As Chinese art market crashes, many artists applaud
Chinese contemporary painters hope the collapse will shake out speculators, leaving true collectors.
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"These people will disappear now, and I am very happy about it," Sans adds.Skip to next paragraph
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Also likely to disappear as dealers and collectors become more discriminating, predicts Qi, are lesser talents. "The crisis is a good thing," he argues. "There won't be a lot of people painting a lot of trash, and the market will be cleaner.
"People who love art will continue to do so, and those who were only pretending don't need to pretend any more," he says.
In the meantime, though, the slump is hitting even respected artists.
Zeng Fanzhi, one of whose older paintings was bought for $9.7 million at auction a year ago, sold only a third of the paintings on display at the opening night of his first one-man show in New York last week.
Last year, says Fabien Fryns, owner of the F2 gallery here and a friend of Mr. Zeng, "The show would have sold out even before the opening" and "prices would have been 20 percent higher."
The fact that he did sell nine paintings, at prices ranging from $100,000 to $1 million, however, "shows that quality at the right price still sells," Mr. Fryns argues. "The buyers were really serious collectors," he adds. "Last year, maybe 50 percent of the works would have been sold to speculators."
Some mid-level artists, though, are finding life harder. "I know people who haven't sold a picture for six months," Qi says. And while none of the major Beijing galleries have closed, many smaller ones in the once-vibrant "798" art district have either shut their doors or turned themselves into coffee shops or fashion stores.
Auctioneers also are being cautious. At an early spring sale last week, one of China's largest houses, the Poly International Auction Co., "included more low-price items than last year, to attract more buyers," spokeswoman Liu Jing told the state-run Xinhua news agency.
"We also increased the number of items without a starting price," she said. "It's like a sale."
That policy appeared designed to hold the market up in the wake of a disappointing auction season last autumn, when Poly brought in only $59 million, compared with $152 million in the spring season, mostly from Chinese buyers.
That drop suggests that the local market is still weak. But Sans says he believes "there is a huge chance the local market will develop in the next few years."
Fryns, the F2 owner, also predicts that "a much stronger Chinese market will emerge" and says he is "pretty confident" that new Chinese collectors will buy from domestic artists as well as from established Western names.
In the long run, says Zhao, the cooling market means that "people will take more time to take a serious look at art" in China. "If you are serious about art, the crisis is good," he believes. "But it's not very good for speculators."