Positive-to-neutral market conditions forecasted for India and Southeast Asia in 2016, while outlook for China is uncertain.

London-based art market research firm ArtTactic’s “Global Art Market Review & Outlook 2016” report predicts a negative outlook for Chinese contemporary art and a shift in focus to other Asian markets.

Modern and Contemporary Asian Art Evening Sale (5 October 2015), Sotheby's Hong Kong, auction scene during the sale of Yayoi Kusama's 'No. Red B', 1960, oil on canvas. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Modern and Contemporary Asian Art Evening Sale (5 October 2015), Sotheby’s Hong Kong, auction scene during the sale of Yayoi Kusama’s ‘No. Red B’, 1960, oil on canvas. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

ArtTactic published its “Global Art Market Review & Outlook 2016” last month, surveying buyers, experts and auction houses to analyse current art market conditions. Art Radar brings you ArtTactic’s key findings in a two-part summary, with the first focusing on China, India and Southeast Asia and the second on Africa and the Middle East.

Overall contraction from a 2014 peak

As ArtTactic reports, the global contemporary art market contracted in 2015 after record sales results in 2014. There was a 7.8 percent decrease in sales of modern and contemporary art across all markets owing to market contraction in the two biggest contemporary art markets, US & Europe and China.

Outlook for 2016 is marred by a pessimistic global economic environment stemming from heightened concerns about the slowing Chinese economy and plummeting oil prices. Out of all the experts surveyed by ArtTactic, 62 percent believed economic uncertainty to be the largest risk for the global contemporary art market in 2016. The report summarises:

The ongoing stock market volatility and uncertainty around China’s ability to manage a potential ‘hard landing’ is likely to continue to spook the markets in coming months, and is likely to trickle down and dampen the confidence in the global contemporary art market this year.

Yuichi Inoue, 'Flower', 1967, India ink with adhesive on paper, 152 x 244 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Yuichi Inoue, ‘Flower’, 1967, India ink with adhesive on paper, 152 x 244 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

There were still records in individual masterpieces in 2015, but overall auction sales fell for Sotheby’s and Christie’s, with Post-War & Contemporary Art witnessing a 6 percent decline. In a telephone interview with Bloomberg, Anders Petterson, Founder and Managing Director of ArtTactic, commented:

The froth is starting to come off. […] Looking back, in terms of auction sales, 2014 was the peak of the market.

China: Contemporary art sales in “freefall” 

For the contemporary Chinese art market in particular, 2015 was an especially weak year. Overall sales from Christie’s, Sotheby’s, China Guardian and Poly Auction dropped 41 percent compared to 2014, with Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales seeing a decline of 59 percent.

According to ArtTactic, Sotheby’s and Christie’s are struggling to make inroads into the Chinese mainland market. While both made the move in autumn 2013, they have since failed to create any significant impact on this market. Sotheby’s sales in Beijing was 69 percent lower than 2014, while Christie’s sales in Shanghai fell by 39 percent.

Ai Xuan (b. 1947), 'Tibetan Girl', 1992, oil on canvas, 91.5 x 92 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Ai Xuan, ‘Tibetan Girl’, 1992, oil on canvas, 91.5 x 92 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Looking ahead, the 2016 outlook for the Chinese art market seems to be unfavourable, suggesting more uncertainty especially for Chinese contemporary art. Summarising their findings from an extensive survey, ArtTactic reports:

Based on experts surveyed […] 45% believe the market will come down (against 16% in January 2015), 26% believe that the Chinese contemporary art market will go up in the next 12 months (against 61% in January 2015) and the remaining 29% believe that the market will remain flat (against 23% twelve months ago).

Attention shifting to other Asian markets

ArtTactic observes that the significant drop in sales of Chinese contemporary art is due in part to a shifting focus of auction houses to artists from Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia. ArtTactic believes this trend will continue in 2016 in light of economic uncertainty in China.

Citing the ArtTactic report, Straits Times reports that collectors and auction houses have “turned to the neglected byways of international art history”. 2015 saw the revival of the Gutai group as well as Dansaekhwa, a type of Korean monochrome abstraction that came to prominence in the 1970s. According to Straits Times,

Artists such as Ha Chong Hyun, Yun Hyong Keun, Park Seo Bo and Chung Sang Hwa are little known in the international market, but that is likely to change this year.

Ha Chonghyun, 'Work 77-15', 1977, mixed media, 129 x 167.3 cm, 129.9 x 168.3 cm framed. Image courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.

Ha Chonghyun, ‘Work 77-15’, 1977, mixed media, 129 x 167.3 cm, 129.9 x 168.3 cm framed. Image courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.

In line with ArtTactic’s prediction, the Wall Street Journal forecasts that the market will continue to favour emerging art regions in 2016. The article advises:

Expect shoppers to play it safer as well this year by gravitating toward burgeoning art hot spots that haven’t seen huge price rises yet—like Singapore, India, Africa and Iran.

To watch: India and Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines

In contrast to the stagnant market for contemporary Chinese art, the overall sales of modern and contemporary Indian art saw an increase of 13.5 percent from 2014. The growth is driven predominantly by strong performance in domestic auction sales, which accounted for 61 percent of the overall total, up from 55 percent in 2014 and 46 percent in 2013.

Looking ahead to 2016, ArtTactic concludes from surveys that the positive momentum in the Indian art market is likely to continue this year. The domestic Indian auction market, previously overshadowed by New York and London in modern and contemporary Indian art sales, is also expected to continue to grow.

Cheong Soo Pieng, 'Balinese Dance', 1953, oil on canvas, 134 x 87.5 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Cheong Soo Pieng, ‘Balinese Dance’, 1953, oil on canvas, 134 x 87.5 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

In the meantime, Southeast Asia continues to be one of the best performing markets, having embarked on a steady upward climb since the global market downturn in 2009. The Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art market experienced a 28 percent growth in auction sales in 2015, spurred on by a shift in focus by auction houses in Hong Kong. ArtTactic reveals:

Whilst Chinese contemporary art has seen a steady decline in the last 3 years, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have increasingly directed their attention towards Southeast Asian artists in their Asian contemporary sales in Hong Kong.

In 2015, Indonesian art dominated the region’s art market with a 54 percent market share based on auction sales. Notably, ArtTactic predicts that 2016 will see a new focus on the Philippine art market. In addition to market factors, improved infrastructure is also cited as a reason for the positive-to-neutral outlook of Southeast Asian market as a whole:

With its well-developed auction market, international art fair and vibrant local gallery scene, [the Philippines] is well positioned to grow into one of the leading regional Southeast Asian art markets in the future.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: reports, auctions, market transparency, market watch, recessionresource alert

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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