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Home / News / Why Asian Art? Part 2 (March 2012)

Why Asian Art? Part 2

March 2012


(For this discussion, I will not attempt to go into great detail in regard to the art form China or any other part of Asia, but only as an overview as to why I became so enamoured with Asian art)

Over the last 30 years, Chinese contemporary art has dwarfed that of the rest of Asia, including India in terms of creativity, volume and pricing. It has been a giant waking.

But this is now changing...

There is no doubt that Chinese art produced over the last 40 years has been the 400kg gorilla in the room. It has influenced and dwarfed all other art developments and regions for at least the last decade, so much so that now even the major art auction houses are conducting more and more sales out of Hong Kong (this is for tax purposes).

Major Chinese as well as international buyers see Hong Kong as the gateway to China as well as more generally, Asian art. So much so, that many European and American galleries have opened up there to capitalise on this quantum shift in the artwold.

Having experienced China on numerous occassions and dealing in China both with artists and collectors, Hong Kong is certainly a much easier place to conduct business and the tax laws make it ideal to service both the local (including mainland Chinese buyers) and international clients.

Art is a huge business in China. HUGE!

There are whole regions of the major cities devoted to art production, both original as well as reproduction. Its staggering.

There are art areas in these regions that house hundreds of galleries and artists' studios, of, as one would expect, varying quality and originality.

Many of the artists are self-representing (some understandably!) whilst others rely on galleries to sell their work.

Apart from the sheer size and energy in these art areas, the other thing that strikes you is the price of modern Chinese art. Irrespective of whether a piece is coming from the artist direct or through a gallery, don't expect to walk away with any change from $US 20,000US for anything that is reasonable. The number of times that I have taken clients to these areas and their astonishment at the pricing is too many to remember.

But this is China.

Originality is there and competency too. The key is finding the combination of both.

In the 1970s and 1980s, modern Chinese art was breaking away from the Maoist period and the artists were experimenting with new ideas as well as seeing what they could actually get away with under the Communist regime. This lead to amazingly original work and the birth of the current art boom in China.

The 90s continued this trend and much larger scale work was being produced often at quite significant pricing, even for international buyers.

But in the more recent years, as a general comment, it has been the commercial benefits rather than the artistic endeavour that has given impetus to the Chinese art scene. This is NOT to say that there aren't original and brilliant artists coming up in China, there are, but these artists tend to be away from these large commercial art areas and locating them is very difficult, but very rewarding.

Another interesting factor that I have encountered as a dealer is the "conditioning" that has occured with buyers of modern Chinese art. If I offer a Chinese painting for $US 25,000 and an equally fine work from Southeast Asia, Japan or India, the comment is often made "why is the Indonesian/ Thai / Japanese work so expensive?" even though the works are of similar quality. The buying public is now conditioned to think that anything coming from China will be expensive, but have yet to realise that what is being produced outside of China in Asia is equally as good, and better on many occassions, and is similarly priced.

I say, "It's Asia! The fastest growing region on the planet!"

In my next part, I will look at Southeast Asian art.

This article by Anthony Smith was originally published by Art Antiques Design


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