Highlights on the Global Chinese Art Auction Market

The Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report 2019 by Artnet provides an in-depth look into the market for Chinese art and antiques at auction. Read key insights from the report here.

The market for Chinese art and antiquities is one of the largest in the global art market. But with a shifting political and economic landscape, the sector has begun to slow. According to the Report, “total auction sales of Chinese art and antiques accounted for 50% of the global art auction sales.” But the sector’s share has lowered to 30%, a large shift given China’s predominance in artworks and buyers at auction.

The market for Chinese Art and Antiques in decline.

From the Report, “Global auction sales of Chinese art and antiques totaled $5.7 billion in 2019, a decrease of 10% year-over-year and the lowest level for the genre since 2010.” This decline may be related to factors affecting the larger art market, such as a decrease in average price realized across its largest players (despite increased volume). Interestingly, and perhaps relatedly, Hong Kong auction houses were among the top performing houses within the market, beating out US-based houses like Sotheby’s New York for the first time since 2014. The Report attributes much of the decline in the market to increased trade tension between US and China, as well as a lower rate of growth in China’s GDP.

Sotheby’s Hong Kong beats out its New York counterpart in price realized for the first time since 2014.

2019 sales in the US market were mostly unaffected in the wake of US tariffs imposed on art, though the Report finds that “major auction houses secured consignments ahead of the US-imposed 15% tariff hike on Chinese art.” On the other hand, supply of Chinese art for the North American market sunk by 28%. Supply in the less restricted European market was its highest since 2012.

Asia also saw a slight slump in supply. The Report claims, “Disruptions in the auction cycles due to the protests in Hong Kong contributed to a decline of 14% in lots offered year-over-year in Asia (excluding mainland China), recording the fewest lots offered at auction since 2013. Hong Kong’s market, in particular, contracted to $1.3 billion, a 7-year low, as total sales in the art hub decreased by 10% year-over-year.”

The supply of lots across regions has been affected by tariffs and trade relations.

Younger collectors seem to create the foundation of the 2019 Chinese art market, which is shown by the incredible performance of 20th-Century and Contemporary Art. According to the Report, “The average price for the 20th-Century and Contemporary Art category soared in mainland China, up by 23% year-over-year. Overseas, total sales value for the category reached a 9-year high in 2019.”

Fine Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy, the more traditional category, has its lowest year in sales since 2013. This is despite being the largest collecting category in the market for Chinese art and antiques: “The number of lots sold for the category dropped by 10% year-over-year, almost halving in volume from 2013. The collecting category also struggled overseas, as total sales value dropped to a 7-year low.”

The top three pieces at auction in the market for Chinese art and antiques.

The top pieces at auction were from Sanyu, Zhao Mengfu, and Li Keran respectively. Modern artist Zao Wou-Ki dominated the Top 50 with ten total lots on the list. In 2019, the artist beat out Sanyu in total price realized by about USD 30 million.

To research the market for Chinese art and antiques, visit the free Artory price database. The Artory database contains millions of sales records from auction houses across the world, making it the most comprehensive price and provenance database available at no cost to the public. Artory’s search functionality is such that it allows you to narrow down your search and analyze artworks by artist, year, auction house, gallery, and more.

“NU,” (1965). Sanyu.

Artory has a wealth of information on the Chinese art market. The above piece by Sanyu (also known as Yu Chang) was sold for USD 25.2 million in 2019. You can view its details, prior auction history, and provenance now on Artory.

Unlike other price databases, Artory uses an innovative “Object Matching System” that sifts through a massive amount of historical transaction records looking for duplicate information and provenance data to identify duplicate objects. The system ultimately aggregates all information about the different sales of an artwork over decades into one record on Artory. Therefore, Artory’s price database results will always give you the most complete history of an artwork’s provenance and auction performance. Because Artory’s database is so massive and all-inclusive, it also serves as the basis for the research done by the Art Basel + UBS Art Market Report, written by Dr. Clare McAndrew.

Read the full Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report 2019 here.

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