Young affluent Chinese are becoming increasingly interested in art.
Shanghai has become an art hub, featuring more than 10 open private and public museums and exhibitions of the work of artists as diverse as Japan’s Kusama Yayoi and Victor Hugo. The city has had mixed success with art shows in the past, but the recent boom seems to indicate a new trend among China’s middle class.
“People around 18 to 30 usually spend money on leisure rather than buying art books or exhibition tickets. But this is changing now,” Xie Dingwei, the director of Shanghai Tix Media, said in an interview with the China Economic Review. Xie’s company organized a Pablo Picasso exhibition in 2011, but public reception was poor, and the company lost around US$3.2 million in the effort. Their current show at Shanghai’s upscale K11 shopping mall, “Master of Impression — Claude Monet,” has fared far better, bringing in almost 7,000 visitors on its opening weekend this past March.
Despite the hopeful outlook, some believe that the art boom is a passing cultural interest, like Hu Yixun, a professor at the Fine Arts College of Shanghai University who studies the art market.
“Fifteen years ago there were several exhibitions in Taiwan which caused a sensation, but nowadays if they want to hold these exhibitions, frankly, the curators will lose money,” Hu said. “The art exhibition market is saturated. If these kinds of exhibitions are continuously held in Shanghai, audiences will eventually feel nothing.”
The longevity of consumer interest in art has considerable economic implications. According to the China Economic Review, “If current interest in art among the middle class in China becomes a genuine cultural trait, it could spur the emergence of a lucrative affordable art market.”
Rising wages mean that middle-class Chinese consumers now have greater disposable incomes. In 2012, about 66 percent of urban households in China had annual earned incomes ranging from US$9,000 to US$34,000, an increase from just 4 percent in 2000, according to the McKinsey consultancy. That figure is expected to rise to 75 percent by 2020.
While China has been the biggest buyer of art in the world for the past four years, purchasing US$4 billion in art last year alone, most of these sales come from wealthy collectors. Affordable art is a middle-class enterprise, and another creature entirely. Affordable art markets are already well established in developed countries; approximately 70 percent of the art purchased in the West is considered affordable. This figure is just 33 percent in China, but it is expected to grow quickly.
Surge Art (formerly Affordable Art China) has already begun to capitalize on the trend. The company offers contemporary Chinese art within the range of $US80 and US$4,830 (RMB 500 and RMB 30,000) and hosts hosts large annual art fairs in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu. Free for the public, each of these events draws over 10,000 visitors.
image source: surge art facebook