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Chinese millennials drive the global art market

The collector Wang Yijin, in her studio in Beijing.

A few minutes talking with Wang Yijin (Taizhou, China, 1985) is enough for him to spread the enthusiasm with which he speaks of art and the devotion with which he collects antiques. “They help me to create, to learn from history and to face situations that I find myself in the present”, he comments while showing the catalog of his exhibition Drunk on Potpourri , a selection of objects from West and Central Asia and of his own creations that he exhibited in Shanghai in 2020. Wang belongs to the new wave of Asian millennials that has accelerated the market shift towards Extreme East: According to Christie's auction house, a third of its buyers under 38 are Asian, and they are the ones who are dictating the future of collecting.

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Wang began acquiring works in 2010, following the lead of his professors at the Academy of Arts, Visual Communication and Design from China, regular buyers of pi eces of the Ming and Qing dynasties. “The Hangzhou antique market was very chaotic and cheap. Now it would be impossible to get hold of those relics for that price. There were also counterfeits, but it is already very well regulated, ”he says in his study in Beijing, where he has resided since 2016.

This A native of the province of Zhejiang, it has a collection of 27 pieces from the Roman and Byzantine empires, from ancient Egypt, Persia and the civilizations that inhabited modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan between the 4th centuries BC. C. and VIII d. C., to which are added 14 from ancient China. Reluctant to talk about figures, he points to a 10th-century glass brush holder valued at 5 million yuan (694,000 euros) for which, he says, he did not reach an agreement with Sotheby's. “Young collectors and artists are more educated, we have our own vision of art and we know what we want to find,” he points out.

Alexandre Errera, an art consultant based in Hong Kong for a decade, agrees with Wang's words: “The Asian market has changed in a very short period of time. In recent years, new young fans, aged 30 or 40, with high purchasing power have appeared, who come from the technology industry or cryptocurrencies, or are second or third generation of wealthy families ”. He believes that the rapidity with which new buyers emerge in Asia, greater than in the United States or Europe, contributed greatly to China regaining the world crown of art sales by 2020 with 40% of the market share (compared to 32% of the United States), a position it has not occupied since 2016, according to a recent study collected by The Art Newspaper.

Basquiat's 'Warrior', the most expensive Western artist's work sold in Asia, at Sotheby's in Hong Kong in October. ISAAC LAWRENCE (AFP)
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Errera adds that, given this generational change, the preferences of his clients have also given a Upside Down: In 2012, most opted to acquire contemporary Chinese art, but since 2015, they have opted for international works, especially from rising stars. In fact, on a global level, Hong Kongers are the collectors who bet the most on living authors, according to the report Resilience in the Dealer Sector , recently published by Art Basel and UBS.

Although Hong Kong continues to be the epicenter of the sector in the region , the mainland of China is already the main growth engine of the industry on the mainland. According to the Artnet database, in the year of the onset of the pandemic, Beijing snatched Hong Kong's sales leadership for the first time in Asia with a total collection of 1.86 billion dollars (about 1,645 million euros), compared to the 1,170 from the former British colony. The top 5 were completed by Shanghai (almost € 179 million), Tokyo (€ 104 million) and Hangzhou (about € 80 million).

The landing

Eager to capitalize on this boom, the big auction houses have not hesitated to approve long-term plans for Asia this year, appointing new management teams and investing in spaces: Sotheby's moved two of its best art specialists, Alex Branczik and Max Moore, to Hong Kong, and Phillip's continued its deal with China's state-owned Poly Auction, the most lucrative in the party. continental.

Guillaume Cerutti, CEO of Christie's, reports with visible enthusiasm in a recent video conference that 2021 has been the best year for the company in the last five years. In March, Warrior by Jean-Michel Basquiat became the most expensive work by a Western artist ever sold in Asia. to date, after being auctioned in Hong Kong for 42 million dollars (37 million euros). The goal for 2022 is to continue expanding in the region: “35% of our clients were new buyers, and 32% were Asian millennials. We are focusing our efforts on this market, we have announced that we will move to new locations in Shanghai (a historic building on the Bund) and Hong Kong (designed by Zaha Hadid Architects), and we have appointed Rebecca Yang Director of Christie's China ”.

Despite the fact that, based on recent figures, the Hong Kong market continues unstoppable, some fear that this expansion will be truncated due to the lack of freedom of expression since the 2019 protests, as well as the impact of the health crisis. Among the cities that could pick up its baton, Seoul prevails in the bets to the detriment of a Tokyo that remains the Asian cultural center par excellence. South Korea's growing arts scene and the rise of Western galleries and fairs pushing for greater visibility in the country have seen the South Korean capital gain prominence.

Errera, however, believes that Hong Kong will continue to emerge, at least for the next decade, among other things, as the only enclave with direct access to the most populated nation on the planet . The artistic advisor also anticipates that the galleries, art fairs and the new M + museum will make it more culturally attractive.

“Asia will continue to drive the global art market. It is definitely a long-term trend. The pandemic perhaps caused it to accelerate, for example, through online art purchases, where they are undoubtedly ahead. There are those who mistakenly think that Asians pay more just for the sake of it; It is the market law: it is the highest bidder and, when we talk about such sums, $ 500 does not make a big difference for new buyers who are rising like foam in the region “, Errera insists.

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