[private_subscriber][private_bundle]Which products of the recent boom will have resonance 100 years from now is still anyone’s guess, but here at The ART Report, we’d wager that the rise of Asian art will be among its greatest legacies. Of course, the international trade of Asian paintings and works of art is a practice older than most auction houses. In the past five years, however, the way that Asian art is auctioned—from its major hubs to the composition of its sales—has changed fundamentally.
Between 2005 and 2007, the volume and value of the Asian art market exploded. Total sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s more than doubled from just above $500 million to more than $1 billion, and prices in the category’s hottest sub-sectors grew by factors of two to three. The average price for modern and contemporary Chinese painting, for instance, increased by 288%, while total sales of South Asian art doubled, rising from $63,481,810 to $127,632,465.
Tuesday marks the beginning of 2010’s first Asia Week. Although the houses are reserving the more expensive fare for Hong Kong, next week’s seven sales will feature more than 1,300 Asian artworks (including yet more pieces from the seemingly infinite collection of the late Arthur M. Sackler at Christie’s). There are so many ways to slice and dice a category as broad as Asian art. We chose a few, and we hope that the following pages will provide some insight into a category that is so big, it is named after a continent.
The categories of art that we have analyzed in previous ART Reports (Americana, Contemporary and American art) returned to their pre-boom price levels in 2009. Asian art is the first category we have seen deviate from that trend. As Fig. 1 demonstrates, although total sales of Asian art have come down since their peak in 2007, average prices in the category were actually their highest ever (adjusted for inflation) in 2009 at $103,663. The notable increase in average prices may have been related to the auction houses’ efforts to cut the low-value fat: Christie’s and Sotheby’s offered only 5,815 Asian lots last year, a 42% drop from 2008. Another reason that Asian art has avoided the general market’s correction is that the houses’ platforms for selling Asian art changed during the boom. Western sales of Asian art—like the ones coming up next week—waned in importance as Hong Kong became even more dominant as the major hub for Asian art (Fig. 2). Since 2005, Hong Kong’s marketshare increased by 14%, from 58% to 72%, while New York’s marketshare remained the same and London’s stake dropped by more than 50%, falling from 17% in 2005 to just 8% in 2009.