At Home and Abroad, the Market for Chinese Art and Antiquities Sharply Declined in 2018, Our Exclusive Auction Report Reveals

Sales of Fine Chinese paintings and calligraphy—the largest collecting category in mainland China—experienced a major decline.

The seventh 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 in 2018 totaled $6.4 billion—a 10 percent drop compared with 2017 totals.

The annual report provides a rare, in-depth look at the market by analyzing its overall volume and size, sector trends, and key players in auctions of Chinese art and antiques around the world. Over the past seven years, data from mainland China provided by the CAA has also been integrated into the artnet Price Database, making vetted auction results from mainland China readily available to the rest of the world.

Among the major findings of the 2018 report is the fact that, amid economic uncertainty and the ongoing trade battle between the US and China, the total value of auction sales in mainland China of Chinese art and antiquities has declined by 17 percent to $4.2 billion—its lowest level since 2010. North America also saw a 36 percent decline in the total sales value of Chinese art and antiques, year-on-year.

the total value of auction sales in mainland China has declined by 17 percent to $4.2 billion—its lowest level since 2010

The total value of auction sales in mainland China has declined by 17 percent to $4.2 billion—its lowest level since 2010. Chart courtesy of artnet and CAA.

At its peak level in 2011, total auction sales of Chinese art and antiques accounted for 50 percent of the global art auction market. But because of a slowdown in the rate of the Chinese economy’s growth, this market share dropped to 31 percent in 2018.

Meanwhile, whereas the European auction market for Chinese art had been on a general downward trend since 2011, this changed significantly in 2018. Overall sales remained stable, as the number of lots offered increased by 30 percent, year-over-year. This resulted in a 72 percent increase from 2017 in the number of lots sold. Overall, the total sales value in Europe grew by 28 percent.

Overall sales in Europe remained stable as the number of lots offered for Chinese art and antiques increased by 30 percent year-over-year. Courtesy of artnet and CAA.

Overall sales in Europe remained stable as the number of lots offered for Chinese art and antiques increased by 30 percent year-over-year. Chart courtesy of artnet and CAA.

The total number of lots sold in Asia, outside of mainland China, rose by 29 percent, while the sell-through rate for the region also hit 63 percent, its highest level since 2014. Total sales value increased by 12 percent after two consecutive years of contraction in 2016 and 2017.

The total sales value of Chinese art and antiquities increased by 12 percent in Asia. Chart courtesy of artnet and CAA.

The total sales value of Chinese art and antiquities increased by 12 percent in Asia. Chart courtesy of artnet and CAA.

The average price for objects, however, decreased by 17 percent between 2017 and 2018, despite the increase in the number of total lots sold across all regions. In both mainland China and overseas markets, the percentage of lots sold at the market’s lower end (¥500,000, or $75,000, and under) reached its highest level since 2012. At the same time, total lots sold at the high end of the market (¥10 million, or $1.5 million, and above) experienced a significant drop.

The report also breaks out sales in mainland China by genre, including Fine Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy, Contemporary and 20th-century art, and classical paintings and calligraphy.

According to the analysis, Fine Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy—the largest collecting category in mainland China—experienced a major decline in 2018, with total sales tumbling 35 percent from 2017. The prices of objects in the category declined by an average of 40 percent, “likely due to the contraction in the number of high-quality works offered” according to the report.

Sell through rates and average sale prices fell to six-year lows. The picture was even more bleak for the contemporary Chinese art, with a decline of nearly 50 percent.

The market for fine Chinese paintings and calligraphy in mainland China experienced a major decline. Chart courtesy of artnet and CAA.

The market for Fine Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy in mainland China experienced a major decline. Chart courtesy of artnet and CAA.

By contrast, outside the region, the collecting category of 20th-century and Contemporary Chinese art had an outstanding year.

In 2018, the total sales value in the overseas market saw a 50 percent increase to reach the highest total sales value since 2011. The sell-through rate overseas increased for the third consecutive year, to 69 percent, indicating a particularly strong demand for this sector.

See the full report here.


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