Temperature check in Beijing
So how does it feel where you are? Arriving back in Beijing after 3 months traveling I passed through the requisite temperature checks at the airport (swine flu mania abounds); and so I thought I would do the same for Art markets around the world. I touched base with gallerists, collectors and intermediaries in the US, UK, France and Switzerland. Without wishing to over generalise: the Americans were still mostly doom and gloom; while the response from Europeans was more varied, with some friends reporting good works finding new homes. This is rather at odds with the general Economic environment. I heard more about “green shoots” while traveling in the US than in Europe. But maybe the American collectors had had more money in the game to lose?
So it has been interesting to arrive back in China and talk with friends in Beijing and Shanghai. Unsurprisingly, things are at least a little more positive here. Whilst there has been a general pull back from foreign buyers, young wealthy mainland Chinese buyers seem to be taking up some of the slack. The locals might prefer “decorative” to “difficult” and positive themes rather than negative or political, but they are starting to buy some of the same “big brand” names that the foreigners have made so popular over the last 8 years. And brand names have always been important in China, for all products.
But the foreign buyers haven’t disappeared completely; they are just taking a little more time and doing a little more due diligence. Emily de Wolfe Pettit, an independent Chinese Contemporary specialist, reports that the days of people buying straight off emailed JPEGs seem to be over. Those that are still buying major works now generally want to see the item close-up; and take a little time to think about it. And while volumes are definitely down, good works from the better big names are still fetching prices close to pre-2008 highs. Not all, though. And not quickly.
Fabien Fryns, a principal gate-keeper for one of the stronger “big brands” Zeng Fanzhi, accepts that traffic has slowed through his F2 gallery in Beijing, but says that this is no bad thing. “It’s quality over quantity right now. Which is a much needed process for an emerging market. Some artists were hugely over valued.”
So a green shoot of new local buyers entering the game helps an otherwise slow and flat market.
What is happening where you are?