'Electroshock': China tops global art market

China topped the United States in 2010 as the country with the richest art auctions, according to a French company that tracks global art deals.

"It's an electroshock in the history of the global at market," Thierry Ehrmann, president of Artprice, told AFP.

"Fine art" auctions in China - mainly Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai - topped 3.1 billion dollars (2.2 billion euros) last year, he said.

China generated sales accounting for 33 percent of art sold in 2010, while the US cash registers took in 30 percent.

Britain represented 19 percent of the total, with France coming in fourth place with five percent.

It was only four years ago, in 2007, that China nudged past France into third place, an indication of how quickly the economic powerhouse has moved to the first rung of the rarefied world of art auctions, Ehrmann said.

Not just the amount of money changing hands has made China number one, but the rise of Chinese artists as well, he added.

In Artprice's ranking of the 10 top-earning artists for 2010, four are from the Middle Kingdom.

The previous year, there was only one.

After Pablo Picasso, the artist whose works brought in more cash than any other in 2010 was Qi Baishi, who died in 1957.

Compatriots Zhang Daqian, Xu Beihong and Fu Baoshi were in third, eight and ninth place respectively.

The prominence of Chinese artists in the ranking is all the more remarkable given the high "liquidity" - the high volume of works brought to auction - of Picasso and the number two earner, Andy Warhol, Ehrmann said.

Part of the Serveur Group, Artprice describes itself as the world leader in data on pricing and sales in the art auction market. The company is listed on the Paris exchange.

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