The emergence of the New Chinese Collector was one of the topics we watched most closely last year. In virtually every class of auction (mostly in Hong Kong), from wine to jewelry to traditional Chinese and Chinese contemporary art, mainland collectors seemed to be ubiquitous, snapping up prize items well above high estimates.
This year, as the still-dominant-but-less-so Western and Japanese collectors are expected to remain restrained relative to pre-financial-crisis levels, major auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's are counting on mainland Chinese collectors to account for even more of their sales.
Today, the Wall Street Journal looks at the Chinese New Collector, pointing out that Asian collectors -- particularly those from China -- are likely to become increasingly dominant in coming years, and are starting to turn their attention to collecting more Western artists along with the Chinese and other Asian artists they have more recently collected.
After a dismal year, Sotheby's and Christie's International PLC are set to begin a major round of art auctions in London on Tuesday, and experts say Chinese collectors may emerge as the latest power players to bid up Western icons they once ignored, from Pablo Picasso to Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Auction houses are hoping the coming sales will build on a number of successful offerings— including a $48 million Raphael sold in December—that appear to indicate an art market turnaround. The coming two weeks could thus be a crucial period for re-establishing price levels that have dropped amid a global recession, dealers said.
Until recently, Asians have fixated on collecting their own cultural heritage, a focus that has steadily lifted prices for everything from Imperial porcelain vases to contemporary painters such as Zeng Fanzhi. Now, an influx of collectors from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are branching out to seek artists from the 20th century Western canon, such as Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin and Edgar Degas.
An interesting aspect of this article is that it points out that many of the Chinese collectors that are beginning to branch out into collecting Western art are western-educated and have already collected a significant amount of art from their home country. The article suggests that Chinese New Collectors -- those who are just now dipping their toes into the auction scene -- will likely keep buying Chinese and other Asian artwork (though we would assume they'll keep buying rare Swiss watches and French wines at Hong Kong auctions for the foreseeable future), at least for the time being:
Asian collectors, many of whom were educated in the West or travel there frequently, are seeking Impressionist artworks as new status symbols, said David Norman, co-chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist and modern art world-wide. They are buying colored gems and Champagne for similar reasons, he added.
"These people are already sophisticated buyers of their own work," he said, "but they've got an international outlook now, and they want the best-known names in art."