Demonstrating Resilience During the Pandemic, the Market for Chinese Art and Antiques Reaped $5.7 Billion Last Year, Our Report Found

Sales remained solid in mainland China, but dropped in other regions across the globe.

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

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Art sales fared better than expected in 2020, despite fears of a major market contraction, according to the ninth edition of the Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report, a partnership between Artnet and the China Association of Auctioneers (CAA).

Chinese art and antiques generated $5.7 billion in auction sales around the world last year, a decrease of just .5 percent as compared with the previous year. Mainland China, the first country to be affected by the health crisis (and the first to have a rapid recovery), saw $4.4 billion in total auction sales, a healthy 15 percent increase from 2019, according to the report. Those sales within China accounted for most of the total; outside of mainland China, the market for Chinese art and antiques shrunk by almost a third.

The biggest markets for Chinese art and antiques, Asia and North America, experienced significant declines in sales value: 31 percent and 44 percent, respectively. Europe’s contraction was less severe, decreasing in sales value by 16 percent year-over-year, but expanding in market share of lots sold from 30 percent in 2019 to 37 percent in 2020, reflecting the region’s potentially increasing interest in Chinese art and antiques.

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 nine 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.

Another significant finding from the report reveals that the market for ultra-high-end art continued to ramp up in 2020. A total of 28 Chinese artworks priced at ¥100 million ($14.5 million) and above sold at auction, more than five times the number in 2013. The growth was driven by mainland China, where 17 lots found buyers in 2020 in comparison to eight in 2019. Overseas, 11 artworks were sold at auction over $14.5 million each, making this price bracket the only market sector to increase in volume, year-over-year.

Meanwhile, the ongoing problem of payment default in mainland China continues. As of this past May, the percentage of total sales value paid for lots sold in 2020 in mainland China dropped to 47 percent, the lowest rate in a decade. For high-priced lots, where partial and delayed payments are more common, the percentage of lots sold dropped to 34 percent in 2020.

As for categories of art, the report found that  20th-century and contemporary Chinese art continued to show promise globally, despite the backdrop of the pandemic. Total sales for the category in mainland China expanded by 31 percent year over year, reaching a nine-year high. Outside of mainland China, despite a decrease of 18 percent in lots offered, the average price for the category rose to $244,000, a 10-year peak largely driven by the high-end market.

For the largest collecting category of Chinese art and antiques in mainland China, fine Chinese paintings and calligraphy continued to decline in volume of lots sold in 2020, reaching an 11-year low. Despite the category selling fewer than half of the lots than it has historically, there were a few notable highlights, including Wu Bin’s Ten Views of a Lingbi Stone, which broke the auction record for a classical fine Chinese painting, selling for $74.2 million (¥512.9 million) in Beijing.

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