Gal­leries and auc­tion houses change strate­gies to at­tract more col­lec­tors

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By PRIME SARMIENTO in Hong Kong prime@chi­nadai­lya­

Kylie Ying started her art col­lec­tion with an ab­stract work from artist Zhang Enli about eight years ago. Since then, the Shang­hai busi­ness­woman has vis­ited nu­mer­ous gal­leries, art fairs and deal­ers to ac­quire con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese and Western art.

“When I make a de­ci­sion to pur­chase a piece of art, it means I com­pre­hend the artist’s idea and that I be­lieve his or her works make a point about the world we live in,” she said.

Ying’s ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the arts started at a young age, in­flu­enced by her mother, who worked at a na­tional art and cul­ture in­sti­tu­tion. Her mar­riage to a fel­low art lover deep­ened her artis­tic pas­sion.

Ying also or­ga­nizes art fairs in Shang­hai and Bei­jing to con­nect artists with gallery own­ers and col­lec­tors.

She is just one of a grow­ing num­ber of col­lec­tors who are in­creas­ing China’s in­flu­ence on the global art scene.

Like Ying, these Chi­nese col­lec­tors are wealthy, ed­u­cated and pas­sion­ate. Their pres­ence at art fairs, gal­leries and auc­tion houses is help­ing shift the cen­ter of the art uni­verse from Lon­don and New York to Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Hong Kong.

Christoph Noe, founder of art ad­vi­sory com­pany The Min­istry of Art, said, “These col­lec­tors have a big in­flu­ence on the (global) art mar­ket now.”

“China is the big­gest mar­ket for many things. It’s the big­gest mar­ket for mo­bile phones. It’s the big­gest for cars. So why should art be an ex­cep­tion?” Noe said.

Ac­cord­ing to The Art Mar­ket Re­port 2018, China ac­counted for 21 per­cent of the $63.7 bil­lion in global art sales last year.

The an­nual re­port, is­sued in Fe­bru­ary by Swiss in­vest­ment bank UBS and in­ter­na­tional fair Art Basel, said that China — now the world’s No 2 art mar­ket, sec­ond only to the United States — saw $13.2 bil­lion worth of sales last year.

Clare McAn­drew, au­thor of the re­port, de­scribes China’s rise in the art mar­ket as “phe­nom­e­nal”.

In 2006, China only ac­counted for 5 per­cent of in­ter­na­tional art sales. Four years later, the coun­try over­took the United King­dom, which had long held sec­ond place.

Ac­cord­ing to the UBS and Art Basel re­port, China ac­counted for 33 per­cent of the $28.5 bil­lion worth of art works sold through pub­lic auc­tions last year.

In­ter­na­tional art gal­leries are fol­low­ing the Chi­nese art money. In the first quar­ter of this year, two renowned gal­leries set up their first Asian branches in Hong Kong.

In Jan­uary, David Zwirner, a US art gallery, opened its doors in H Queen’s, Hong Kong’s gallery com­plex. It also re­cruited Leo Xu, a prom­i­nent artist and gallery owner in Shang­hai, as co-direc­tor along­side Jen­nifer Yum, for­merly of Christie’s in New York.

Swiss gallery Hauser & Wirth launched its Hong Kong branch in March and signed up renowned con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese artist Zeng Fanzhi.

China’s rise on the art scene may ap­pear dra­matic, as it has dis­lodged the UK as the world’s sec­ond-big­gest art mar­ket in less than five years. But Noe, of The Min­istry of Art, said that China’s prom­i­nent sta­tus in the in­ter­na­tional art com­mu­nity is also tied to its rise in the global econ­omy.

“The art mar­ket re­flects what is hap­pen­ing in the world,” he said.

China’s rapid eco­nomic growth in the past 20 years has cap­tured the world’s at­ten­tion. Noe said this also sparked peo­ple’s in­ter­est in other as­pects of Chi­nese so­ci­ety, such as its arts and cul­ture.

This is why in the early 1990s, con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese art started to gain in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion. A decade later, Chi­nese art­works were com­mand­ing high prices at global auc­tions.

Chi­nese art­works de­buted at the Venice Bi­en­nale in 1993. For the first time, paint­ings by sev­eral con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese artists were in­cluded in a pres­ti­gious in­ter­na­tional art expo. Three years later, the Shang­hai Art Mu­seum or­ga­nized the first Shang­hai Bi­en­nale to po­si­tion the city as an in­ter­na­tional art cen­ter.

In 2006, avant-garde artist Liu Xiaodong’s New Three Gorges Re­set­tlers sold at a Bei­jing Poly Auc­tion sale for the equiv­a­lent of $2.75 mil­lion, a world record for Chi­nese con­tem­po­rary art at the time.

UBS-Art Basel re­port au­thor McAn­drew does not be­lieve that China’s slower eco­nomic growth rate — no longer in dou­ble digits — will rein in Chi­nese art buy­ers.

