New Chinese Collectors To Play Larger Role in 2010 Auctions

Importance Of Chinese Collectors In 2009, Growth Of Wine, Antiquities And Contemporary Art Collecting Drives Auction House Optimism

Sold at auction in fall 2009 for $4,925,373, well over its $1,896,000 high estimate: Zao Wou-Ki's "17.4.64" (1964)

Sold at auction in fall 2009 for $4,925,373, well over its $1,896,000 high estimate: Zao Wou-Ki's "17.4.64" (1964)

This fall, we extensively covered the growing numbers of New Chinese Collectors at art, wine and antiques auctions around the world. Though mainland Chinese collectors obviously reign supreme at auctions held by domestic houses like Guardian and Poly, this fall, as traditionally dominant American and European collectors held back, mainland Chinese collectors were out in force and ready to buy at overseas auctions as well. As a recent Wall Street Journal article reflected, the growing numbers of collectors from emerging economic powers like China and Brazil showing up at auctions in New York, London, and Hong Kong shows that more wealthy individuals in those countries are looking at art as a hedge against inflation.

Though Jing Daily can’t speak for Brazil, Chinese buying is often driven by two motives: one, investment, referenced by the WSJ as hedging against inflation. Since many Chinese investors put a particular emphasis on asset diversification, we see many wealthy investors there put a significant amount of money into physical (and often pragmatic) assets — real estate, gold and jewelry, and increasingly wine, antiques, and traditional and contemporary Chinese art (though more are starting to dabble in Western art as well).

The other motive that drives many New Chinese Collectors is patriotism and status. Many wealthy mainlanders see the so-called “repatriation” of paintings (both contemporary or older) or antiques to Chinese soil as both a patriotic act and a status symbol. Though their investment value doesn’t hurt either, enthusiastic bidding at auction for Chinese works of art that have spent decades — even centuries — abroad is something we’re just not seeing from any other buyers at the moment. As an Economist article about recent Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions in Paris pointed out:

Unlike the market for Chinese ceramics and decorative works of art, which is crowded with Chinese buyers from Hong Kong and the mainland energetically seeking out treasures to bring home, the markets for Japanese and Korean works of art are dominated by Western collectors.

Yue Minjun’s “Hats Series – Two Lovers” sold for $822,573, $372,000 over its high estimate in Hong Kong in October 2009

Yue Minjun’s “Hats Series – Two Lovers” sold for $372,000 over its high estimate in Hong Kong in October 2009

The trend of Chinese collectors scouring the globe looking for Chinese works of art to bring “home” should continue in 2010. Although prices have stabilized, according to many analysts, and we can expect to see prices for many asset classes head northward throughout the year, at the moment Chinese collectors apparently still find wine, traditional Chinese painting, and Chinese contemporary art prices appealing. Today, a Bloomberg article discusses mainland Chinese collectors branching out at international auctions, moving beyond their comfort zones of jewelry and antiques and becoming ubiquitous at art and lifestyle auctions:

Mainland China residents bought the most-expensive items at Christie’s New York jewelry auction in October and more than doubled their purchases of Chinese art last year at sales in London and New York, said Andrew Foster, president of Christie’s Asia, in a statement. Nine of the 10 priciest items at the second part of a Paris auction of Yves Saint Laurent’s effects in November were bought by Asians, Christie’s said, without saying how many were Chinese.

The past two years have seen the Chinese outbid Americans and Europeans for top-end Asian antiques and gems at art sales in Hong Kong, the world’s third-largest auction market after New York and London. Now, the Chinese are expanding their collection beyond traditional art to include watches, wine, jewels and some Western art, said Foster.

“The trend is crystal clear,” said Foster, who’s also Christie’s chief operating officer. Asia’s “wealth is migrating to art and lifestyle purchases, and not only in Hong Kong.”

While we’ve still got some time until the arts auctions start heating up, expect to see plenty of wine-mad mainland Chinese collectors waving paddles at the next installation of the wildly popular Sotheby’s “Great American” Wine Collection series in Hong Kong, to be held on January 23. With more than 80 lots of Château Lafite — wildly popular in the mainland — up for grabs, alongside more than 65 lots of Château Latour and more than 70 lots of Château Cheval Blanc, this auction should be a good one to keep an eye on.


Art & Auction, Culture

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