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China Society

Rich collectors from China switch spending power to western art

Picassos family study, Claude et Paloma (1950), on sale at Christies New York

NOVEMBER 29, 2013 by: James Pickford

Wealthy Chinese collectors are increasingly buying up western art as their tastes move beyond the
traditional confines of Chinese ceramics and paintings.
Auction houses said more of the spending power generated by Chinas booming economy was being
targeted at non-Chinese art, such as Impressionist paintings, Old Masters and 19th century European
Sothebys said the number of mainland Chinese bidding for non-Chinese works in its auctions had risen
by 54 per cent since 2010, with $378m spent by 530 successful bidders over the period.
Patti Wong, chairman of Sothebys Asia, said patterns of taste had begun to broaden when mainland
Chinese began travelling internationally, likening the shift to that which occurred among wealthy Russians
after the fall of communism.
Every culture starts with their own heritage. For the Chinese its their ceramics, paintings and ink on
paper, but as they travel they see more of the world, they visit museums, and their interests broaden. Its a
natural progression of the market, she said.
This month a Picasso oil painting, Claude et Paloma, went for $28m to Wang Jianlin, chairman of
Chinese property group Dalian Wanda, at a Christies auction in New York. Last year, a Chinese buyer lost
out at Sothebys New York sale of Edvard Munchs The Scream but only after bidding $73m.
Interest in western art is growing both in China and across the wider Asia region. Over $2bn was spent by
Asian clients in Sothebys non-Chinese categories in the five years to 2012 an increase of over 200 per
cent on the previous five-year period.
Ten years ago Sothebys Hong Kong sales which offered only Chinese art and jadeite jewellery
accounted for about 5 per cent of global sales, but by 2011 Asia, Europe and the Americas contributed to the
auction houses revenues in roughly equal proportions.
Christies, the auction house, said the Chinese were now bidding and buying across a range of its
categories, from British Victorian art and Old Masters to contemporary work. Last year Asian bidders
registering at Christies grew by 15 per cent. The number of Chinese clients registering in Hong Kong rose by
32 per cent and by 21 per cent in London
Steven P. Murphy, chief executive of Christies, said Chinese collectors move into western art was a
hugely significant trend. At its New York art auctions earlier this month, he said: We saw Chinese bidding
in both evening and day sales, and at every price level.
Both Sothebys and Christies have been actively courting business on the mainland in recent years,
conscious of the growing wealth of Chinas elite and entrepreneurial classes.
Christies this year became the first foreign auction
house to be granted a licence to operate in mainland
China, holding its first auction in Shanghai in September.
Christies this year became the rst Sothebys has entered the China market as part of a joint
foreign auction house to be granted venture with state-owned Beijing GeHua Art Company,
a licence to operate in mainland and on Sunday will hold its first commercial auction on
the mainland.
China, holding its rst auction in
Melanie Gerlis, art market editor of the Art Newspaper,
Shanghai in September. said the Chinese were showing more interest in western
art after rubbing shoulders with international super-rich.
It seems the Chinese want to be part of the global elite
the people who want an apartment in Battersea Power Station, wine from a vineyard in Burgundy or
paintings from a dealer in London. Its more that, rather than a genuine love of Old Masters.
Does the shift imply London and New York would soon be supplanted by Beijing? Ms Wong rejects the
suggestion. This trend has everything to do with London and New York. Chinese participation in those
cities art markets is going to increase. People think its happening in a silo in China its not.

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