Buyers in Chinese art market slow to pay up

SHANGHAI • The buyers made news with their high bids, but they have been slow in paying up.

As of May, only two of 18 artworks sold last year on the Chinese mainland - for more than 100 million yuan (S$19.9 million) each - had been paid for in full.

According to a report, of all the lots sold last year, the percentage of the total payment received as of May was just 49 per cent, the lowest figure since 2011.

The Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report 2017 was issued last week at an art forum in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone.

It also noted that global auction sales of Chinese art and antiques rose by 7 per cent, with 38 individual sales achieved at more than 100 million yuan each - a new industry record. All in, the sales hit US$7.1 billion (S$9.7 billion).

The report was compiled by the China Association of Auctioneers and arts portal Artnet.

Mr Zhang Ran, director of Artnet China, said strong demand for high-end artworks with an established provenance is being driven by the burgeoning number of private museums ever more hungry to acquire talking-point pieces to enhance their reputation.

The most expensive lot last year was master painter Qi Baishi's set of ink panels - Twelve Landscape Screens - at Poly Auction Beijing's autumn sale, fetching 931.5 million yuan and setting another record for the Chinese art market.

It was the first time a Chinese artist had broken into the US$100-million club, joining the ranks of Western masters such as Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Francis Bacon and Edvard Munch.

According to Mr Zhang, all the bids for Qi's work came from private museums in China. Last year alone, more than 10 opened, mainly in Shanghai and Beijing.

Most owners are entrepreneurs, such as movie mogul Wang Zhongjun.

He set up the Song Art Museum in Beijing to display his collection of works by artists such as Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.

Mr Li Xiaojie, a former deputy minister at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, pointed out at the Shanghai forum that the problems of non-payment and fake bidding had persisted in China's art market for some time.

But he noted that the environment in the industry as a whole had also improved.

Tariffs on artwork and antique sales had dropped sharply over the years. As at end-May, the tax fell to 1 per cent, from 12 per cent imposed just a few years ago.

Another boost is expected to come from the completion of the world's biggest bonded art warehouse in the fourth quarter of the year, in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone.

It aims to provide storage solutions for collectors.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2018, with the headline 'Buyers in Chinese art market slow to pay up'. Subscribe