Chinese antiques take the lead in the art market, followed closely by contemporary Chinese artworks. But the Chinese market is an insular market, so what does that mean for the Western art market?
Along with the rest of the economy, the art market crashed the day after Damien Hirst’s self-initiated sale in 2008, which coincided with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. In the aftermath, selling rates went down dramatically and auction houses slashed estimates. In 2009 the market shrunk but selling rates remained high and confidence was re-gained. Modern and contemporary art sales are doing well at the moment – we’ll get an idea as to how well when the results come in from the Basel Art Fair which opens next week, which will be awash with international collectors both American and European.
Most exemplary of the state of the art market are the latest gallery exhibitions. For instance, Larry Gagosian, arguably the most prolific art dealer alive today, is responding to the economic downturn by showcasing works by Picasso (Gagosian London) and Monet (Gagosian New York) demonstrating a more conservative approach. Gagosian hasn’t turned his back on the contemporary market though: Richard Prince is currently on exhibit in New York until 19 June. The Old Masters, however, represent solid value – the problem with that is that they also represent static prices in a secondary market. Whereas you can buy cheap and sell high with contemporary art, Old Masters do not work that way and works do not circulate the market in as much abundance as contemporary works.
According to Sotheby’s Institute of Art experts, future wealth is in the East. China is the area to watch now and well into the future.There’s a real struggle in getting Chinese and Indian dealers interested in Old Masters [at the moment, but that can certainly change]. but there’s been an explosion in Chinese antiques and contemporary Chinese art is a close second.In no time they will have caught up with the UK in terms of collecting – at the moment China represents 17% of the global market whilst the UK represents 21% and there are only about 50, maybe 60 buyers in the whole of China. If the number of buyers increases, even slightly it will affect prices going forward. Experts predict that the most expensive art in the world will be Chinese. The downside is that it is a very internal market, ie works will go into China but not come out again.
As far as the British market, the state of the economy has definitely put constraints on middle-class spending, which inevitably affects collecting habits. There appears to be a return to quality; collectors are looking for more than superficial one-stop art works. English furniture and silver is attracting buyers once again, whereas in recent years it has been hugely undervalued. The craft culture is another area to keep an eye on. The way forward in general seems to be in identifying neglected areas in the art market and finding value. The way to attract new collectors, is for dealers to show enthusiasm and knowledge for the objects of art – to assess the quality of works from an aesthetic perspective rather than as an alternative investment alone. The history and significance of the work of art will deem its value.
Although, the middle-class market is in trouble right now, with galleries downsizing, etc., the art market did not suffer as much in this recession as it has in past recessions. Internationalism is key – and bearing in mind that contemporary art is a global demand.
Image: 121 Terracotta Camel with Rider, Height: 61cm, China, Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), TL-tested by Oxford Authentication Ltd, UK
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