Things To Know Before Buying Chinese Art

We pose five questions to the vice-president of Christie’s Asia about the Chinese art market.

  • PARROTS, Wu Guanzhong (Chinese, 1919-2010)

    PARROTS, Wu Guanzhong (Chinese, 1919-2010)

  • WOMEN AROUND THE LOTUS POND, Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur De Merpres (Belgian, 1880 - 1958)

    WOMEN AROUND THE LOTUS POND, Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur De Merpres (Belgian, 1880 - 1958)

    Marcello Kwan: "Chinese collectors seem to be spurred on by a desire to collect national art pieces as a form of cultural capital. They are collecting works that speak to them and their cultural identity."

    In most industries, China is synonymous with one thing: exponential growth. It is the same in the art world. In the past two decades, China has become the second-largest art market in the world. According to the European Fine Art Foundation, Chinese collectors accounted for 24 per cent of €47.4 billion global art sales in 2013. Mainland collectors are most active in the classical Chinese art, paintings and ceramics segment.

    Here we ask Marcello Kwan, vice-president of Christie’s Asia and senior specialist head of sale for the Asian 20th Century Art and Contemporary Art Department, five questions about the Chinese art market and its collectors.

    Daniel Hilarion Lim: Are buyers of Chinese art typically Chinese?

    Marcello Kwan: Our buyers come from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, the US and the rest of the world. The interest from China keeps growing with increasing cross-category buying. There is also a maturing level of taste from Asian buyers who are looking more globally for purchases.

    SARAWAK LADIES, Cheong Soo Pieng (Singaporean, 1917-1983)

    SARAWAK LADIES, Cheong Soo Pieng (Singaporean, 1917-1983)

    PAYSAGE ROUGE, Zao Wou-Ki (French Chinese, 1920 - 2013)

    PAYSAGE ROUGE, Zao Wou-Ki (French Chinese, 1920 - 2013)

    Apart from big names such as Dr Uli Sigg, who else has had a big impact on the Chinese art world?

    Johnson Chang co-curated the ‘China’s New Art: Post 1989’ in 1993. This was the first large-scale touring Chinese contemporary art exhibition that introduced a curation of the most experimental art from China to the West.

    Are people more interested in historical or contemporary Chinese art works?

    Sales for historical and contemporary Chinese art works have both been great. There has not been any notable difference and it really depends on buyers’ personal preferences and knowledge. With the internet, knowledge is borderless and interest in Chinese art works comes from all over the world. There has not been any notable difference in the interest between Mainland and foreign buyers.

    What do you think are Chinese collectors’ main motivations for buying back Mainland artefacts?

    They are motivated by their recognition of their cultural identity and by pride in their own culture. There are many options and motivations for investing in art. Art serves a variety of purposes. Nowadays, Chinese collectors seem to be spurred on by a desire to collect national art pieces as a form of cultural capital. They are collecting works that speak to them and their cultural identity.

    Who do you think will be the next Ai Weiwei-level artist?

    Every artist is unique in terms of concept and practice, so it is hard to compare them. Young Chinese artists are becoming more international because they are well travelled and are exposed to different experiences. This helps them to become better artists.


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