Asian Art Market In Uncertain Health

Confusion as last week’s total sales of Asian Art hit impressive £57.4 million, despite fact that 44% of lots remained unsold

As we reported earlier this month, London has over the past few weeks been host to one of the world’s major Asian art events: Asian Art in London. Officials from the major auction houses involved in the event had spoken of the ‘Chinese boom’ of recent years, and were expecting enthusiastic bidding from Chinese buyers travelling to sales from overseas. However, following several major sales at the leading houses, there seems to be little consensus over what the results suggest about the state of the Asian market.

The overall total for the week’s sales was £57.4m, a considerable improvement on last year’s £37m. Highlights included a Qianlong Imperial vase which reached £9m at Bonhams and an ivory stamp which massively exceeded its £3,000 estimate by fetching £646,000 at Christie’s in South Kensington. But despite this seemingly successful outcome, 44% of lots on offer failed to sell. These conflicting figures have no doubt contributed to confusion about the overall picture of the market, with some commentators interpreting them as sure-fire indicators of a decline, while others remain more optimistic.

What is certain is that Chinese buyers, who have tended to dominate the market over the last few years, are now forced to be more discriminating when selecting which lots to bid on. This can be attributed to the fact that the Chinese central bank has raised interest rates three times already this year, making it far more difficult for dealers to borrow money for large-scale art purchases. This newly cautious attitude has taken hold in a year when more lots than ever before were offered by the major houses. The combination of these two factors appears to have led to a relatively high number of pieces going unsold. Nevertheless, the auction houses can hardly be disappointed by the sale totals they have managed to bring in. All considered, it seems that while the ‘Chinese boom’ spoken of in previous years may be on the wain, these results reflect a transitional period in the Asian market rather than a failure. Words Maddie Bates © 2011 ArtLyst

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