How the Asian Market is Changing the Art Landscape

March 10, 20223 min read
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In this second installment of Yieldstreet’s Art Research Deep Dive, industry professionals break down why and how the Asian market is playing a vital role in the global art boom

Key takeaways

  • The Asian art market suprassed Europe as the second largest over the last five years.
  • Auction houses in Hong Kong report a lower unsold rate than the global average.
  • The top five artists last year in Hong Kong were Basquiat, Picasso, Richter, Ghenie, and Lichtenstein.
How the Asian Market is Changing the Art Landscape

Over the past five years, the Asian market has become hugely important in the art world—surpassing Europe as the second largest market after the United States. In a 2021 report, Artprice noted that auction houses in Hong Kong, the epicenter of the Asian art market, have an unsold rate of 10 percent compared to a global average of 30 percent. The art fair market has migrated east, too, with Frieze Seoul now set to launch in September alongside Kiaf SEOUL, South Korea’s leading art fair. 

In Part one of Yieldstreet’s Art Research Deep Dive, industry professionals mapped out changes that led to 2021’s unprecedented sales. The migration of auction houses and galleries to virtual platforms coupled with collectors feeling increasingly comfortable with spending millions of dollars on works of art sight-unseen played a huge role in the global art boom. But where this shift proved particularly beneficial was Asia, where clients were already comfortable navigating virtual spaces. 

“Traditional Western collectors will typically say, ‘Yeah, I like it. I think it’s great, but I haven’t seen it. I can’t go into New York to view this,’” says Yuki Terase, the Hong Kong-based founding partner of art advisory firm Art Intelligence Global. “And while Western collectors were stalling [on whether to buy a work of art], Asian clients just looked at their phone, zoomed-in, and said, ‘I’ll buy it.’ This happened a lot.” What this affected, in turn, was the pace of sales. As more works of art became available online, the speed at which Asian clients made their purchases forced Western buyers to move it or lose it. 

‘Demand for young contemporary artists’

But it’s the depth and breadth of what the Asian market is consuming that is proving particularly fascinating for the art community. “What’s interesting here is that there are two strands to this boom in Asia. The top five artists last year in Hong Kong were Basquiat, Picasso, Richter, Ghenie, and Lichtenstein. They’re very blue-chip artists that are well known in the west,” says Lindsay Dewer, the Head of Analytics of ArtTactic in London. “And then there is a demand for young contemporary artists.”

Some of it is speculative and financially driven, she says. “However there’s a lot of desire to discover new talent, so we’re seeing quite a lot of young artists in their late twenties or early thirties selling for numerous times their estimate.”

With Asian buyers accounting for 36 percent of spending across auction channels at Phillips de Pury globally, CEO Stephen Brooks said in a statement that amplifying Phillips’s presence in Asia would be a “critical component of our growth strategy.” This coming year will find the auction house establishing a new Asia headquarters in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District. “We’re seeing this global shift happen,” says Patrizia Koenig, the 20th Century & Contemporary Art Specialist for Phillips. “The fact that the demand is across the board—emerging contemporary artists and on a masterwork level—is really telling.” 

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