The sixth edition of the Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report provided by artnet and the China Association of Auctioneers (CAA) offers an in-depth look at the market
for Chinese art and antiques in 2017.
Global auction sales of Chinese art and antiques totalled $7.1 billion in 2017, an increase of 7% year-over-year. The ultra-high-end market saw a record volume of sales, buoyed by a burgeoning private museum sector in China. Meanwhile, the middle and lower end of the market—where over 99% of transactions take place—showed signs of a continued correction running since 2015. At its peak, the Report notes total auction sales in mainland China accounted for over 40% of the global total.
Amongst key findings the Report found the demand for top-quality lots with established provenance to be stronger than ever. In both mainland China and overseas, there has been a marked boost in the ultra-high-end market of lots valued ¥100 million ($14.2 million) with the 38 lots sold in this price bracket, more than doubling the number in 2016, and almost 10 times that of 2013. Notably, a Chinese artist has entered the $100 million club for the first time, when in Beijing, Twelve Screens of Landscapes by Qi Baishi sold at Poly International for a record-breaking $140 .9 million, making him the sixth most expensive artist ever sold at auction, and the first Chinese artist to enter the $100 million club, thereby joining the ranks of Picasso, Modigliani, Bacon, and Munch.
The USA saw a 62% increase in the total sales value of Chinese art and antiques year-over-year, largely bolstered by a single auction, “Important Chinese Art from the Fujita Museum” at Christie’s New York, (New York, 15 March 2017, Sale 14319) , which raised over $262 million achieving more than what North America sold in Chinese art and antiques over the entire previous year.
The downside is that as the market increasingly turns towards high-end art and antiques, payment default or delay continues to be an ongoing problem in mainland China and where also the mid- and low-end markets saw smaller auction houses still struggling to trade profitably. Of the 18 lots sold above ¥100 million in 2017, only two were paid in full as of May 15, 2018.
While the general sell-through rate of Chinese art and antiques overseas saw a significant dip in 2017, continuing the overall downward trend of the past few years, the market for 20th-Century and Contemporary Chinese Art remained strong overseas. As the market downsized and the quality of lots rose, the average price increased by 19% to reach $207,423, thereby exceeding the previous market peak in 2011. The sell-through rate also remained high at 60%, well above any other sector overseas.
The average price for fine Chinese paintings and calligraphy also reached a historic high at $32,855 in mainland China. Although, this growth is still largely supported by the boom in the high-end market, the middle market continues to shrink in size, and the overall sell-through rate dropped to its lowest level since 2010.
As the Chinese government introduced tighter rules to limit capital outflow since the end of 2016, China’s outbound non-financial investments fell significantly in 2017. The overseas sales of Chinese art and antiques, which had previously been buoyed by increasing demand from Chinese buyers, was no doubt affected by this shift. A further problem for the market
was President Trumps’ proposed 25% import duty on Chinese goods regardless of the port of origin., announced after the publication of the Report. The tariff would, of course, have had little effect in China itself, as China prohibits most art exports. The biggest “exporters” of Chinese art are the major auction houses where a 25% tariff would probably have had the effect of reducing bidding by potential US buyers at sales who would face the tariff on importing them into the US. They might also hesitate to send items abroad for sale, risking the tariff being imposed on unsolds returned to them. However, strong lobbying by the art trade in the States effectively made the case for the removal of Chinese art and antiques from the tariff list.