So what is the most important revelation in this year’s TEFAF report?
Certainly the one that has grabbed all the
headlines is the announcement that China has overtaken the United
States to become the world's largest art market.
According to the report, The
International Art Market in 2011: Observations on the Art Trade
over 25 Years, in 2011 China managed to nudge the US into
second place, accounting for 30% of the €46.1bn take, compared to
At least as important to the London-based
industry is that the UK share remained unchanged at 22% - but
remember that was in an expanding market that saw 7% added to
global sales, so in real terms there has been significant growth in
the UK's market value.
Meanwhile, France kept level with a 6% share
to retain its fourth place in the global hierarchy.
Note that the US lost 5% of its market share
in the same period, so if there is any drift eastwards, it doesn't
appear to be from the UK or Europe at the moment.
Staying with the notion of growth, any
market that can see global expansion of 7% while much of the world
economy experiences almost unprecedented contraction clearly has
something to say for itself. Perhaps that is the most important
finding in the report presented to delegates at the TEFAF
Maastricht fair by its author, the analyst and cultural economist
Dr Clare McAndrew.
Or could it be the rate of recovery the
market has experienced since the crash of late 2008?
The art market took nearly a decade to
recover from the recession of the 1990s, says Dr McAndrew, whereas
the contraction in 2009 has been relatively short-lived. This is
due, in part, to its increasingly global nature. The €46.1bn global
total is not that far short of the all-time high of €48.1bn
achieved in 2007.
Looking at the Chinese statistics a little
more closely, the report puts much of the growth down to
Contemporary and Modern art, and experience tells us that this will
largely be domestic product. This has been a volatile sector in the
past, and one of the first to deflate when times got tough four
years ago, but it has also enjoyed one of the fastest
TEFAF also tell us that it is the Chinese
art and antiques auction sector that performed most strongly, with
a dramatic rise of 177% in 2010 and a further 64% in 2011.
This has been an undoubted phenomenon, but
more than one industry specialist has urged caution over reading
too much into it. For instance, Bonhams deputy chairman Colin
Sheaf, who has been involved in the Chinese market since the late
1970s, is sceptical about the level of sales reported by mainland
Chinese auction houses. In his recent ATGinterview (Back Page,
issue 2029) he eagerly anticipated the introduction of legislation
to tax auction revenues. "If that happened, it would really sharpen
up the quality of reporting on auctions," he said.
The TEFAF report acknowledges the
considerable difficulty of securing reliable data, noting the
"significant problems with non-payment and late payment".
It also quotes the report released by The
Chinese Auctioneers' Association, which surveyed 250 auction houses
in China and found that around 40% of the 2010 autumn season sales
above 10 million RMB had not been paid by April 2011, the six-month
deadline by which all winning bids must be settled under Chinese
Add in the exploitation of the auction
process for paying bribes and other dubious practices and one
wonders just what sales data can be relied on.
The TEFAF reports are the Rolls-Royce of art
market statistical surveys in their research, preparation and
presentation, and Dr McAndrew is the doyenne of such analysis, but
as she effectively acknowledges in her approach to the Chinese
issue, like most such reports they are as good as the responses
from those they survey.
The China question aside, art and antiques
at the top end in general are proving to be a stable and
increasingly popular investment choice. Certainly the buzz around
the stands at TEFAF Maastricht seems to point that way.
The latest TEFAF report provides a wealth of
useful information and will make essential reading and reference
for anyone who takes the performance of the international art
If it's not on your shelf already, you can order a copy at €25
plus p&p via Shop at www.tefaf.com