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Home / News / Little sign of economic woes in the art market (July 2013)

Little sign of economic woes in the art market

July 2013


Edge of Reason #22 by Asian artist Simao (Tse Mao) Huang (China)
Edge of Reason #22,
by Asian artist Tse Mao (Simao) Huang (China)
oil on canvas, 150cm x 120cm

It's been an interesting trip to Asia. It always is, but this time there is a real difference to be seen in countries of Southeast Asia and Asia as a whole.

  • The first thing I noticed the day after I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, was the scarcity of European and American tourists, but the dramatic rise of visitors from Korea and mainland China. These are not known as being big spenders and the general feeling was one of optimism that Western tourists will return soon.

  • In Malaysia the galleries I visited were selling, but with more decorator art from Vietnam and Myanmar.

  • Indonesia is a different story with the better galleries in Jakarta and Jogja consistently selling contemporary art from local artists, some at quite astounding prices. Indonesia is booming. Undoubtedly. Contemporary art from Indonesia can be highly competent and original, but it is never "cheap". It is an interesting market and one that we are concentrating on more and more.

Throughout the region, the various galleries I visited conveyed a slightly different perspective on sales. In Malaysia they tend to sell to their home market and all said that business may not have been as strong as it was last year, but sales were consistent. In Thailand, sales are steady with a lot of works selling to North Asian buyers, particularly from Hong Kong, yet interestingly, the prices are higher by around 20% but substantially less than comparative works by contemporary artists in China. In Indonesia, sales are strong, prices are rising as in Thailand and there are international buyers, mostly from Singapore and China.

As confirmation of what I had seen, the auction results in Hong Kong for Southeast Asian artworks continued to climb and there are many more Western buyers now dipping their toes into the waters of the arts of the region via Hong Kong. This is a healthy sign and one that I find encouraging.

As The Wall Street Journal stated: "Interest in Southeast Asian art is fast on the rise, with collectors from the region snapping up the works." Sotheby's also reported: "This Spring, modern and contemporary Southeast Asian paintings commanded a sale total of HK$US 113 million ($US 14.5 million), more than double of the pre-sale estimate".

From our position, the news we have from Asia is that:

  • Pairoj Karndee is now working on a series of smaller works due to the numerous requests we have had. It's a tragedy that we just cannot reproduce the true quality of his work online as they are stunning.

  • Interestingly, Karuna Panumes is also working on a smaller sized series of works. I am looking forward to seeing them and sharing with you as they become available.

  • The other big news is that Tse Mao (Simao) Huang, the talented and creative Chinese artist we have been representing, has just had a sell out exhibition in Korea – 80% of the works were sold before the opening.

This has been followed by a major Chinese gallery preparing a one-man show by Tse Mao. His artworks' prices have increased in the last 12 months, but I still feel that they are under fair value compared to his peers and would anticipate a further reassessment upwards in the next year. (Incidentally, we still have one painting by Tse Mao at the old price; see painting above).

This, together with the successful auction sales in Hong Kong, is an indication that, despite some economic uncertainty in China and north Asia, the Asian art market remains strong, but is still undervalued in my opinion.

Mina Mina 2010 by Aboriginal artist Judy Watson Napangardi
Mina Mina 2010,
by Aboriginal artist Judy Watson Napangardi

Australian Aboriginal art received a boost with the sale at Bonhams in Sydney of part of the Laverty Collection of Australian Aboriginal art. The collection went to London, New York and Melbourne before it was auctioned in Sydney. The auction smashed a number of records and was a standing room only affair.

Added to this success, the Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art (AAMU) in Utrecht achieved outstanding results in auctioning a number of their Aboriginal artworks in Paris. The de-acquisitioning was made to allow the Museum to buy new Aboriginal works to fill gaps in their collection. The reports have been very upbeat as the auction room was packed (standing room only). The bidding was fast and strong coming from buyers in the room, as well as numerous commission and phone bidders – 100% of the lots were sold.

An extraordinary result and overall the sale nearly doubled the low-estimates in the catalogue. This confirms what we have been seeing with increasing interest from European buyers.

As a consequence, we are now finding it increasingly difficult to replace such works and are also finding that the prices for the older generation of artists are rising significantly, or that works by these artists just aren't available anymore.

Looking from England, there is undoubtedly a multi tiered Aboriginal art market in Australia. To simplify it:

  • one, the top end, deceased artists
  • a second tier, consisting of older generation traditional painters
  • a third tier, urban Aboriginal painters, some going back to their heritage in their art whilst others are heading in more contemporary directions
  • lastly, a decorator market with works of dubious quality and priced accordingly.

From our perspective, we find that the second tier, the older generation traditional painters, is the most desirable considering quality, authenticity and relative affordability, yet it is this segment where the artists, due to their advancing years, are now starting to be unable to paint, or have sadly passed, thus making acquiring works by these artists more difficult.

In the last month, 2 major figures passed. But when one considers that many of these artists are now in their 80s, sadly, this will happen more frequently.

For our friends and clients who are interested in Aboriginal works, as I have said, I would concentrate on the older generation of Elders and their works. These are just so undervalued when one considers their importance, not just to Aboriginal art but to the art of the world.

Naata Nungurrayi, Liddy Napanangka Walker and Judy Watson Napangardi are at the top of my list. The only caveat is that with Judy Watson Napangardi's work, I would only buy if there are work in progress images as many of the works on the market appear to be by a younger, steadier hand. Also, I have noticed now that many galleries are reattributing these paintings and those that are collaborative works are being reduced in price.

The image above is an example of work done by Judy Watson Napangardi in 2010.

Until next time, happy collecting.
Anthony Smith and the asart team

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Anthony Smith has been invited by Art Antiques Design to share his expertise about art in a series of articles:

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