China’s financial health appears, for the first time in decades, to be in trouble. Growth is slowing and the stockmarket is on the dip. A housing crisis, precipitated by the bankruptcy of Evergrande, one of China’s biggest property developers, and the possible defaulting of the comparable behemoth Country Garden, has thrown China’s museum sector into a state of profound uncertainty.
“Covid policies in China have weakened the relationship between China’s art market and international art markets,” says Pan Baohui, the director of Magician Space, the only Beijing-based gallery to attend Frieze London this year. “The fluidity of the market has been weakened,” the dealer adds. Gallery Vacancy, meanwhile, is one of two galleries to attend from Shanghai.
Collectors affluent enough to be insulated from the economic downturn still seem to be travelling to fairs like Frieze. This year they included Alan Lau, Patrick Sun and Dongyuan Guan. But, for some emerging collectors, and many Chinese galleries, the future is a lot more uncertain.
“The Chinese economy has had a really big impact on business for many galleries,” Baohui says. “Many are downsizing. Rent is increasing and emerging collectors don’t want to pay as much.”
A fellow dealer, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed that there is anxiety among Chinese collectors due to the economic downturn.
London gallerists who do business in China are more bullish. Timothy Taylor, the director of the eponymous gallery in Mayfair, says the Chinese collectors he works with have travelled to Frieze this year. “There is no drop off that I can see,” Taylor says. “They are here, and they are enthusiastic.”
Since the pandemic, however, gaining a visa to the UK remains a time-consuming task for collectors and gallerists who are Chinese citizens. “Many of my clients find this very frustrating,” says Lihsin Tsai, a senior director at Hauser & Wirth Hong Kong, who is Chinese. “A very important client of mine was unable to come to London because she was unable to get a visa in time,” Tsai says.
Getting a visa for Europe’s Schengen area, however, is far simpler. Lucien Y. Tso, the founder of Shanghai’s Gallery Vacancy, says: “Clients from China need visas to enter both the UK and Europe,” he says. “With so many fairs now in China, they might need to choose.”