Nationalism in collecting?

As we ponder who has been buying what at Miami, this has come in from Michael Hatch in Beijing.

Mahishasura_by_Tyeb_Mehta.jpgThe markets for Western contemporary art and Western modern art are often assumed to be universally engaging across national and ethnic borders, but I’d wager the vast majority of buyers are caucasian, reflecting the dominance of Euro-American artistic traditions, and reflecting the historical dominance of Euro-American economies.

The market in Indian art, however, is said to be driven almost entirely by Indian collectors; and the main buyers for both classical and modern Chinese art are Chinese or Chinese diaspora. Though the spectacular growth in prices for contemporary Chinese works has been largely driven by Western buyers, one hypothesis is that some of the mainland Chinese currently investing large sums in real estate and stocks might soon turn their attention to chinese contemporary art and become the dominant force in this market.

I wonder, therefore, to what degree ethnicity, nationality or cultural affinity play a role in driving particular art markets? Are particular markets dependent on those who have a cultural affinity with those works? If so, are the movements of any given art market only really affected by the economic movements of the home market? If that is the case, will the predicted downturn in the Western art markets that is supposed to follow the current economic doldrums in America affect the markets in Chinese or Indian art?

Thoughts anyone?

2 thoughts on “Nationalism in collecting?

  1. The penchant does seem to be consistent around the world, as this article on Middle Eastern collectors buying more work by Arab artists than others would seem to confim.

    This all leads into why I have been assuming for some time that a downturn in the American art market could lead not only to a decline in the importance of American art to the global market (for the reasons you state plus the idea that very local sales = less international attention/sales), but also, and probably very quickly, to New York being stripped of her crown as the Art Capital of the world.

    Where the capital title lands next is an interesting question. There would still be bursts of interests in artists from regions like, oh, I don’t know, say Leipzig or Glasgow, but none of that will make those (in the grand scheme of why the interest there is so hot) university towns the new undisputed market center.

    I suspect some other country, sensing New York’s decline, would move quickly to claim that their art is dominant and I predict the title of world’s art capital will be up for graps for a while (with Berlin, either Beijing or Shanghai, London, and a few other, less-probable capitals all claiming to be the “new New York”), but with London winning out in the end because of 1) English is the art world’s lingua franca, 2) the amount of money pouring into London is obscene (and has to go somewhere), 3) the way the UK citizens and residents increasingly embrace art (especially contemporary art) culturally, and 4) let’s just say it, the Brit’s gifts for marketing.

    New York will remain important, of course, but the nationalism effect on buying (combined with a recession and resulting slow down in the art market) might cement the end of the Big Apple’s reign.

  2. To my mind, the location of art capitals have closely followed historic shifts in economic power—with New York collecting the baton from Paris once the industrial revolution picked up steam. Rome and Istanbul would have had significant claims to the title before that.

    But I feel that the next shift will not be as swift as the economics alone would suggest, as both India and China are poorly served with art infrastructure. And building up the institutions (and most importantly the people to man them) takes a hell of a long time and money. And speculative art investors are unlikely to fund the drag of training art historians, conservators, art writers and curators. And neither government has risen to the task just yet. Abu Dhabi’s island adventure will be instructive in showing if this can even be done by government dictat alone.

    Until that time, the art capital probably drifts eastwards a few hundred miles every six months. By my reckoning, its somewhere mid-Atlantic right now. I agree with Edward that London seems the obvious next spot.

    Probably just in time for Tate Modern’s expansion, and after Saatchi has showcased the Chinese and Indian/Pakistani art he has been hoovering up.

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