The Market for Chinese Art and Antiques Tumbled to a 10-Year Low in 2019, According to Our Exclusive Report

Tensions between the US and China and political unrest in Hong Kong had much to do with the drop.

The Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report is in its eighth year.
The Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report is in its eighth year.

The eighth annual edition of the Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report, a partnership between Artnet and the China Association of Auctioneers (CAA), shows that global auction sales of Chinese art and antiques totaled $5.7 billion in 2019, a ten percent drop compared to the previous year, and the lowest level for the category since 2010.

The report cites continued trade tensions between the US and China and the declining Chinese GDP growth rate as factors in the drop. Total auction sales in mainland China also tumbled by 10 percent in 2019, to $3.7 billion, another 10-year low.

Outside of China, there was also a considerable drop in sales of Chinese art and antiques, which contracted nine percent compared with the previous year in overseas markets.

The annual report provides an in-depth look at the market by analyzing its overall volume and size, sector trends, and key players. Over the past eight years, data from mainland China provided by the CAA has also been integrated into the Artnet Price Database, making auction results from China readily available to the rest of the world.

According to the report, the landscape for Chinese art and antiques overseas showed varying patterns. Europe saw significant increases in lots offered and sold, bringing its total global market share to 29 percent in 2019. In contrast, North America’s market share decreased from 41 percent to 32 percent.

Civil unrest also had an impact on the market. There were disruptions in auction cycles due to protests in Hong Kong, which contributed to a decline of 14 percent in lots offered, and resulting in the fewest lots offered at auction since 2013.

The Hong Kong market contracted to $1.3 billion, marking a seven-year low. Total Hong Kong sales dropped by 10 percent.

On the other hand, 20th-century and contemporary Chinese art performed strongly both in China and abroad. The average price for the category on the mainland was up 23 percent. Meanwhile, outside China, the total sales value for the category hit a nine-year high.

The opposite was true for fine Chinese paintings and calligraphy, the largest collecting category.

It “continued to spiral downwards, reaching its lowest point in sales since 2013,” according to the report. The number of lots sold in mainland China dropped by 10 percent year-over-year. Similarly, painting and calligraphy also struggled outside the country, and total sales value dropped to a seven-year low.

The ultra high-end market, which includes lots sold at $14.4 million (¥100 million) and up, declined by almost a third in 2019 as compared with 2018. This was due, in part, to a contraction in the number of top-quality consignments available in the current economic environment. However, collectors are still willing to pay top dollar for top-flight lots, according to the report.

With regard to the structure of the industry, and notwithstanding declining sales, the market continues to be top heavy. The top five auction houses in the world for Chinese art and antiques accounted for nearly $3 billion in 2019, eating up 51 percent of the market share.

Poly International and China Guardian remained the top two earners, collecting $1.6 billion, up three percent year-over-year, as their combined market share rose to 28 percent from 24 percent in 2018.

See a full copy of the report here.


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