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Higher prices signal revival of art market

By Lin Qi (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-09 07:45

The Chinese art market in Hong Kong seems to be reviving after a long slump. There were several auction records generated there last week thanks to high prices.

The prices are a clear sign of encouragement to the market that has seen a cooling since 2012.

Peach Blossom Spring, an ink-and-color painting by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) fetched HK$270 million ($34.7 million), an auction record for the artist, at international auctioneer Sotheby's major spring auction on Tuesday. The winner was Liu Yiqian, a billionaire collector from Shanghai, who bought the painting on behalf of Long Museum, which he founded with his wife Wang Wei.

At the same sale, six other ink paintings - four by Zhang and two by modern masters Lin Fengmian and Wu Guanzhong - each sold above the threshold of $1 million to private Asian buyers.

On Monday, Wu Guanzhong's (1919-2010) oil canvas Zhouzhuang fetched HK$236 million in a sale by Poly Auction Hong Kong, setting an auction record for the modern pioneer of Chinese art.

Zhao Xu, CEO of Poly Auction Hong Kong, said 10 bidders were competing for the painting when the bids surpassed HK$150 million. He said: "We feel that the Chinese art market doesn't lack buyers or money, but top-quality works."

Zhao added that what lies behind the latest record-breaking spree is a stable group of collectors with deep pockets and a love of Chinese art. He further said that this is why sellers anticipate a better market performance this year.

The Chinese fine-art market suffered a downturn last year as it was also affected by a sour global economy and a slowdown in the domestic economy. But despite that, buyers of Chinese art still made their mark.

While art sales around the world recorded a turnover of nearly $16 billion last year, art sales on the Chinese mainland, and in Hong Kong and Taiwan totaled about $4.8 billion last year, says the 2015 Art Market Report jointly released by the Paris-based and Beijing-based Art Market Monitor of Artron.

With last year's figure for Chinese art showing a decrease from $6.6 billion in 2014, China lost its top slot to the United States in the fine-arts market for the first time in six years.

Auctioneers sold fewer classic paintings and works of calligraphy, which typically account for a major slice of the Chinese art market, partly due to fewer works from important collections at home and abroad being put on sale, the report says.

Meanwhile, Xu Cuiyun, senior analyst at the Art Market Monitor of Artron, said that when the Chinese art market first took off before 2009, salesrooms used to be packed with buyers who sought instant profits from reselling, thus pushing up bids to unsustainable levels.

But now buyers are more rational and want works that are of high quality and rare.

Zhang's painting, for instance, came from the collection of Sandy Mactaggart, a Canadian philanthropist famed for his Asian art collection. Before him, the work had been with Robert H. Ellsworth, a renowned US connoisseur of Chinese antiques.

Wu Guanzhong's work also boasts a sound provenance: He created the piece on a commission from Kwee Swie Teng, an Indonesian entrepreneur and collector, who had displayed the work at his private Art Retreat Museum in Singapore since the late 1990s.

C.K. Cheung, the head of Sotheby's Chinese paintings department, said that it is not a bad thing that the art market is experiencing a reshuffling and that buyers are becoming more cautious in bidding. He said the current market transformation will bring in more collectors with a discerning eye, which demands that auction houses be more professional, making it a win-win situation for all sides.

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