Slump in Chinese Art Sales Reported
Claims of a sharp drop in the auction performance of contemporary Chinese artists are met with indignation and indifference.
A report end March revealed that the Chinese art market was in a slump, with auction sales of living artists’ works falling by 45%. Even so, China surpassed the US as home to the largest population of billionaires in the world last year, which indicates an increase in the pool of super-wealthy art collectors. The reasons for the reported slump may slowing growth (the world’s second-largest economy slowed to its weakest in a quarter of a century last year at 6.9 percent) and the widely reported corruption crackdown by President Xi Jinping.
“A heady mix of the continued anti-corruption campaign, which has put a stop to gifting art to government officers, and a slowdown in the economy have combined to see both sales and the number of top works at auction pretty much halve,” said Hurun Report chairman Rupert Hoogewerf.
The Hurun Report collates the auction results for the 100 most lucrative artists and slowdown in sales was first captured here. For this report, the sales for the 100 artists totaled $56.5 billion, with only three female artists on the list. The most valuable artist was ink painter Cui Ruzhuo, known for his large scale traditional landscapes. Cui’s works fetched $120.4 million, far ahead of second-placed oil painter Zeng Fanzhi, who saw his sales value crash by 62 percent. There were no figures on whether the average price of individual works had decreased. An odd entry included Jack Ma, CEO of Internet giant Alibaba, who was included solely for a collaborative painting he did with Zeng Fanzhi that sold at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for $5.3 million.
Some artists seem to be unfazed though, preferring to stick to the merits of their own work over material gain. Huang Jiannan ranked seventh on Hurun’s list and saw the auction value of his works drop by 45 percent last year, but he shrugged off the loss. “These statistics measure the flow of my works in the market – it has nothing to do with me. I don’t get the money from these sales directly,” he told AFP.
Critics such as Xie Chunyan believe that focusing on auction values is a poor judge of Chinese artists’ worth, noting that “Just because this little British guy Hoogewerf says he wants to find a common standard to measure things 1, 2, 3 doesn’t mean that this is the best method”.
Though many believe China’s art market has been overheated in recent years, Cui seemed positive and had a message of proactivity to other artists. “Our current downturn and backwardness shouldn’t discourage us; we artists should unite together and for the sake of our art market and our nation walk out towards the world, hand in hand, striving ardently together,” he said. All this seems to indicate one thing, no matter what happens to the market, and no matter whether for sales, aesthetics, or national sentiment, artists will still make art.