Art Basel: Chinese Show the Color of Their Money By Daniel Shane
China is growing its presence in the global art market at a time when sales are under pressure. A new report by UBS shows worldwide sales of art and antiques fell 1% in 2016 to just over $55 billion, compounding a slide of 7% in the prior year. But China, the world’s third-largest maker for art, saw its share of the market increase slightly, despite a 2% decline in transactions. That was due to bigger falls in the U.S. and U.K. Art purchases in the Middle Kingdom are holding up better than other big markets despite a substantial slide in the yuan versus the U.S. dollar and new restrictions on taking money out of the country.
Li Huayi’s ‘Wind Riding, 2017’
Industry experts say the Chinese art market continues to evolve. Catherine Kwai has run the Kwai Fung Hin art gallery in Hong Kong’s Central district for more than 20 years and has watched the big changes in how Chinese consume art. “When the economy was booming, they would buy anything. They wouldn’t know the artist’s background, or maybe even their name,” she recalls. But times have changed. Kwai says the market is “much more sophisticated now,” and Chinese collectors have become much more discerning in the art they acquire. “When they buy things they come with advisors - they study the artist’s background,” Kwai says. Li Huayi, the artist Kwai is exhibiting at Art Basel Hong Kong, has a background worth studying. Shanghai-born Li started out painting propaganda during the Cultural Revolution, before moving to San Francisco in the 1980s. His large landscape paintings blend Chinese traditionalism with modern, American abstraction.