Art Paris – Why China is so important for the art market

[18 Mar 2014]


The 14th edition of Art Paris will be held under the dome of the Grand Palais in Paris from 27 to 30 March 2014. The fair’s organiser since 2011, Guillaume Piens, is proud to have attracted more than 53,000 visitors to the 2013 edition, which makes Art Paris one of the most frequented Contemporary Art fairs in Europe. This year, the fair celebrates 50 years of relations between France and China with 140 galleries (from 20 countries) of which 10 are from Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. In total the works of 90 Modern and Contemporary Chinese artists will be presented with a total of 12 Chinese galleries present at the fair: 10 Chancery Lane Gallery (Hong Kong), Art Lexïng, (Miami), Beautiful Assert Art Project (Beijing), Blindspot Gallery (Hong Kong), Hua Gallery (London), ifa Gallery (Brussels /Shanghai), Island6, (Shanghai), Jiali Gallery, (Beijing), M97 Gallery, (Shanghai), ON/galley, (Beijing), Bridge Gallery, (Shanghai), Xin Dong Cheng Gallery, (Beijing)).

From the Armory Show in New York (which has just finished) to Art Paris, China is today unavoidable for the art market. In 2013, for the fourth consecutive year, China represented the largest slice of the global art auction market, ahead of the United States, with a total annual auction turnover from artworks of $4.1 billion in 2013 (excluding fees). China posted stronger sales than the global market’s nerve centre in New York and, above all, a growth rate +21 % compared with 2012, despite forecasts of a serious meltdown of the Chinese market. Of course, some Chinese artists’ price indices remain very locally driven; but they are subject to a high level of demand that is both lively and speculative. This is true of QI Baishi, HUANG Zhou, LI Xiongcai, TANG Yin and ZHANG Daqian whose works are rarely put up for sale outside China. However, many Chinese artists have enjoyed international success, having lived outside China and particularly in France. They are emblematic of a cross-cultural approach to creation and enjoy strong demand both in the East and in the West. Indeed, France’s art scene is clearly marked by a number of important Chinese artists whose works are collected both in Europe and in China: the abstract paintings of ZAO Wou-Ki and CHU Teh-Chun are one example. But there are also the works of WANG Keping, founder of the famous “groupe des étoiles”, of GAO Xingjian, a painter and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (and to whom the Claude Bernard Gallery is devoting its stand at Art Paris) and LIU Bolin, whose monumental Iron fist sculpture will be installed at the entrance of the Grand Palais (produced by the Paris – Beijing Gallery). In effect, demand for the abstract masters has substantially intensified in recent years. Their works have now become safe investments, so much so that in 2013 Zao Wou -Ki joined, for the first time ever, the Top 10 global artists ranked by auction turnover with a annual total of $139.5 million (excluding fees). This total put him in 9th place behind Roy Lichtenstein but ahead of Claude Monet! Zao’s paintings generated no less than 36 results above the million-dollar line in 2013, including four ranging between $7.9 million and $12.4 million, hammered between Hong Kong and Beijing (Oct-Dec 2013).

In reality, the scope and scale of the Chinese art market is so large that it inevitably finds a strong echo in the West, and hence it is quite logical for a Contemporary art fair such as Art Paris to focus on this dynamic. In purely financial terms, the Chinese art market is substantially more up-market than the French market. In fact, artworks sold in China are generally more expensive than anywhere else in the world, with 45% of lots sold between $5,000 and 50,000 and 17% between $50,000 and 1 million, and recent Chinese creations take a faster track to outstanding price levels than anywhere else in the world. The most obvious example is that of ZENG Fanzhi, the only artist with a work created during the 2000s in the Top 50 auction results for the year 2013. His The Last Supper (2001) fetched $20.64 million on 5 October 2013 at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.

Nevertheless, Art Paris’s selection of galleries and artists’ works is oriented towards a broader range of collectors with expensive artists being exhibited alongside “discoveries”. Naturally, an art fair can highlight established and recognised artists whilst simultaneously focusing on new and upcoming prospects: Art Paris has therefore, once again, opened its Promesses section to relatively new galleries.