Is China Still The Global Market Leader For Art Sales?

We reported a year ago that the global art market had recovered from the financial crisis with both confidence and prices continuing to rise. The main growth centres were the Asian market, particularly Beijing and Hong Kong. As we come up to the release of figures in March for the 2012 period, we have to ask whether China has held on to the position as market leader.

The 2011 figures put China at up to 42% for global art sales from dealers and auctions. This placed the US at 29% and the UK at 19% and all other markets at 10%.Compared to other investments, art has been relatively unaffected by political and economic changes and has a good long-term performance, which laid a foundation for the art market recovery. The Art Newspaper reported last week that “Clare McAndrew’s of TEFAL, The European Fine Art Fair’s, findings for 2012 will remain a closely guarded secret until March, when her new report is launched at the international fair in Maastricht. All she will reveal is; “The reshuffle has continued.” The US did better, and the UK did OK, she says: “It was a cooling down year for China. Buying has slowed, and last year marked the end of erratically high growth due in large part to speculation.”

A big drop in sales at China’s top two auction houses is responsible for this trend. Poly Auctions saw sales slide, from $1.9bn in 2011 to $965m in 2012. The China Guardian reported $1.8bn in 2011 but just $820m in 2012. This will significantly effect the markets growth this year. It has also been reported that a number of Chinese investment funds have under-performed this year leading to a slowing down of sales.

Last year as China became stronger economically, Chinese buyers were more capable of buying back Chinese cultural treasures in international auction centers and returning them home, thus playing a significant role in heritage recovery from abroad. This repatriation of art has definitely slowed down.

ZHANG XIAOGANG (bloodline serie) 2001 Courtesy: Beijing Poly Auctioneers

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