Art+Commerce: Asian Edition

Jon Taplin wrote about how Asian economies are decoupling from the West, based on the record sales at the recent Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction of contemporary Chinese art.

One of the great macro-economic debates is whether the rapidly growing Asian economies have decoupled from the recessionary problems of America. I have argued that they have, but Prof. Roubini has strongly suggested that we are heading into a global slowdown brought about by the U.S. credit crisis.

From IHT:

Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction of Chinese contemporary art got off to a blazing start Wednesday afternoon by selling nearly $18 million worth of works, defying fears that the global economic slowdown would weaken auction prices.

I hesitate to say that I do not fully agree with his statement. I’ve been keeping tabs on the markets and noticed that Asian markets are, in fact, floundering along with the US market. While there maybe signs of decoupling, I do not think that it has reached a stage where we could safely conclude that Asia has fully decoupled.

Also, aren’t auctions typically attended by society’s cash rich and well-heeled? Can the actions of a few ultra rich individuals represent the rest of the people, many who still live in slums and poverty? Nevertheless, the existence of these customers would continue to drive galleries to find more artworks. And that is definitely good for the growth of art appreciation and creation in Asia. (Although I fear that it would become a status symbol, more than anything else.)

Then my thoughts shifted as I read about the recent 101 Tokyo art fair. Sales results were mixed for the exhibitors; Japanese galleries did better due to longtime customers while some international galleries did much better than the others.

101 Tokyo was a moderate success. That they got galleries to fly from New York, Madrid, Melbourne, London and Zurich to participate was a huge coup. More than 600 people turned out for a packed pre-opening. That’s impressive, and the numbers kept rising in the final days.

Alexandra Saheb, in the article:

“The more international an art fair, the more you can attract people to fly in for it. There needs to be more advertising about this event in other Asian countries if Tokyo wants to become an art capital in Asia. Right now I don’t see that happening.”

So there we have it, supply and demand. The number of artists/photographers in Asia is rising and a market needs to be found for them. We need to cultivate greater interest in the arts and change the perception of the poor and starving artist. However, the proper infrastructure and support system must be cultivated, either by the artists themselves or the government.

My art school friends would probably kick me for trying to commoditize art but I believe in the difference between creating for one’s higher needs and creating for money. However, These concepts should not be mutually exclusive and perhaps I could then convince myself that perhaps I should (and could) devote myself entirely to photography after graduation.

Till then, I have another year of pondering and soul searching to do. And more crucially, the last few term papers in the next two days.