Navigating Asia’s Booming Art Market

Even as China’s economy encountered headwinds late last year, leading global auction houses such as  Christie’s closed a strong autumn season in the region, selling lots worth a combined $353 million, including Su Shi’s 1,000-year-old masterwork Wood and Rock for a touch under $60 million—making it the most expensive object ever sold by Christie’s in Asia.

The Art Basel and UBS global Art Market Report 2018 found that in 2017, China accounted for 21 percent of the $63 billion global art market, second only to the United States. The report also forecast Asia’s overall share of global sales to increase on the back of buoyant wealth dynamics.

Below are insights on the buyers who are driving growth in Asia’s art market and what they’re most interested in buying.

In Asia, we’ve seen healthy growth year on year. Like any market, although often during turbulence in the stock market, art and related objects can be seen as a much more long term, stable store of value. But nowadays, if one country’s economy contracts or a single region enters decline, you can anticipate things like currency depreciation. If you plan ahead and look at the categories of art that you’re collecting in this region, you can remain relatively well protected.

China’a art market is very active and is growing year on year at about 20 percent. Growth is being driven to a large extent by new buyers—we’re seeing a trend of more and more new buyers entering emerging markets every year.  Buyers are coming from many different regions and backgrounds, and their buying interests are also diversified. Some love classics, others are into more modern, some love contemporary, others luxury. It’s hard to define. However, the new generation coming in from Asia is increasingly interested in contemporary art. Their interest tends toward associations with childhood and is shaped by what they enjoy in life, as well as where they grew up and their educational background. Asia in particular is led by Greater China demand, and if you look at the culture, Contemporary arts are the most popular category. With the next generation being educated overseas, and as the local education system becomes more developed, the contemporary art trend being the whole of Asia is definitely going global.

In comparison to Western buyers, Asian buyers hold onto art pieces for a relatively shorter time than their American counterparts or than international buyers of leading artists in America or Europe. When a Van Gogh or Monet comes on the market, those pieces will likely have been with the family for more than 20 years. In Asia, when a Zao Wou-Ki comes up for sale, it’s probably been with the owner just six to eight years. The turnover is much faster here than in Western markets.