As the appetite for Western art grows among Chinese collectors, a prestigious institution has bought its first work by a living foreign artist; a work by a British national treasure and named after a district in east London.
The China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, which leads on questions of national cultural policy, has bought The Walthamstow Tapestry, a 2009 work by Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry.
One source said the Perry acquisition “is being interpreted as a green light for other national and municipal institutions to acquire work by international contemporary artists. The budget and interest is there, but it remains culturally and politically controversial."
This follows several weeks of auctions in New York that saw Chinese bidders shake up the market with a series of major acquisitions. Philip Hook, senior director of impressionist and modern art in London for Sotheby’s said: “We are seeing serious growth here and it will only increase.”
The news of the sale of Perry’s 15-metre tapestry – a satire on consumerism with the names of famous brand names woven into a journey of the seven ages of man – emerged from the Art Basel fair currently running in Hong Kong. The sale of the tapestry was arranged through the Victoria Miro gallery
The popularity of the 54-year-old crossdressing artist in Britain has risen over the past few years from fans of his art to those who saw his television programme In the Best Possible Taste and heard the Reith Lectures he delivered last year. Now that popularity is increasing in China as well.
This comes in a week when Christie’s staged the most expensive auction in contemporary and post war art market history on Tuesday.
The total sales of $745 million (£444m) were driven by money from Asia with one US collector saying “they’re buying everything”. Money from the East also bolstered the sales at Sotheby’s the following day.
Until recently, Chinese collectors have concentrated on works by their countrymen, and only looked abroad to buy wine, jewellery and watches at auction.
Sotheby’s Mr Hook said in the past five years, buyers from mainland China, buying in areas outside Chinese art had risen by 54 per cent. “In our impressionist and modern sale last week it was very noticeable,” he added. A Matisse, Monet and Giacometti all went to Chinese buyers for prices ranging from $13 million and $19 million (£7.75m and £11.3m).
A report released by consultancy ArtPrice said the rise in millionaires in China had ensured buyers had “flocked to the art market to diversify their investments”.
The trend first sent domestic artist valuations soaring. Even two years ago, the contemporary art market, according to the report, saw Chinese buyers concentrate on works by their countrymen.
Yet it said at the time that the auction houses were “preparing the ground to open the Chinese market to European and American contemporary creations in the coming years”.
The appetite is already growing and Mr Hook said it had become particularly noticeable in the November auctions in New York and the February sales in London as well as those of the past fortnight.
Sotheby’s said in a recent report that while Asian buyers had been active in sales of Western contemporary art for some years “recently their activity has taken a huge leap forward: last year, they spent double what they spent on 2012”.
In November, Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man, made a splash when he bought Picasso’s Claude and Paloma for $28 million (£16.7m), with Chinese buyers also securing works by Henry Moore and Vincent van Gogh.