The China Art Super-Cycle

Before putting fingers to keyboard for this foreword I had three short stories rolling around my head. Let me very briefly share them with you.  The first is the moment I heard the term “super-cycle” coined in 2007 to describe the completely historical industrial transformation underway in China – a transformation that will blitz the equivalent that took place in Japan between 1945 and 1985.

The second is the assistance I provided a client to transact two works by a contemporary Chinese artist in Hong Kong in recent years – the works returned an approximately 800% profit – yes that’s 800%! I told him at the time that this windfall was, I believed, the greatest I would witness in my lifetime.

My final story drives the title of this foreword and it relates to an extremely useful publication titled, more recently, as Contemporary Art Market 2014 (CAM14) which is produced by ARTPRICE, the leader in international fine art auction sales data and trends. It is an annual read and it provides a wonderful snapshot of global art movements.

The 2014 edition, like the 2010 edition I last visited, confirmed that China’s utter dominance of the market continues. CAM14 is very statistical and survey driven which is probably why I like it, as crunching their numbers is made very easy for someone as innumerate as myself. As I progress through CAM14 I remain overwhelmed by the continuing Chinese art sales phenomena. To take just one statistic, the artist Zeng Fanzhi generated €59.6 million in sales at auction which is just shy of the total generated by the world’s three biggest grossing artists at auction! Just think about that; a decade old contemporary art market generates a single artist with a combined auction value of the remaining world’s top 3. Clearly the super-cycle is still in full swing.

126Below I present several more statistics that reflect the tectonic and lightening-speed shift in the art market from West to East.

• 40% of global contemporary art sales are now Chinese artists
• 47 of the top 100 selling contemporary artists are Chinese
• Asia now contributes 54% of the best selling contemporary artists at auction
• More paintings are sold in China than the combined markets of France, the USA and the UK
• Guangzhou, Nanjing, Hangzhou represent three of the top 10 contemporary art selling capitals of the world
• The Chinese owned Poly International remains the 3rd largest auction house in the world by turnover with seven of the top 10 auction houses of the world emanating from China

The scale of repatriation of Chinese art by mainland Chinese is historically unprecedented and the combination of the sheer volume of output from China, both now and over the centuries, combined with the extraordinary rise in wealth of the Chinese more generally is creating nothing less than a turbo-charged cultural collecting phenomena.

It is only a matter of time before the eyes of one the Chinese auction houses moves from attraction to one of the global auction houses to acquisition.

John Albrecht, Managing Director & National Head of Collections