She said the coun­try’s mar­ket is now sup­ported by a small group of high net worth in­di­vid­u­als who pay stag­ger­ing prices at auc­tions, but she be­lieves it is the ex­pand­ing mid­dle class that will sus­tain the art mar­ket in the long run.

“It’s the up­per mid­dle class who hold the key to hav­ing a re­ally sub­stan­tial art mar­ket,” she said.

McAn­drew cited the US, which has man­aged to re­tain its No 1 rank­ing in the world art mar­ket thanks to its broad mid­dle class base. The more af­ford­able art­works priced at less than $1 mil­lion each are tar­geted by mid­dle class buy­ers.

She said these con­sumers sup­port other art in­dus­try play­ers, as they usu­ally buy from gal­leries and art fairs.

The Min­istry of Art’s Noe said China’s ris­ing in­flu­ence in the global art mar­ket will also raise the level of art ap­pre­ci­a­tion in the coun­try.

“Art col­lect­ing is now a form of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion, a life­style” he said, adding that most of these young and af­flu­ent col­lec­tors visit art fairs and ex­hi­bi­tions to so­cial­ize with their peers.

He said some of China’s top col­lec­tors have set up pri­vate mu­se­ums to show­case their col­lec­tions.

These in­clude Liu, the bil­lion­aire in­vestor, who has two mu­se­ums in Shang­hai, and prop­erty de­vel­oper Lu Jun, who es­tab­lished the Si­fang Art Mu­seum in Nan­jing, cap­i­tal of Jiangsu prov­ince. Thanks to such mu­se­ums, the pub­lic can view some of the best con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese and Western art­works.

Noe also cited the in­creas­ing num­ber of gal­leries, pri­vate mu­se­ums, art fairs and art bi­en­nales be­ing held in Shang­hai and Bei­jing, which have trans­formed the two cities into key art hubs.

The West Bund in Shang­hai houses gal­leries, cafes and some of the coun­try’s top pub­lic and pri­vate mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing the Rock­bund Art Mu­seum, the Long Mu­seum and the Yuz Mu­seum.

Bei­jing is renowned for its two ma­jor art dis­tricts. The 798 Art Dis­trict and Caochangdi are home to a clutch of gal­leries, bou­tiques, cafes and sou­venir shops.

But China’s art scene is not only con­fined to Bei­jing and Shang­hai. Guan Qiang, deputy head of the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Cul­tural Her­itage, said the num­ber of mu­se­ums across the coun­try has been grow­ing in the past few years.

He said there are now more than 5,000 mu­se­ums in China. Last year, more than 20,000 ex­hi­bi­tions took place at these mu­se­ums, with some 900 mil­lion vis­its recorded.

Ju­lia Ip, an art busi­ness lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Hong Kong, said in­ter­na­tional gal­leries and auc­tion houses are chang­ing their mar­ket­ing strate­gies to at­tract more Chi­nese col­lec­tors.

To il­lus­trate how auc­tion houses are set­ting their sights on the Chi­nese mar­ket, she cited Sotheby’s an­nounce­ment in April of the auc­tion of Amedeo Modigliani’s Sub­lime Nude — which was billed as the star of New York’s May auc­tion sea­son.

Ip said the fact that the an­nounce­ment was made in Hong Kong — with two Sotheby’s ex­ec­u­tives de­liv­er­ing it in English and Mandarin — shows that the auc­tion house is ap­peal­ing to top Chi­nese col­lec­tors.

Ip also cited Christie’s de­ci­sion to launch the auc­tion for David and Peggy Rock­e­feller’s art col­lec­tion in Hong Kong in Novem­ber. She said it was the first time an auc­tion for a US col­lec­tion had been launched in the city.

Like Sotheby’s, Ip said Christie’s is also mar­ket­ing to Chi­nese col­lec­tors. Christie’s pro­moted the Rock­e­fellers’ art col­lec­tion in Hong Kong by pub­li­ciz­ing the fam­ily’s phil­an­thropic works in China dur­ing the 1890s and early 1900s.

And for a col­lec­tor such as Ying, the busi­ness­woman from Shang­hai, China’s rise as a global art cen­ter is a wel­come de­vel­op­ment.

“What I love about (the Chi­nese art scene) is the fact that it is ac­tive, lively and ready to create at any minute,” she said.


The Si­fang Art Mu­seum in Nan­jing, cap­i­tal of Jiangsu prov­ince, houses some of the best con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese and Western art­works.


Clock­wise from top: Visi­tors gather at the Long Mu­seum in Shang­hai; an in­stal­la­tion art show is staged at the Rock­bund Art Mu­seum in Shang­hai; visi­tors ad­mire work at the 798 Art Dis­trict in Bei­jing;


A work is dis­played at the first ex­hi­bi­tion staged at the Si­fang Art Musem in Nan­jing, Jiangsu prov­ince, in 2013.


An in­stal­la­tion by Zhan Wang is dis­played at a solo ex­hi­bi­tion at the Long Mu­seum in Shang­hai last year.


Visi­tors at the Rock­bund Art Mu­seum in Shang­hai.

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