The growth of the art sector in New Zealand, a silver lining of the pandemic


NOTICE: The past 18 months have shown the value of the arts. With international travel limited, we relied on books, screens, music, theater and galleries to transport us to new places.

On the more mercantilist level, where I tend to focus in this column, the arts have also proven to be a convenient way to store wealth for those who would otherwise have spent money on luxury travel. In New Zealand, galleries and auction houses have reported increased sales; a work by street artist Banksy sold for $ 1.45 million in Auckland in March.

While that seems like a big sum to many New Zealanders, especially those struggling to enter the housing market, it is still peanuts internationally.

Live events have become big business for auction houses in 2020 – and Asia has played a big role in international sales.

* ‘Disaster Girl’ meme sold as NFT for over $ 650,000
* Art market has skyrocketed since Covid-19 lockdown – experts
* Banksy’s rare art is auctioned off to a New Zealand bidder for $ 1.45 million in a big night for the Auckland gallery
* Paintings rack up $ 3.3 million at Auckland art auction

A triptych by British artist Francis Bacon tops the list of the most expensive works of art, at $ 84.5 million. It was sold by Sotheby’s in a digital streaming auction in June and drew a bidding duel between an online bidder in China and an opponent by telephone in New York, who ultimately won.

Three Chinese works were among the top 10 most expensive works of art sold internationally last year. In October, Poly Auction sold a Ming Dynasty hand scroll by landscape painter Wu Bin in Beijing for around US $ 77 million, taking second place. Another classic scroll fetched $ 41.8 million at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong, and a 1950s work by the late Sino-French modernist painter Sanyu (recently described as a market sensation), sold $ 33.3 million.

For several centuries, wealthy collectors (and museums) in the West have purchased Asian antiques, such as porcelain, fabrics, paintings, and furniture.

Executive Director of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, Simon Draper.


Executive Director of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, Simon Draper.

But this image is changing rapidly, with Asian buyers playing an increasingly important role in the international market. China has a growing number of billionaires – Forbes had 626 in 2020, up from 388 the year before (equivalent to a new billionaire every 36 hours in China last year). And like their counterparts around the world, the wealthy Chinese love to buy art, which stimulates both the domestic and international art market.

China is also busy building new museums, which will further stimulate demand for art. Chinese media agency Xinhua reported that on average, a new museum was opened every two days in China between 2016 and 2020.

Several Asian cities have actively invested in strategies to become the artistic hubs of Asia. Hong Kong has positioned itself as an entry point to the mainland and has served as a base in Asia for auction houses and international fairs. By reallocating some of the land at the infamous Hong Kong Airport to Kowloon (which closed in 1998), his government has invested nearly HK $ 21.6 billion (NZ $ 4 billion) in the district. culture of West Kowloon. With 17 cultural venues planned, its centerpiece is the giant M + museum, which is scheduled to open at the end of the year. Despite this investment, there is a feeling that Hong Kong has lost some of its international appeal due to concerns about mainland China’s potential to hamper freedom of artistic expression.

The Singapore government has also invested in its arts sector, seeing its status as a hub as a key opportunity for the island nation, both for generating income and for employment. In addition to economic gain, the Singapore government also views the arts as a means of increasing social cohesion and bridging the “inequality” divide.

South Korea recently claimed more of its hub status with the announcement of the launch of Frieze, an international contemporary art fair, in Seoul in 2022, becoming Asia’s first Frieze fair.

So just as countries compete for leadership in technology, infrastructure or many other industries, the arts are a competitive sector in Asia.

Asia also plays an important role in today’s non-fungible token (NFT) market. In March, Christie’s sold a digital artwork by Beeple to Vignesh Sundaresan, aka “Metakovan,” a Singapore-based blockchain entrepreneur for US $ 69.3 million (NZ $ 97 million). He won by outbidding entrepreneur Justin Sun, founder of Chinese cryptocurrency platform TRON, in the last 20 seconds of the auction.

This digital collage from Beeple sold for $ 69.3 million.  An unprecedented sale of a digital artwork that brought in more money than the physical works of many better-known artists.

Beeple / Christie’s via AP

This digital collage from Beeple sold for $ 69.3 million. An unprecedented sale of a digital artwork that brought in more money than the physical works of many better-known artists.

In a statement with his business partner Anand Venkateswaran, Sundaresan said the purchase was intended to be an anti-racist statement: and the Rest, and that the Global South is rising.

For years, the Asia New Foundation has helped New Zealand artists discover Asia, in order to explain and demystify the region to New Zealand audiences. And we have welcomed many artists from Asia, a wide range of countries and creative practices.

The role of the arts in communicating across borders and cultures, and in thinking and leading change in society, will only grow. New Zealand’s creative sectors will increasingly find themselves working in Asia and with Asia.

The New Zealand arts sector has the opportunity to profit from being part of the fastest growing art market in the world. They will help tell New Zealand’s story to Asia and in doing so will benefit not only themselves, but all of New Zealand.

Simon Draper is the Executive Director of the Asia-New Zealand Te Whītau Tūhono Foundation.

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