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Chinese buyers are in the game

Despite the economic slowdown in China, Asian collectors were responsible for some of the biggest purchases of the auction season. The businessman and former cab driver Liu Yiqian bought Modigliani’s Nu couché (1917-18) for $152m (hammer price) at Christie’s on 9 November ($170.4m with fees; the painting had been guaranteed at around $100m) for his private institution, the Long Museum in Shanghai. Lucio Fontana’s egg-shaped canvas, Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio (1964), which was consigned by hedge-funder Steven Cohen, broke records when it sold for $25.9m (hammer price) to a Chinese buyer at Christie’s on 10 November ($29.2m with fees; guaranteed at around $25m). During the same sale, an Asian buyer also acquired Calder’s Vertical out of Horizontal (1948) for $8.4m ($9.6m with fees; estimate $2m-$3m). Nonetheless, the pool of Chinese collectors at this level is small—closer to 20 than 200. And they are showing increasing levels of discrimination, ignoring lots by artists such as Monet which they might previously have snapped up. 

Calder’s Vertical out of Horizontal was sold to an Asian buyer. Photo: © 2015 Calder Foundation; New York/DACS; London