Mainland Chinese art buyers grow more choosey
Entrants to the market are learning from their earlier mistakes, auction house director says
The mainland's droves of newly rich are keen to dabble in the art market, but many hold misconceptions or make basic mistakes, said the co-organiser of a new international fine art fair on the mainland.
They were nevertheless becoming more discriminating and learning to buy wisely, said Calvin Hui, co-chairman and director of Hong Kong's Fine Art Asia.
"At the moment, they more or less go for brand names, big artists or established galleries," he said.
About 20 per cent of visitors to its expo last year were from the mainland. It is now partnering with an offshoot of the mainland's second-largest auction house, China Guardian Auctions, to launch an expo in Beijing between May 28 and June 1, where it hopes to tempt new entrants to the market.
The director of China Guardian, Kou Qin, said the newer buyers were not the kind of collectors who travelled to Hong Kong for auctions or placed phone bids on lots under the hammer in London and Paris, but novices.
"I was once in Beijing for an auction. I saw an important-looking man pacing up and down in the lobby of an auction house," Kou said. "He said he wanted to take a look, but didn't know how to enter. He didn't know the procedure."
Kou told the man, who was in the city on a business trip, to first go to the exhibition, get a recommendation, decide how much he was willing to pay and then register. The man was surprised how simple the process was and became a customer.
Another first-time buyer from Hainan province thought all art was priced in the millions and grew overexcited when he discovered there was "cheap" art on auction.
"He wanted everything in the catalogue," Kou said. "He wanted ink paintings, oil paintings and even stamps."
Kou advised him to merely observe at his first auction and bid at the next one.
"What is so extraordinary about buying things?" he responded. "I spend tens of thousands of yuan on a karaoke session."
Another buyer from northeastern China did not consult experts, but thought anything damaged or worn was antique.
But Kou said these new buyers were slowly learning from one another and comparing their purchases and prices.
Hui said the expo, which will be part of the government-organised China International Fair for Trade in Services, would not only tap into the auction house's collector base, but target all fair visitors, which attracted more than 100,000 people last year.
"Most of the visitors to the fair are decision-makers, chairmen and directors of big Chinese corporations," Hui said.
"They may not necessarily be art collectors, but they may see art as another business opportunity."
The fair was announced two months after the European Fine Art Fair cancelled its plans to launch a Beijing edition with Sotheby's, which is believed to have been the result of the cost and red tape involved.
Hui said: "In London and Paris, they were all a bit shocked when we successfully announced the fair.
"We tried to do it individually like the European Fine Art Fair," Hui said.
"But having the support of the government is very important when you do art."