China is surprising - in general, in principle. It is surprising how the country not only lives in a very peculiar way, but also does not hesitate to declare itself loudly. The Chinese assertiveness, to which the traditional markets are already accustomed, manifests itself in the art market in a very interesting and convex manner. The auction business is developing at an unprecedented pace: there are already almost a thousand trading floors in mainland China and Hong Kong, and this is hardly the limit. But back in the early 1990s, auction activities in the country were equated to gambling and were banned. The first open auction was held by the Chinese auction house in the mainland of China only in 1993, and the western one - after another 20 years. In short, the Chinese auction market is only 25 years old. But, despite his youth, a year ago the market took another height - $ 5 billion in annual turnover. The largest Chinese auction houses Council, Poly Auction and China Guardian have long caught up with Christie’s and Sotheby’s and are among the top ten in the world. Let's recall the 2016 artoxymoron: the purchase of the largest stake in Sotheby's by Chen Dongsheng, the founder of the China Guardian (and the husband of Mao Zedong's granddaughter). But the China Guardian was created by the same Dongsheng in the image and likeness of Sotheby's: in the memoirs of a Chinese businessman, it is described how in the early 1990s, while still the editor of one of the state magazines, he came to the auction at Sotheby's in Hong Kong with a video camera, secretly recorded what was happening and scary worried that he would be noticed and kicked out of the hall.
The ongoing boom is the result of both the characteristics of the market itself and the Chinese mentality.
The Chinese love auctions: they are impressed by the competitiveness and excitement. Plus, auctions protect the interests of the buyer more reliably than private intermediaries, and this is important: the history of counterfeits in China goes back more than one hundred years (this is so ingrained in culture that many of the counterfeits today themselves have become collectible values). In the world, private sellers and auctions divide the art and collectibles market approximately equally, in China the share of the latter is almost 70%. Initially, Chinese trading platforms and their representations were primarily focused on their art. The fact is that after Chairman Mao and his cultural, in quotation marks, revolution, there are very few antiques left in China: “evidence of the dark past” was methodically destroyed by the Great Helmsman. So today more than 95% of Chinese lots are purchased by the Chinese themselves. In addition, many believe that in the situation of the global financial crisis, investing in “good” art is profitable. And “good” is almost always time-tested. "New Chinese" collectors began to buy up ancient masterpieces at dizzying prices.
Take at least the sensational story of 2014 about a porcelain vase created during the reign of Emperor Qianlong and sold at a tiny auction in London for $ 83.2 million to a collector from the Middle Kingdom, or the famous "chicken cup" that went for $ 36 million. The number of Chinese collectors is constantly growing. However, as the market develops from a local to a global scale, the collectors themselves change. They begin to look closely at what they were not interested in before. In particular, to the impressionists, European modernists, luxury world brands.
In Russia, everything is much more modest, but even here buyers from China cease to look like outsiders: they are already forming a noticeable part of the auction landscape. They buy Soviet art of Chinese themes from the 1950s – 1960s, socialist realism, which has common roots with Chinese figurative art of the 20th century (Yevsey Moiseenko, the Tkachev brothers), austere style (Pyotr Ossovsky) and contemporary authors (for example, Lavrenty Bruni). A special love for authors who once came to China to work at art universities - Konstantin Maksimov (one of the most revered Russian artists in China, who taught at the Central Academy of Fine Arts of Beijing from 1954 to 1957), Andrey Mylnikov (in Shanghai, his the name is a museum that stores a large-scale collection of works), etc. European and American sellers cannot ignore such a market and do not abandon their attempts to gain a foothold in mainland China and Hong Kong, the latter is attractive for conducting auction business from a tax point of view. Although for the West in the Celestial Empire there are a number of serious barriers, including the law on the protection of cultural heritage, which prohibits foreign companies from putting up for sale objects of art created before 1949.
For foreign auction houses, access to the mainland was closed at the legislative level for almost 40 years (it was only allowed to trade in Hong Kong). For a long time they attracted potential buyers with large-scale pre-auction exhibitions, and the first full-fledged auctions of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Phillips were held in China in the early 2010s - we do not take into account the attempt of Christie’s in 2004. On the mainland, the first auctions at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s took place quite recently, in 2013 (Christie’s became the first auction house to receive a license to operate in mainland China). Things got going. This year, Sotheby's reported a record-breaking successful auction week in Hong Kong: nearly $ 470 million, and judging by the pace of market development, this record will soon be broken. Success is not limited to the field of fine or decorative arts: organizers of wine auctions and auctions of classic cars report record results every now and then, and in the jewelry segment, Hong Kong has completely bypassed New York and shares the first place with Geneva.
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