Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Downward Spiral of the Chinese Contemporary Art Market

An untitled painting by Zeng Fanzhi

In recent years the market for Chinese contemporary artists has been hot in the global art market. Many of the top selling Chinese artists were virtually unknown before the Chinese art market boom at high profile auction houses and art fairs. Successful Chinese contemporary artists, such as Zeng Fanzhi, reaped what quick fame and fortune offers to artists who dominate the global art market. Due to global success artists from Shanghai and Beijing have been able to operate large studios in order to create further work. However, success can be fleeting-- these artists are now caught in what has been described as the “downward spiral” of the contemporary Chinese art market.

Galleries and art dealers in Shanghai and Beijing are facing some of the same struggles that galleries in New York City and other hubs of the art world have been challenged by in recent months. At the core of the plight is the ongoing global financial crisis. Art collectors worldwide are not as wealthy as they were just a year ago-- thus, aspects of the art market have been caught in a financial freeze, so to speak. Prices for art have dropped rapidly-- meaning the value for specific artists may be in limbo. In other words, high profile collectors are wary to invest in an uncertain global art market.

Chinese contemporary artists who were steadily patronized over the last few years are now faced with the humble reality that perhaps their art will falter within the global art market. Even the top auction houses, such as Sotheby’s, have been reluctant to spotlight Chinese contemporary art in recent months. This has lead insiders to suggest that the era of high-priced Chinese contemporary art is over. Rumors suggest that the market for Chinese contemporary art may bottom out before the global economy recovers. Thus, the fate of these artists within the global art market is not clear.

The surge in popularity for Chinese contemporary art among wealthy global art collectors-- such as Charles Saatchi-- came without warning. Artprice.com only listed one Chinese artist on their Top 10 best-selling living artists list in 2004. By 2007, 5 of the 10 best-selling living artists at auction were from China according to Artprice.com. The most acclaimed Chinese contemporary artist for that year, Zhang Xiaogang, had total auction sales of over $56 million.

Zhang Xiaogang ranked under Damien Hirst and Gerhard Richter in 2007-- two artists who have long dominated the global art market. The rise of Chinese contemporary art came swift. Unfortunately, the crash of the Chinese contemporary art market in the last year came just as sudden. It begs the question-- will any Chinese contemporary artists remain on the Artprice.com best-selling list of living artists after 2009? Who knows what will happen in this turbulent market.

Some feel that the bust of the Chinese contemporary art market was needed in order to sustain the validity of the market for Chinese contemporary art as a whole. Wealthy art collectors and art dealers, such as Charles Saatchi, had artificially driven up prices by investing heavily in art by Chinese contemporary artists-- according to some insiders. Other high profile art collectors and art dealers followed suit in what I like to call the ‘Keeping up with the Saatchi’s' effect.

A few of these individuals were quick to open galleries in China in order to take advantage of the flow of wealth-- now gallery doors are closing. Needless to say, some individuals feel that the artificial rise of specific artists-- not just Chinese contemporary artists-- within the global art market must come to an end in order for the global art market to have a steady business foundation that places integrity and sustainability above excessive personal gain.

Thus, it is felt that art dealers-- in general-- must take more responsibility within the global art market by helping their represented artists sustain the market for their work in a realistic manner. For example, art collectors/dealers who artificially increase prices may need to be avoided if the global art market is to have a strong foundation. Unfortunately, many artists throughout the world will fall victim due to key art world power players who have already manipulated the market for their own needs. The global art market as we know it will never be the same. Integrity is due.

Link of Interest:

China’s Art Market: Cold or Maybe Hibernating? By David Barboza -- The New York Times
www.nytimes.com/2009/03/11/arts/design/11decl.html?_r=1

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace.com
www.myartspace.com
New York Art Exchange
www.nyaxe.com
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6 comments:

Theo Feig said...

Dear Brian Sherwin,
I think your results are too hard. It ist a young market. And there will be many little stars amoung the rubbish. It´ll be interesting to watch.
Gruß
Theo Feig

Donald Frazell said...

Art can come from anywhere, but one must consider the source, and the purpose. Saatchi and money. Chinese marketing and export needs. Whatever comes from China will grow organically, as all art does, though seldom recognized by ones own people. Others see it first, but not international marketers, they see the lowest common denominator, and found it.

I see no building on tradition here, why use Western means for a visual language? Its not their heritage, but should use their own and then mix in the truths they can use of Wetern and other sources, Indian, Arabic, African whatever. But one own must be the foundation to build from. To be cut off from ones roots never leads to growth. Otherwise it is built on lies. Deceptions, academic posings.

This has no life to it. But may very well come, but not from State or societal sources. Art is from completely independant people, who are connected to ones cultural past and present. Not individuals reliant on societal desires.

art collegia delenda est

zhang said...

Think it is important to stick with the top historical artists of china... There is no shortage of artists in any country, especially china so you need to go back into the early 90's to find the first generation artists..those will be the safest bets, as to where to put your $ into ..those are the ones that are just starting to be collected by museums and top collectors and those are the ones who will be scarce, as china new collectors emerge.
see good interview in Yishu http://www.yishujournal.com/story.aspx?uid=2009031308520542

the time to buy is when most people are not..

Anonymous said...

Chinese contemporary art is still a fascinating field that reflects the glory, dynamism, and maturity of a civilization that has been creating art since Neolithic times. Certainly Chinese contemporary art has received a lot of hot press in recent years, but China is not going away, and neither are her important artists. As far as the market is concerned, it is timely that Chinese artists attain prices comparable to their Western and European counterparts. It is definitely an opportune time to be collecting in this field. Check out this interesting Q&A on collecting at the Yishu (Journal for Contemporary Chinese art) website:
http://yishujournal.com/story.aspx?uid=2009031308520542

Ellie said...

Chinese contemporary art is still a fascinating field that reflects the glory, dynamism, and maturity of a civilization that has been creating art since Neolithic times. Certainly Chinese contemporary art has received a lot of hot press in recent years, but China is not going away, and neither are her important artists. As far as the market is concerned, it is timely that Chinese artists attain prices comparable to their Western and European counterparts. It is definitely an opportune time to be collecting in this field. Check out this interesting Q&A on collecting at the Yishu (Journal for Contemporary Chinese art) website:
http://yishujournal.com/story.aspx?uid=2009031308520542

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