Demand From New Chinese Collectors Stays Strong For Important Works Of Art
Back in September, Jing Daily covered the more international outlook of China’s largest auction houses, Beijing Poly and China Guardian. As we wrote at that time, in recent years these auction houses — flush with cash from China’s recent domestic collector boom — have intensively sought to develop their ability to procure better art from blue-chip Chinese contemporary artists, as well as antiques and traditional art, a search that has taken them far beyond Chinese shores. Interestingly enough, as these auction houses look to set up shop overseas, in cities like New York and London, what we’re seeing is less of a desire to hold auctions and compete with established names like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, but rather a pure focus on using these overseas offices as centers for sourcing rare and valuable Chinese art and antiques for auctions back home.
This is not entirely surprising, however, as a significant driver of the domestic Chinese auction market has been the concept of “repatriation” of antiques in particular. As the New York Times wrote of the “reverse flow” of antiquities and traditional artwork back to China in the wake of a particularly successful auction last year,
With China’s wealth rapidly rising, mainland Chinese buyers have been a major force in pushing up the prices of Chinese antiquities, reversing, at least in small measure, the flow of Chinese artworks to the West during the centuries before the Communist revolution in 1949 — and the loss of imperial treasures when the Chinese nationalists fled the Communist victory for Taiwan, taking huge quantities of antiquities with them.
This month, China Guardian will open its first New York office on Park Avenue near 59th Street, a hub for sourcing rather than sales, and a means for the massive auction house to funnel important works back to buyers in China. As the Wall Street Journal writes today, though China Guardian’s new office may be new to the city, its employees have been in New York for quite some time:
[I]n an effort to keep pace with an expanding market back home, its representatives have been in the city for the past five years, meeting collectors and sourcing traditional Chinese art (porcelain, jade carvings, calligraphy, ink paintings) and cultural relics.
“The United States has a long history of collecting Chinese traditional arts, privately and in the museum system,” said Asia Society’s museum director, Melissa Chiu. “I think China Guardian setting up an office in New York city is in some way a recognition of that.”
China Guardian is sourcing in New York, but it won’t be selling here. All of its auctions are held in Beijing, where there is much higher demand for traditional Chinese art and a stronger market, said Kou Qin, a director and vice president. About 40% of the pieces in China Guardian auction lots are sourced from the U.S., Europe and Australia.
“Ninety percent of our buyers are mainland Chinese, but it is the same situation for the whole Chinese art market,” Mr. Kou said. “The Chinese art market is booming very rapidly and the prices are going up, so of course Chinese art works can be sold at a higher price in China.”
The ascendance of China Guardian as a major power in China and, now, internationally belies its short history. Though it is China’s oldest auction house, China Guardian was only founded in 1993, but the speed with which China’s collector market has expanded has made it a highly profitable business. For its New York office, China Guardian will have one full-time staffer and two other New York-based sourcing agents who plan to criss-cross the country to procure Chinese art and antiques.
As for China Guardian competitor Beijing Poly, the Wall Street Journal notes today that a Poly representative “confirmed plans to have a sourcing liaison in New York, but said a specific site or date had not yet been set.”