Chinese may bid high for own art

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The Independent Online
ORIENTAL ART may not be to your taste, but if you can combine a smidgeon of appreciation with your investment, it could be one of the fastest rising sectors in the art market. With a billion Chinese now turning to capitalist values, many can be expected to start spending some of their new wealth on buying their own art.

There has been a long tradition of Chinese merchants and mandarins buying beautiful objects as symbols of their taste and refinement, and once the current generation of puritanical communists has passed on, the new capitalists will probably revert to type.

Unfortunately they will find very little material to buy within China itself. There is still a wealth of ancient art remaining in China, works from neolithic times to the 12th century AD, but most of it is still underground and waiting to be discovered.

A steady trickle of newly excavated items has been smuggled out since 1985, mainly through Hong Kong, but today the Chinese authorities are imposing draconian penalties on smugglers in an effort to plug the leak.

Almost all the known supplies of ancient Chinese art above the ground, and the vast majority of items produced since the 12th century, are already in the West, held in museums or in private collections. Among the best known works are blue-and-white imperial porcelains, which were a staple export from China to the West. Supplies have recently been increased by recoveries from shipwrecks, which have fetched very high prices in auctions at Christies. But there is a wealth of other kinds of Chinese art, including pottery both decorative and useful, and objects made from bronze and jade, including a vast amount which was looted by British and French troops while China was being "opened up" in the 19th century.

Overseas Chinese in Taiwan, Singapore and further afield in Australasia and North America are already emerging buyers - but they are dwarfed in numbers and potential wealth by those in mainland China. Chinese art is relatively homogenous and conservative - there is much less diversity of art forms than in Europe for example - and it should be possible to build a representative collection with fewer than 100 objects.

Prices at auction and from London dealers start from about pounds 500, and are relatively modest, according to dealers like Michael Goedhuis, who has recently opened London galleries in Mount Street.

London is the prime marketplace for a variety of reasons, and June is the peak season for auctions and exhibitions, including the Fine Art and Antiques Fair at Olympia, which closes today, and the Grosvenor House Fair which will continue until Saturday.

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