The Chinese art market has reached its lowest point in a decade

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An Artnet and China Association of Auctioneers report shows that overseas auction sales for Chinese antiques and art lost 9% in 2019.
An Artnet and China Association of Auctioneers report shows that overseas auction sales for Chinese antiques and art lost 9% in 2019.

The auction market for Chinese art and antiques worldwide reached 5.7 billion dollars in 2019, according to a new Artnet report in partnership with the China Association of Auctioneers. This 10% drop over a year is partly due to diplomatic tensions between the USA and China as well as political unrest in Hong Kong.

When at their zenith, Chinese antique and art auctions accounted for 50% of global art auction sales. This market share declined to 30% last year, "influenced by the slowdown in China's economic growth and the shifting geopolitical landscape,” note the editor's report .

While the market for Chinese art and antiques also experienced a 9% contraction year-over-year overseas, this new report showcases significant differences between certain parts of the world. For instance, Chinese art and antique sales in South America were down 6% last year, in reaction to Donald Trump's trade war launched against Beijing. This conflict saw customs fees of 15% imposed on every Chinese work of art or antique over 100 years old.

The European market saw important peaks in lots offered and lots sold, as well as a strong sell-through rate of 61% in 2019. The European market accounted for 29% of all Chinese art and antique lots sold overseas in 2019, closing in on the North American market share (32%).

On the Asian front, Chinese art and antiques suffered from poor economic growth in China and a wave of street protests in Hong Kong. Auction sales in Mainland China fell by 10% to reach 3.7 billion dollars, its lowest drop since 2010. Total auction sales dropped by 11% for the Asian region.

"The combination of such slowdowns resulted in a weakening of collectors' confidence and a more cautious attitude among buyers making decisions on investing in art in 2019," note the authors of the report.

Foreign and Chinese collectors nevertheless showed interest in more recent Chinese contemporary and 20th century works. For instance, the paintings "Five Nudes" and "NU" by French-Chinese artist Sanyu, respectively sold for 38.8 million and 25.3 million dollars in Hong Kong in 2019. However, art lovers showed less interest in Chinese fine art and calligraphy; global auction sales for this category fell by 23% in a year.