also marks a drop of 20% comparing to the 2013 sale. The drop is also present in the Chinese market in general, falling 33% in 2012 already, comparing to the 2011 peak. The reason behind the trend is offered by the Wall Street Journal, saying that it is a reflection of a wider trend for rich Chinese to purchase their art pieces abroad.

Wall street journal
On Chinese Migration into Western Art - from WSJ

What Lies Behind the Trend?

Other, non-monetary, but political or cultural reasons might be behind the downward trend as well. For example, China is implementing a strong anti-corruption campaign, so the government officials cannot be bribed by high priced artwork anymore. The booming economy is slowing down a bit, and the art might not be as exciting venture as it has been before. Also, Chinese artists endeavor in marketing their works abroad more and more, wanting to expand their audience throughout the globe. It’s, therefore, concluded that the purchasing power of Chinese collectors hasn't really dropped, nor has it disappeared, it has just shifted westwards, and it is now oriented towards different lots. The detected trend has, naturally had an impact on Chinese art market and the artwork prices of local artists, some of which are already at their low ends. Flippers are also not as interested in Chinese art as earlier, since the Western art has proven itself more stable in this, new light.

Interestingly, Zeng Fanzhi was one of the top selling artists of the auction room, according to the Artprice Report.

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All Back to Dust No. 1, Beijing, China, 2006 Photograph Jiang Pengyi

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Zeng Fanzhi