Is China’s arts scene on the rebound?By Michele Penna Aug 27, 2013 11:30AM UTC
According to a study by the European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) released earlier this year the worldwide art and antiques market contracted by seven percent in 2012. A sharp slowdown in Chinese demand has played a significant role in the collapse. The Chinese market had grown at breakneck speed every year between 2009 and 2011, but hit a wall last year with art sales dropping 24 per cent and auction sales falling 30 per cent.
The downturn ended China’s brief time as the world largest art market – a spot it held since 2011 – with the United States coming back to the top of the list. 2013 did not begin well either, with art sales dropping 7 per cent in the first quarter, but the situation seems to be improving: in July, auctioneer Christie’s reported a 9 percent rise in global sales in the first six months of the year while its peer Sotheby’s saw a 13 percent increase in Asian bidders.
To help figure out what is going on, we talked with Paolo Mozzo, Chairman of Artantide.com, the company which organizes the Biennale d’Arte involving China and Italy. The chief goal of the Biennale – which focuses exclusively on contemporary artists – is to be the largest art event linking the two countries. Besides, the Biennale works on a number of other activities, including conferences and meetings ranging from finance and economics to gastronomy and fashion.
According to Mr Mozzo, “It is a phenomenon we have seen worldwide since 2008-2009, there has been a lot of speculation which led to prices going way up and then dropping after the financial crisis. Chinese artists who have accessed western markets before the crisis were sold at hefty prices by Western companies and lost value when things went apart.”
Mr Mozzo, however, says that the Chinese market is not in as much trouble as data may suggest: “The Chinese market is overall quite young and artists who had not established themselves before the crisis still have a lot of potential. There are many Chinese artists who are not yet present on the Western market and whose work is relatively cheap, with good chances of improvement.”
China, says Mr Mozzo, is changing fast and certain new developments could be beneficial to growth. One of these could be a stronger appetite for international pieces on the part of customers in China, who very often limit themselves to local art.
“It is more of a cultural than an economic issue, as they are strongly tied to their own traditions. In short, it is a form of economic nationalism. But such nationalism could change as foreign customers focus on Asian art and Chinese ones increasingly look at the western market – not least for speculative reasons,” he says.
Another reason for optimism is that the Chinese government is ready to support artistic and cultural enterprises. According to People’s Daily, the Chinese Society of Museums stated that 100 museums have opened annually in the last few years – never mind if profitable or not. Mr Pozzo says Beijing’s attitude toward art has more to do with politics than with business and education.
“Authorities are aware that China’s growing power is often perceived as a threat by others and they are willing to invest in culture because they believe it can help them do better in international relations,” he says. Soft power, in artistic way.