Auction Houses: Chinese Millennials Boost Global Art Market | Culture

Collector Wang Yijin, in her studio in Beijing.
Collector Wang Yijin, in her studio in Beijing.

A few minutes talking with Wang Yijin (Taizhou, China, 1985) is enough for him to spread the enthusiasm with which he talks about art and the devotion with which he collects antiques. “They help me to create, to learn from history and to face situations that I find myself in the present”, he comments while showing the catalog of his exhibition Drunk on Potpourri, a selection of objects from West and Central Asia and of his own creations that he exhibited in Shanghai in 2020. Wang belongs to the new wave of Asian millennials who has accelerated the market’s turn towards the Far East: according to the auction house Christie’s, a a third of its buyers under 38 are Asian, and they are the ones who are dictating the future of collecting.

Wang began acquiring works in 2010, following the example of his professors at the China Academy of Arts, Visual Communication and Design, regular buyers of pieces from the Ming and Qing dynasties. “The Hangzhou antique market was very chaotic and cheap. Now it would be impossible to get hold of those relics for that price. There were also counterfeits, but it is already very well regulated, ”he says in his study in Beijing, where he has resided since 2016.

This native of the Zhejiang province has a collection of 27 pieces from the Roman and Byzantine empires, ancient Egypt, Persia and the civilizations that inhabited modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan between the 4th centuries BC. C. and VIII d. C., to which are added 14 from ancient China. Reluctant to talk about figures, he points to a 10th-century glass brush holder valued at 5 million yuan (694,000 euros) for which, he says, he did not reach an agreement with Sotheby’s. “Young collectors and artists are more educated, we have our own vision of art and we know what we want to find,” he points out.

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Alexandre Errera, an art consultant based in Hong Kong for a decade, agrees with Wang’s words: “The Asian market has changed in a very short period of time. In recent years, new young fans, aged 30 or 40, with high purchasing power have appeared, who come from the technology industry or cryptocurrencies, or are second or third generation of wealthy families ”. He believes that the rapidity with which new buyers emerge in Asia, greater than in the United States or Europe, contributed greatly to China regaining the world crown of art sales by 2020 with 40% of the market share (compared to 32% of the United States), a position it did not occupy since 2016, according to a recent study collected by The Art Newspaper.

Basquiat's 'Warrior', the most expensive Western artist's work sold in Asia, at Sotheby's in Hong Kong in October.
Basquiat’s ‘Warrior’, the most expensive Western artist’s work sold in Asia, at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in October.ISAAC LAWRENCE (AFP)

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Errera adds that, faced with this generational change, the preferences of his clients have also turned upside down: in 2012, most chose to acquire contemporary Chinese art, but, since 2015, they have opted for international works, especially from emerging stars. In fact, on a global level, Hong Kongers are the collectors who bet the most on living authors, according to the report. Resilience in the Dealer Sector, recently published by Art Basel and UBS.

While Hong Kong continues to be the sector’s epicenter in the region, the Chinese mainland is already the main growth engine for the industry on the mainland. According to the Artnet database, in the year of the onset of the pandemic, Beijing for the first time snatched the sales leadership in Asia from Hong Kong with a total collection of 1.86 billion dollars (about 1.64 billion euros), compared to the 1,170 from the former British colony. The top 5 were completed by Shanghai (almost € 179 million), Tokyo (€ 104 million) and Hangzhou (about € 80 million).

The landing

Eager to capitalize on this boom, the big auction houses have not hesitated to approve long-term plans for Asia this year, appointing new management teams and investing in spaces: Sotheby’s transferred to Hong Kong two of its best art specialists, Alex Branczik and Max Moore, and Phillip’s continued its deal with the Chinese state auction house Poly Auction, the most lucrative on the mainland.

Guillaume Cerutti, CEO of Christie’s, reports with visible enthusiasm in a recent video conference that 2021 has been the best year for the company in the last five years. In March, Warriorby Jean-Michel Basquiat became the most expensive work by a Western artist sold in Asia to date, after being auctioned in Hong Kong for $ 42 million (€ 37 million). The goal for 2022 is to continue expanding in the region: “35% of our clients were new buyers, and 32% were Asian millennials. We are focusing our efforts on this market, we have announced that we will move to new locations in Shanghai (a historic building on the Bund) and Hong Kong (designed by Zaha Hadid Architects), and we have appointed Rebecca Yang as Director of Christie’s China. “

Despite the fact that, based on recent figures, the Hong Kong market continues unstoppable, some fear that this expansion will be cut short by the lack of freedom of expression since the 2019 protests, as well as the impact of the health crisis. Among the cities that could pick up its baton, Seoul prevails in the bets to the detriment of a Tokyo that remains the Asian cultural center par excellence. South Korea’s growing arts scene and the rise of Western galleries and fairs pushing for greater visibility in the country have seen the South Korean capital rise to prominence.

Errera, however, believes that Hong Kong will continue to emerge, at least for the next decade, among other things, as the only enclave with direct access to the most populated nation on the planet. The artistic advisor also anticipates that the galleries, art fairs and the new M + museum will make it more culturally attractive.

“Asia will continue to drive the global art market. It is definitely a long-term trend. The pandemic perhaps caused it to accelerate, for example, through online art purchases, where they are undoubtedly ahead. There are those who mistakenly think that Asians pay more just for the sake of it; it is the market law: it is the highest bidder and, when we talk about such sums, $ 500 does not make a big difference for new buyers who are rising like foam in the region ”, Errera insists.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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