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How Asia Became The Center Of The Art Market
Artstyle 16 Mar 2022

How Asia Became The Center Of The Art Market

asian art lee bae black in constellation perrotin
Lee Bae, Black in Constellation, on view 2022 at Perrotin. Credits: Perrotin

In 2000, China only represented one percent of the global art market. In 2021, the contribution of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea represented around 40% of the global art market (source: South China Morning Post). Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Philipps have been constantly trying to open their buyers to the art market in Asia and to bring the big names of the American market in their Asian catalogs. Artsper unpacks how Asia managed, in just a few years, to outgrow the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, to become the center of the global art market.

Millennials: The stepping stone to Asian growth on the art market

asian art ai weiwei with wind
Ai Weiwei, With Wind, 2014. Credits: Studio Ai Weiwei

The art market has seen rapid change in the past years. For a long time, the United States and the United Kingdom were largely considered the world’s art centers. Now, the numbers show that the art market is relocating to Asia. Indeed, the United States and China are placed far in front of the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. It was at the beginning of 2007 and 2008 that China started its growth on the art market. It surpassed European countries in 2011 already. Now, even though the United States has more museums and artistic events, China has surely become the most successful auction house in the world. 

Christie’s and Sotheby’s agree that the majority of their buyers in Asia are Millennials. These young collectors are more open to foreign art than previous generations. China was ahead of its time when it started, earlier than other countries, to invest in the art business online. Because of this, the Asian art market managed to resist the pandemic better, and the transition to a more digital market was fast and simplified. This ability to sell and show art online is also an asset to win Millennials’ hearts.

An increased interest in the Asian market

Additionally, the young Western population is increasingly interested in Asian culture. Asia has had more fans than ever before in the past years. After Japan, France is even the second country that reads the most Japanese manga in the world! K-Pop groups, these South-Korean boy bands, also largely contributed to making Asia a particular interest point for American and European young generations. Whether it is in music, literature, or even on Netflix, the Asian culture has been more present in popular culture. As a result, auction houses have also started noticing the attractiveness of the Asian continent for their sales, tourism is rising, and Asian artists have become favorites in the West. 

jean-michel basquiat warrior
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Warrior, 1982

Finally, it has also been noted that the taste of the new generation of Asian collectors’ has been shifting. Indeed, even if the previous generation of buyers mainly looked for Asian art, we now notice that many emerging African-American artists are selling their works for record prices. For instance, Jean-Michel Basquiat is a favorite of the Asian art market. His work Warrior, sold in 2021 at Christie’s Hong Kong for 41 million dollars. This price is a record: it is the most expensive Western work ever sold in Asia.

Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Seoul: New artistic centers

asian art fang lijun untitled 1999
Fang Lijun, Untitled, 1999. Credits: Mutual Art

The art market in Asia cannot subsist without the contribution of its neighboring country. Hong Kong is one of the most integrated cities in the global art market. This means that its influence benefits China, and vice versa. It is actually because of Hong Kong that China managed to climb to the top of the global art market.

The growth of Hong Kong on the art market started around 2003, and barely 5 years later, its sales numbers were multiplied by 10, reaching 378 million dollars in 2007. Moreover, Hong Kong welcomed Art Basel in 2021, and has a very large number of “blue chip galleries”. 

Taiwan attracts wealthy collectors and gallery owners as well, who can benefit from lower real estate prices there. In general, Asia taxes the wealthiest less than its competing markets. It thus becomes a beneficial place for galleries and art lovers who can afford it.  

Finally, South Korea, and more specifically Seoul, was sent to the forefront of the global art market. With its many young buyers and its renowned galleries such as the Hyundai Gallery, Seoul is definitely developing into an important artistic center. The Frieze art fair is being hosted in Seoul in September 2022.

Looking ahead at the Asian art market

Asia is still a little bit behind on certain points, mostly because it does not have as many art schools as Europe or America. However, Asian artists usually get a formation abroad, which contributes to strengthening links between the continents and help expand the commerce of Asian art. Compared to its neighbors, it’s actually Korea that seems to produce the biggest number of successful artists. Some artists from the 70s such as Lee Ufan have recently been selling their works for record prices in auction houses.

Overall, auction houses clearly understood that selling the works of their star Asian artists in all markets would guarantee their growing success. The strength of the Asian art market grew during the pandemic; Philips, for instance, increased its interactions with Asian clients by 30% since the start of lockdown. The fate of Asia on the art market is a testimony to the importance of the new generation of buyers. Their interests will be the ones determining the art market trends.