What is ahead for contemporary Asian art, 2012 and beyond? Part I

CONTEMPORARY ART TRENDS CHINESE AUCTION HOUSES ONLINE GALLERIES

Art Radar is kicking off 2012 with a series of four posts that outline new trends in the Asian art world. The contemporary art market is just now realising the full effects of globalisation and digitisation, movements that will have profound consequences for dealers and collectors alike.

Screengrab from Alice Zhang's online gallery Mischmasch. Image by Art Radar.

Screengrab from Alice Zhang's online gallery Mischmasch. Image by Art Radar.

This first installment looks at trends in the business of art: shifting geographic centers, marketing strategies and sales platforms that herald dramatic changes for the art world.

 

Other posts in this four-part series

Part 1: read part one here.

Part 2: read part two here.

Part 3: read part three here.

Part 4: read part four here.

 

Rise of Chinese auction houses

As Art Radar has pointed out in past articles, Chinese auction houses now rank among the most profitable in the world. In the Artprice Contemporary Art Market 2010/2011 Annual Report, seven of the top ten auction houses by revenue were Chinese. In 2011, China also surpassed the United States in total auction sales, making its auction market the largest in the world. The two biggest Chinese auction houses have also set their eyes on the international market. Beijing Poly International Auction is planning on opening a New York office, while it’s top domestic competitor, China Guardian Auctions, is looking into a branch in London.

Zhang Xiaogang's "Bloodline" series sold at Poly International's 2009 spring auction. Image courtesy Beijing Poly International Auction Co., Ltd.

Driving this surge is a wave of newly-minted mainland Chinese collectors. Limited investment opportunities and high consumer confidence make art investment lucrative to China’s nouveau riche. These collectors also see art as a way of elevating personal status, as well as fulfilling the more nationalistic goal of turning the People’s Republic of China into a cultural powerhouse.

However, serious problems lie beneath the surface in China’s nascent auction market. While auctions of Chinese art are known for their shockingly high sell-through rates, half of the most expensive winning bids remain unpaid six months after the auction has closed, with buyers openly flaunting China’s own auction bylaws. Aside from worrisome payment practices, the prevalence of forgeries and fake bidding betray the abiding immaturity of Chinese auction houses.

Galleries work the Web

Many galleries are looking to the Internet to snatch market share away from auction houses. The traditional storefront gallery is in decline, beset by rising real estate prices, so dealers have moved into the fledgling world of online art sales.

Gagosian Gallery developed an iPhone app that allows viewers to browse their collection remotely. Image by Art Radar.

While the thought of purchasing art sight-unseen may deter some collectors, gallery owners are already beginning to adopt measures to put them at ease. In addition to managing a new system of payment transfers, Saatchi Online offers buyers a seven-day money back guarantee should they be disappointed with an artwork once it arrives on their doorstep. Gallery owners are also seeing the potential in selling online to long-term customers, leveraging established relationships to avoid questions of reliability.

Even some art collectors are beginning to incorporate the Internet and new media technology into alternative exhibition models. Fritz Kaiser exhibits his collection of contemporary Chinese art in the online museum called 88-Mocca, highlighting how the Internet may be used as a uniquely engaging educational tool.

Dealers eschew physical galleries

Perhaps the most ground-breaking trend in contemporary Asian art is the emergence of market operations that are run exclusively online. Online auction houses are on the rise, with big names like artnet taking on the emerging platform. While some remain skeptical, more companies plan on establishing online art auctions in 2012; the art finance gurus at Artprice are set to begin their online auction operation on 18 January.

Dinesh Vazirani, CEO and co-founder of Saffronart. Image courtesy Saffronart.

Dinesh Vazirani, CEO and co-founder of Saffronart. Image courtesy Saffronart.

At the forefront of the movement was Saffronart, an India-based online auction house that is currently the largest of its kind in the world. Emphasising transparency and reliability, Saffronart also pioneers new technologies for the auction market. In 2010, Saffronart introduced mobile phone bidding, allowing collectors to bid via their BlackBerry or iPhone. However, the limitations of online auctions are becoming increasingly evident. With the opening of their gallery in New Delhi in April 2011, it seems Saffronart has recognised that a physical gallery space offers a measure of commercial stability unavailable in an online marketplace. Online galleries, such as Hong Kong’s Mischmasch, also rely on a physical presence to bolster their credibility. As noted by director Alice Zhang, having a street address makes online collectors feel secure when making purchases.

In 2011, we saw the launch of two online art fairs, the international VIP Art Fair and the more regional India Art Collective. Both fairs used the online platform to encourage a more dynamic, user-driven art fair model; they hope to attract the attention of younger buyers, which is another notable trend in its own right. While the VIP Art Fair, set to return in February 2012 with VIP 2.0, was beset by technological issues and faced challenges when it came to selling higher-end works, the India Art Collective was reported to be resoundingly successful.

VIP 2.0 will run from 3 to 8 February 2012.

 

Other posts in this four-part series

Part 1: read part one here.

Part 2: read part two here.

Part 3: read part three here.

Part 4: read part four here.

 

While online dealership is still developing, the Internet as an art market platform is here to stay. How do you think these trends will impact the art market in the coming decade? Leave a comment below with your thoughts and ideas.

PR/KN

Related Topics: art and the Internetgalleries work the Webcontemporary Asian art auctions

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