The blast of Chinese art market in 2000s will be recalled as one of the most influential milestone periods in the Chinese art history. Chinese art dates back to around 10,000 B.C during Neolithic periods, and it boomed rapidly in the later periods that was full of turbulences in scramble of power and influence. During Sui (581 – 618 AD) and Tang dynasties (618-907 AD), China began successfully to unify and create a prosperity period and a prolific art and literature market. During this period, art reflected many different cultural backgrounds around China with some influences from abroad, particularly Southeast Asia and Middle East or Arabia peninsula. The Chinese arts were exported and exchanged, and they included Buddhist sculptures, paintings, calligraphies, metalworks and ceramics. Chinese ceramics were exclusively appreciated, and tradition of collecting was considered as a Solomonic vigor.
After the collapse of Tang dynasty, the Song dynasty (960–1279 AD) emerged and ruled the dynastic state in China. The Song dynasty was marked as an era establishing Chinese culture. The Song court proceeded the earlier art market that focused on ceramics and textiles for trade and exchange. Many scholars and poets rapidly bloomed, and they wrote and compared the virtues of various wares in 10th to 13th centuries. The collectors of Chinese art deriving from Song court elites and Emperors made great strides, and ancient relics were perceived as the Mandate of Heaven, an embodiment or symbol of moral, and political authority, besides of aesthetic value. Thus, the earlier metalworks shapes were resembled in the ceramic forms. In the later periods, China was under primary reigns, including Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The porcelain market was more flourishing around the globe. China led to the assembly of the largest collection of ancient art. The involvement of Europe countries in trade and political affairs also affected the Chinese porcelain style and design. Qing emperors were considered as the great collectors. In addition, the Qing imperial kilns copied and resembled the earlier wares at that time and later became part of the Qing archive collection.
In recent years, the tradition and appreciation and tradition of collecting Chinese ceramics was reborn lustrously. In 2000s, the annual reports from major auction houses, like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, Chinese art and antiques has played a major role on the international art scene. Since some decades ago, the market for Chinese art and antique in Hong Kong have been reported to be among the hottest and rapid-growing in the world. Sotheby’s sale in April 2015, an octagonal-shaped Guan vase of Song dynasty smashed world auction record for Chinese Song dynasty ceramics. A 900-year-old Guan vase fetched HK$ 113,880,000 or equivalent to US$ 13,500,000 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale in 7th April 2015. Another Song piece smashing world auction record for Chinese Song dynasty ceramic was also sold in 2017. In Fall 2017, 3rd October 2017, after a 20-minute bidding battle at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, the auction house broke the worldwide record for the most expensive vessel of Chinese ceramic with the sale of Ru Guanyao brush washer of Southern Song dynasty for 294,300,000 HKD, or equivalent to approximately US$37,700,000. This piece was claimed as an exceptional and extremely rare heirloom Guan Lobed Brush Washer from Southern Song Dynasty. The Southern Song ‘Guanyao’ led the sale record of the monochromatic wares sold by Sotheby’s Hong Kong. In 2014, Sotheby’s Hong Kong also previously beat the sale record of latter dynasties’ wares for the sale of a Ming dynasty of Chenghua ‘doucai’ chicken cup which was sold for 281,240,000 HKD.
Since the Chinese art market has reached its zenith, China, including Hong Kong, became the second largest art market in the world in 2017 on the back of a penetrating leap in the number of Chinese USA dollar billionaires. The due diligence of Chinese art market has become more and more important not only in China mainland and Hong Kong, but also in other countries. There are several art institutions, dealers or auction houses in many countries establishing the appraisal or valuation department on Asian art that is specialized according to its specialty. Each specialist of these companies performs its different role in different way, but they all do due diligence on art market as their daily work and own area.
Unlike other contemporary art assets classes, the appraiser or valuer is hard to evaluate the values of ancient Chinese art. For example, a Chinese art piece’s price is determined not only by its aesthetic but also period, rarity, provenance and the reputation of the preview’s owners or the collections. An expert’s valuation or appraisal of Chinese art also depends its history auction prices and private transaction prices, which is the most important source. By combining all the factors, the appraiser or valuer establish its value, depending on what the purpose of its appraisal for. Regarding with art price, the studies indicate that the price of ancient Chinese art is going upward over a long period of time. Nevertheless, the return of a Chinese art asset has outperformed those traditional asset classes such as corporation’s bonds and equities.
Today, the ancient Chinese art market is considered as one of the largest and most popular art markets in the world. The Chinese art market has more bloomed at an incredibly fast pace, enabling it to be the third largest art market in the world. The ever-growing Chinese art market in China and Hong Kong made their auctions responsible for auctioning off some of the most prestigious artwork of our time. These Chinese art pieces include calligraphies, ink paintings, and more specifically porcelains. Much of the focus on the emerging art market in Asia is centered around mainland China; however, one of the biggest beneficiaries of Asian art is Hong Kong. Since the 1970s the economy of Hong Kong has been governed both under British and Chinese rule, until 1997 when China resumed sovereignty. Now, Hong Kong has a major capitalist service economy characterized by low taxation and free trade.
It seems very interesting that many collectors in Hong Kong and China have spent great deal of money on the Chinese art. They were indeed appetite for art designed to be suitable for them and to meet their taste on authentic and true Chinese heritage. This phenomenon also marked sense of the resurrection in tradition of collecting the indigenous artworks. In ancient Chinese tradition, collecting the Chinese artworks was considered to be very civilized and was quite prevalent among the Confucians. People collected many treasures of ancient Chinese bronze vessels, but calligraphy and porcelain were their most favorite. Along with the growth of collecting tradition, it emerges the position of an independent art specialty in China. Today, with the flourish of the art market, collecting is a more splendid rebirth of ancient tradition as a hobby among affluent Chinese.1)
Not only is Hong Kong attractive to large players like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, but to auction houses all over the world. China Guardian is the oldest Chinese auction house. Several years ago, for the first time in the company’s history, they stepped out of mainland China, and started developing their business in Hong Kong. Just last several weeks, a 500-year-old porcelain cup sold for a record-breaking thirty-two million U.S. dollars. This is the highest price ever paid for Chinese porcelain and a Shanghai collector purchased the cup.
Currently, Hong Kong is among the top cities to buy and sell Chinese art. The strategic location and adjacency to mainland China is one of the biggest advantages of the Hong Kong art market. It allows for access of international clientele. Hong Kong practices a “Friendly Tax Regime” which means there is no sales tax, whereas mainland China’s sales tax is up to seventeen percent. Mainland China has been circling in the news about forged art; Hong Kong offers stronger safeguards that ensure the artwork is authentic. “The Hong Kong art market has been largely defined by the secondary art market, rather than growing organically from a primary source of galleries and artists’ studios. With the inclusion of more and more art fairs and galleries in the market is set to change.”2)
Of course, auction house, as it appears to people from outside, is not as simple as it looks, however has its own strategies of marketing important pieces and breaking records for having most expensive sales. Collecting Chinese art throughout Chinese history, for the prudent collectors, Chinese Art is not only considered as a propitious and prestigious investment financially (investment portfolio), but it is also viewed as appreciation for aesthetic values or expression of ideas, and a signal of social status and prestige that indicates one’s wealth and lifestyles.
Łukasz Gacek, Ewa Trojnar (ed), China at the Beginning of the 21st Century, Jagiellonian University Press, First Edition, Krakow, 2014, p. 44.
D’Arenberg, Diana, “Ocula Reports, Art Basel in Hong Kong.” N.p. Web. 15 Apr. 2014, p. 4