Contemporary art market slows as Chinese buyers switch focus

Gallery assistants look at 'Untitled XXV' by Willem de Kooning, art artwork that forms part of the New York evening sale during a press preview at Christie's Auction House in London, Britain. The piece is estimated in the range of £31million (S$54 m
Gallery assistants look at 'Untitled XXV' by Willem de Kooning, art artwork that forms part of the New York evening sale during a press preview at Christie's Auction House in London, Britain. The piece is estimated in the range of £31million (S$54 million) at an evening auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art in New York on November 15 2016. PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (AFP) - Global contemporary art sales slowed by a quarter in the year to July 2016 as demand in China dried up, according to leading index Artprice.

Turnover was US$1.5 billion (S$2.04 billion) compared with US$2.1 billion in the previous year.

"The market saw a healthy period of adjustment, which was as necessary as it was predictable," Artprice founder and chief executive Thierry Ehrmann said in the report released on Sunday.

Despite the correction, contemporary art "remains a particularly high-performing long-term investment", Artprice said.

It said the sector has experienced growth of 1,370 per cent since 2000 and has produced an annual return of nearly five percent in the same period in a market in which the number of artworks has quadrupled.

The return rose to nine percent for works with a purchase price exceeding $20,000 dollars.

But Chinese collectors, who have driven the contemporary art scene in recent years, turned their back on modern art and bought classic works.

Chinese buyers snapped up Monets worth US$214 million, a single Van Gogh work, "L'Allee des Alyscamps", that sold for US$66 million and Modigliani works worth US$170 million.

As a result of the change in Chinese buyers' priorities, China slipped to third in the global contemporary art market behind the United States and Britain - or more precisely New York and London, which account for the overwhelming majority of the sales.

Sales in the US and Britain accounted for 65 per cent of the global sales.

The United States sold US$582 million worth of contemporary art in one year. Although that represented a 24-per cent drop year-on-year, it still represented 38 per cent of the market.

Sales in Britain were also down, but only by 10 per cent, to US$399 million.

An untitled Jean-Michel Basquiat painting sold for US$57.2 million at Christie's in New York in May, setting a new record for the late artist.

Two other stars of the contemporary market, the Americans Jeff Koons and Christopher Wool, still sold more than US$10 million of art each.