Asia has been the hope and the fear of the worldwide art market. During the depths of the October lows, Sotheby’s pulled off a decent auction. With markets recovering–at least for now–this weekend’s sales in Hong Kong may offer a new perspective on Asian buying. Reuters covers the overall sale:
“The actual feeling is that the mood is much, much better than what we experienced in the fall last year,” said Kevin Ching, the Chief Executive Officer of Sotheby’s Asia. “We made the necessary adjustments, like we decided to only present fresh objects with great provenance, and adjusted prices to reflect the market,” he told Reuters. [ . . . ] Over 1,700 objects will be hammered off at Sotheby’s Asia sales from April 4-8, including Chinese classical and contemporary paintings, imperial ceramics, jewellery and watches.
Bloomberg‘s Le-Min Lim also taps into the wary mood:
“The market is still weak,” said Qu Liqun, a Shanghai- based antiques collector. “Most people prefer to wait and observe the market rather than buy, although they may make an exception with an item that’s truly remarkable.”
Asian buyers are clearly still interested in objects that can be viewed as a store of value. The big question, as Sotheby’s prepares to sell works by Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi and I Nyoman Masriadi, is whether the in-demand Contemporary artists will hold their value. The financial press has been quick to declare Contemporary Asian art a burst bubble, as this Reuters story does, but the real story would appear to be far more complex. Listen to Yue Minjun from the Reuters story:
“There are some who think that in this kind of market, art will sooner or later be finished. That’s a very pessimistic view,” Yue said. “This is nothing to be afraid of.” Puffing on a cigar outside a Beijing gallery, he described the emergence of serious Chinese collectors, a tectonic shift that could put China’s art on a solid footing for decades to come.
“At first, people might have thought of art like stocks,” he said. “But they have discovered art is more than just a stock investment. It has more significance and they are getting deeper into it.”
In the short run, though, Chinese art more closely resembles the U.S. housing market, with prices driven down by questions about quality and oversupply. [ . . . ]
The Reuters story continues with some data on the slump in Contemporary Chinese art prices:
Auction prices for China’s 18 hottest artists soared 13-fold from 2003 to 2007, Chinese art website Artron (www.artron.net) estimated. And commercial galleries, small and large, mushroomed in Beijing and Shanghai. Then came a crash in the Chinese stock market and the global financial turmoil.
Chinese art prices fell about 28 percent last year, according to Artron, and galleries have cut staff, reduced exhibition space or even shuttered their doors. [ . . . ]
The vision of a China with private collections and public galleries to rival those in the United States and Europe is beguiling. But day-to-day needs are more pressing for young artists such as Liu Gang, 26, a photographer trying to break into the scene with his absurd blow-ups of Chinese real estate advertisements.
“There aren’t as many galleries out there. And those that are around aren’t looking to sell new work for now,” he said.