New Emissary

Does Asia Really Love Art?

Asian buyers keep spending a lot on art. But do they really like what they’re buying?

Earlier this summer, I mentioned that though it seems Iran might be gaining ground as a new hotspot in Asia’s much talked about booming art market, it’s still China that’s the heavyweight when it comes to the international art business; particularly because of the amount of money being spent on art in its special administrative region of Hong Kong. It was in Hong Kong this May that several notable Christie’s auctions were declared a significant success, while a major international art event in the city around the same time, Art HK10, resulted in some big sales of featured works.

Now, coverage on the topic by The Telegraph last week has shown that Sotheby’s, another major auction house’s targeted sales in Asia have risen a surprising 180 percent in the first-half this year from $96.7 million last year to $270 million in 2010. (Note: ‘The total is more even than the $239 million recorded for Asia before the recession in the first half of 2008.’)

I’m pretty sure it’s no coincidence that big art sales in places like Hong Kong have something to do with its high concentration of, to put it simply, super-rich residents. Take for example the 14th Annual World Wealth Report by Merrill Lynch-Capgemini that was released in June, that showed for the first time in modern capitalist history Asia-Pacific’s millionaires had overtaken Europe’s in collective value. Also, Hong Kong led a global top 10 list of super-rich hot-spots for 2009, which is a ranking that shows regions from around the world with the highest concentrations of sharply rising ‘high-net worth individuals,’ or HNWIs.

But the question still remains—are these super rich Asian millionaires buying art for the love of it, or just for the financial investment? I hope it’s not the latter, because it would be a shame to further commercialize an important element of our society that shouldn’t ever be reduced to just a price tag.