Western art dealers hope to lure wealthy Chinese
HONG KONG: For newly minted Chinese billionaires looking to spend their money, a natural choice has been art and antiques from their own country, many costing millions of dollars.
Now art dealers and auction houses are trying to pitch them a harder sell: Western masterpieces by artists such as Picasso, whose paintings featured in three autumn shows in Hong Kong.
"They are the next big wave of buyers, and they could affect the market as much as the Japanese did in the ' 80s," said Jehan Chu, who runs consultancy Vermillion Art Collections.
China's rapidly developing economy has churned out many wealthy businesspeople who have made their fortunes in industries from soft drinks to property development to the Internet. The country is now home to the world's largest number of dollar billionaires, according to the Hurun Rich List 2010, China's version of the Forbes list. China's new rich have been snapping up Asian artwork, antiques and other collectables, pushing up prices to record levels. That was evident in November when an unnamed Chinese buyer paid $83 million at a London auction for a 19th century Qing dynasty vase found in a suburban house.
The rising number of wealthy Chinese buyers has also made Hong Kong the world's third largest auction center after New York and London.
Chu says a lot of the buying "is largely driven by investment rather than a love or appreciation of art," though that is changing.
In a sign of the hope that Chinese buyers are now turning their attention - and checkbooks - to Western art, Sotheby's displayed 20 works at its Modern Masters exhibition of Impressionist and early 20th century art in Hong Kong last weekend, after holding a preview in Beijing in October. -Ap