Most commentators see the drop in Chinese auction sales and ascribe it to a crack down on corruption within China and a sharp slowing of the Chinese economy over the last two or three years. Marc Spiegler offers a different explanation:
Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s global director, says auction sales are the most visible part of the art market, which can be misrepresentative of the health of the market. He claims China’s art market is moving away from auctions, with collectors increasingly dealing directly with galleries. “What we’re hearing from galleries we’re speaking to in China is they’re doing solid business with the core of collectors they’ve built up,” he says. Spiegler, frequently ranked as one of the most influential people in the art business, says Chinese collectors are also building stronger ties with galleries rather than buying at auction. “They understand if you work directly with galleries you get discounts and relationships with artists.”
Georgina Adam echoes Spiegler’s diagnosis in the Financial Times:
“The slowdown is mainly at auction,” said Lu Jie of Beijing-based Long March Gallery. “Over the last two years the primary market has been really strong, and this is not changing.” […H]e said that the growing number of private museums in China, coupled with foreign interest, is keeping sales buoyant. […] There are now 35 museums of modern and contemporary art in the teeming city, according to Yongwoo Lee, director of one such establishment, Shanghai Himalayas. What is really encouraging dealers to ignore the statistics is the constant appearance, they say, of new collectors. Sun Ning of Platform China says she sees about 20 new buyers every year. “Art is trendy, it is a lifestyle choice, and young people want to get into it,” she says.
Art Basel Hong Kong Is a Study in Contrasts (Barron’s)