With Auctions Of Western Favorites Doing Better Than Expected, Will We See The Same Excitement Surround Upcoming Contemporary Asian and Chinese Art Auctions?
As trend-watchers love to say, the art market may be down from last year, but it’s far from out. Yesterday’s auction at Christie’s suprised many, with better-than-expected bidding and several works exceeding their estimates. As the New York Times noted, works by historical favorites like Picasso and Giacometti brought solid prices, and the auction injected a dose of optimism into the auction market, which has recently been affected by the same drop in confidence as the rest of the economy. However, Christie’s success is not the main point that interested me in the New York Times article. This is what caught my eye:
Although Christie’s declined to name names, officials there said 42 percent of the buyers were from the United States and 44.7 percent were European, a group that includes Russians.
Not a terribly interesting sentence in itself, but think about it…42% + 44.7% = 86.7% of bidders were from the US, Europe, and Russia. Where were the other 13.3% from?
I did a little bit of digging, and this tidbit in the Baer Faxt art industry newsletter confirmed my suspicions:
Buyers [at the Christie’s auction] were 42% US, 45% Europe, 8% Asia and 5% Other.
As did this Reuters article about the same auction:
Christie’s president Marc Porter said new bidders were especially encouraging.
“We saw a lot of new buyers tonight who were ready to compete for things,” he told Reuters. The bidding process helped drive prices higher than those of recent private sales, he said.
Buyers were about evenly divided between Americans and Europeans, with Asian clients accounting for more than usual.
The percentage of Asian buyers at this auction isn’t just more than usual — it’s actually a new record. It may not sound like a large proportion at first, but it is very significant. While I would like to know more about the national makeup of the Asian buyers, we have seen Asian buyers, particularly the growing numbers from China rapidly becoming one of the most significant collector and buyer bases in the world, and are credited for boosting the returns of recent auctions. This figure interested me even more when I considered that many of these same buyers will probably be at the upcoming HK auctions in May, which are expected to attract plenty of free-spending collectors and investors from Greater China and East Asia, looking to beef up their holdings in the best buyers’ market in ages.
The AFP reports that art insiders feel that a rough economy should have no long-term effect on art, particularly art from emerging markets like China:
“The art market has existed since the Greeks were fighting for then contemporary sculptures,” Meyer told AFP. “Whenever there is wealth, people want to buy art.”
He highlighted that recent Sotheby’s sales in Qatar had gone well.
“We just had Turkish contemporary art sales in London and they went well,” Tobias Meyer, deputy chairman and head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s] continued. “With the future stabilizing again, China, Russia and the Middle East, all these new buying communities that were not there 20 years ago will come back in the long term, in the next two to three years.”
Even with the surprising results of Western art auctions this season, and with many potential buyers holding onto their wallets a bit more due to the slower economy, I feel that, all in all, emerging art markets should be where the action is this year. As we’ve seen in recent auctions, the Asian buyers I mentioned earlier are obsessed with quality and investment soundness, so what they buy should indicate to other investors — particularly those who are interested in getting into everything from historical Western artists to contemporary art from new art centers like China — where the future lies.