June 24, 2019
Arts

‘Fingers crossed for Chinas market’

Fausto Melotti on show with Mazzoleni gallery at Art Basel in Hong Kong in 2018
© Art Basel

Melanie Gerlis[hhmc]

Melanie Gerlis is the art market editor-at-large at The Art Newspaper and author of Art as an Investment

The latest analyses of Chinas art market make for an uncomfortable read. Clare McAndrews annual tome on the global scene, produced for Art Basel and UBS this month, finds that in 2018 China witnessed “a contraction in supply of high-quality works and cautious buying, as trade and debt crises loomed”. Sales through the mainlands dominant auction sector fell by 6% over the year, and were 24% down at Poly Auction, the third largest auction house in the world. In Hong Kong, auction sales were down 22%, albeit from an impressive height. A separate report on China, by the academic Kejia Wu, was published in mid-March for the Tefaf art fair and concludes that the secondary (auction) market is unlikely to regain the high levels reached in 2011 over the next five to ten years. An obstructive, red-tape environment is partly to blame: Wu highlights the fact that overseas auction houses cant sell profitable cultural relics (meaning from before 1949) in China, as well as the countrys currency restrictions and punishing import taxes. A lack of state support for private philanthropy is also raised as a potentially ruinous situation for Chinas many private museums, which have been fuelling the art market in recent years.

There are other niggles behind the headline numbers. McAndrew notes that China has one of the highest rates of buy-ins (unsold lots) at auction, at 57% (averaging at 18% in the US fine art market, 27% in the UK). She also finds that slow and non-payment persists as an issue for Western galleries doing business with mainland China. Kejia notes that Chinas next generation of buyers is mostly interested in Western contemporary art, a factor she attributes to the marketing efforts by Western galleries and fairs—as this weeks Art Basel in Hong Kong reminds. This explains why international galleries are continuing to open at a relatively breakneck speed: Lévy Gorvy and Axel Vervoordt launch spaces in Hong Kong this week, Almine Rech and Lisson gallery have opened in Shanghai this year. But what might be good for the high-flying international market does not seem so healthy on a grassroots level.

Auction house executives are making positive noises about the Asian countries outside of China—Sothebys reported participation in Londons latestRead More – Source

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