x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Expert appraisal of the Chinese market

Q&A with Fabien Fryns, the owner of F2, a contemporary art gallery in Beijing

BEIJING // Fabien Fryns, the owner of F2, a contemporary art gallery that opened in Beijing in 2005, and Fabien Fryns Fine Art, a gallery in Los Angeles q To what extent has the art market in China developed in recent years as a result of the increase in disposable incomes? a When I arrived in China in 2004 there were only a handful of mainland Chinese collectors. Ninety-five per cent of our sales were to overseas collectors, mainly western Europeans and North Americans. At the main contemporary auctions on the mainland, the majority of the buyers were western. Currently, one barely sees a westerner bidding; the rooms are packed with Asians. In the gallery I do not have many more Chinese clients, but a few are entering the market at the highest level, seeking top-quality contemporary works by Chinese and western masters. These people are ready to spend huge amounts and are seeking advice on what to buy. So many western speculators have dropped out because of the crisis and some Chinese collectors have taken their place. But this is only the beginning. I believe because of the increasing mainland collector base and the scarcity of top-quality Chinese works, the prices for some artists will skyrocket.

How was the market affected by the global slowdown and to what extent has it recovered over the past year? The middle market seems to have dropped out and some of the over-speculated young artists are unable to sell any work as their prices rose too high, too fast. There is still a lot of interest in the younger artists, though. As for the top artists, due to the scarcity of works the prices are now sometimes higher than at the peak in 2007. For the top artists, I think the prices will still increase a lot due to the increasing number of mainland Chinese buyers. I am convinced that the most expensive living artist will be a Chinese artist.

Are many buyers from overseas showing interest in contemporary Chinese art? There are, to my knowledge, a few very big western collectors entering the market at the highest level. There are fewer visitors to the gallery than three years ago, when they came by the busload on a daily basis, but these are serious people with a long-term interest which is better for the market. Which modern artists are most sought after by Chinese collectors?

I have had people asking me about Cezanne, Picasso, Soutine and Morandi, for instance. Some buy younger western artists, but their purchasing is rather random and without much direction. Others still focus on the top Chinese artists and Zeng Fanzhi in particular. Are more people buying art from galleries as investments compared with previous years? No, much less, which is a good thing.