Marketplace Czech art market receives boost from Chinese collectors
2012 was another record-breaking year for the Czech art market, with collectors having auctioned some 881 million crowns – or over 46 million US dollars – worth of artefacts. That’s a 36-percent increase compared to the previous year. Interestingly, the market received a significant boost from Chinese collectors buying up pieces from their part of the world. I discussed the latest trends with Jan Skřivánek from the magazine Art and Antiques, one of the editors of the Art Plus yearbook which sums up developments on the Czech art market.
“The whole market is growing and improving; buyers and collectors tend to be more educated, they are increasingly able to appreciate excellent pieces and are willing to pay top prices for the pieces that deserve it. Another thing is that last year, we saw more artefacts – sculptures and especially paintings – sold for more than one million crowns than ever before. Most of the market’s surge is owed to these million-crown pieces. This top segment grew more rapidly than any other.”
The yearbook says that the most expensive pieces – over one million – account for 61 percent of the revenues but for less than 2 percent of the number of artworks sold. That would suggest the market is dominated by richer collectors…
“Definitely. It might also be something to worry about in the long term. It means the market is influenced by a small group of people while those who are not able to invest millions keep low profiles and aren’t buying that much. That’s also something you hear from art dealers – top quality pieces sell at record prices but average works by lesser-known authors sell worse than in previous years.”
Two authors continue to dominate auction sales – František Kupka and Emil Filla. But you note that post-war modern art is surging. Why is that, and who are the most popular authors?
“The reasons have to do with the fact there is a general agreement art experts about who are the important artists of that period which narrows the risk for buyers that the artefacts might lose their value in a few years. So post-war art is now getting into the same position as the classical modern art; we know what is important and that’s reflected in growing prices, from investors’ point of view. From that of collectors, these works appeal to them more; they deal with issues that are closer to them than those expressed in art of the 1920s and 30s.
“The popular authors of this period have not changed in recent years; these include Mikuláš Medek, Zdeněk Sýkora, Adriena Šimotová, Karel Nepraš, Hugo Demartini, Karel Malich – who now has a major exhibition in Prague… You don’t hear about them that often because auction prices are not in millions and they don’t reach the top ten of the year. But their prices are growing.”
You also mentioned an interesting phenomenon: modern Chinese art from the 1950s seems to be increasingly popular at Czech auctions. How come it’s sought after so much?
“Chinese collectors are looking for their own art all over the world. They seek to include it in their collections and also to invest in it. Thanks to the fact that in the 1950s, Czechoslovakia had very close cultural ties to China, there is quite a lot of modern Chinese art from that period here, and the pieces have very good ‘pedigree’; you can trace them down all the way to the studio of the artists which is something that plays an ever bigger role in the market because you don’t have to worry it could be fake. So the collectors are willing to pay even higher prices.
“Last year, the Chinese painter Qi Baishi was the second most successful artist at Czech auctions in terms of the number of paintings sold for more than one million crowns. Twelve such paintings were sold, including one which sold for 9.3 million crowns.”
So there are not really Czech collectors who would be interested in Chinese art?
“Not at all. Gallery owners tell me that these collectors are not even based in Europe, they live in mainland China.”
When it comes to contemporary art, you have noted that galleries have only learned the trade in recent years. Why has is been so difficult for them?
“I think it’s taken a while because buying contemporary is the most demanding part of art collecting. You have to make your own decision, you have to decide that you trust this artist, and there are not that many resources you can consult.
“With modern or post-war art, as I said, you can read books which tell you who the important authors are and which pieces are the best so you can read and learn. But with contemporary art, you have to have an eye for it. So there have not been too many collectors willing to do that. But the fact that several new galleries have opened is a sign that there are more and more collectors willing to take the risk.”
And finally, what’s your prediction for this year? Do you see potential for further growth of the Czech art market?
“I’m always sceptical so I’ll say that I don’t think this year will top the last. But the fact is that in the past couple of weeks, we already saw two major auctions with fantastic results: three or four paintings sold for more than 10 million crowns. So the growth tendency seems to continue.”