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China art sales booming in spite of global trends


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Abby Schultz reports for Barron’s that China’s art auction sales are healthier than ever despite the art market slump seen in the West, and have surpassed the US and UK in sales volume. Schultz writes that the vast majority of these sales are coming in through Hong Kong, and that while it’s good news for the art market, it certainly doesn’t spell recovery for the markets in the West anytime soon. Read Schultz in partial below, or in full via Barron’s.

Fine art auction sales in greater China are bucking global trends by rising instead of tumbling.

The gains aren’t likely to fire up global art sales, however. Instead they reveal a return to normal for Chinese buyers who view tangible assets like fine art to be a better investment opportunity now than volatile stocks or low-interest-rate bonds.

Still, the 18% jump in auction sales in China, including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, is welcome good news for an art market in the midst of a slump. China sales at the two biggest global auction houses, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, as well China’s top two houses, Poly Auction and China Guardian, totaled $2.3 billion in the first half, up from $1.97 billion last year, Artprice.com data show.

That gives greater China a 35% share of the global fine art market, surpassing the U.S., where fine art sales tumbled 48% to $1.7 billion in the first half versus a year ago and the U.K., where sales fell 29.5% to $1.4 billion, Artprice.com says.

Confusing the picture is most of these sales appear to have taken place in Hong Kong, an international arts sales hub for buyers throughout Asia and the West who are interested in art from across Asia. Hong Kong sales at the four auction houses rose 19.2% this year from autumn 2015 while sales in China fell 2.6%, says Anders Petterson, founder of ArtTactic, citing figures from his London art market analysis firm.

Petterson suggests stepping back, and looking at growth patterns over the last five years, to get a better sense of trends. From 2010 to 2015, sales of Western post-war and contemporary art as well as modern and Impressionist art soared 273%, while sales of Chinese art fell 15%. That suggests what we’re seeing now is more of a recalibration than a profound shift upward.

*Image of Huang Yong Ping installation via Contemporary Art Daily