China pushes global art auction sales to $11.5B

Art auction sales lept to a record $11.5 billion US in 2011, buoyed by eager buyers in China, the world's second-largest economy.
Visitors examine a Sotheby's Hong Kong catalog behind Chinese artist Sui Jianguo's sculpture Legacy Mantle in October. Eager Chinese buyers helped push global auction house sales to a record $11.5 billion US in 2011. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

Art auction sales lept to a record $11.5 billion US in 2011, buoyed by eager buyers in China, the world's second-largest economy.

Artprice, the international agency that monitors art sales and auctions around the globe, has released its report on 2011 auction revenues.

According to the France-based agency, auction revenues rose 21 per cent over the previous year — and exceeded the $10-billion mark for the first time.

"Art has become a truly safe investment," Artprice founder and chair Thierry Ehrmann told Agence France-Presse.

In 2010, China usurped the U.S. and took first place in global auction sales. In 2011, it solidified that position with $4.79 billion US worth of art sold (representing more than 41 per cent of the total global market).

The U.S. followed with $2.72 billion US in sales. The U.K. placed third with $2.24 billion US.

China wasn't the only Asian country where art lovers are opening their wallets: Singapore and Indonesia also saw significant growth in their auction revenues (an increase of 22 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively), according to the Artprice report.

Two of the most expensive works sold at auction in 2011 also happened to be by Chinese artists: a 1946 Qi Baishi painting of an eagle on a pine tree sold for about $65 million US in May, while a Yuan Dynasty mountain scene by Wang Meng fetched more than $62 million US in June. Both were sold in Beijing.

There are more art buyers than ever, Ehrmann said. "In the 1950s there were 500,000 collectors. Now there are 300 million art consumers."