Jeff Koons, Ikea, Old Masters and the Chinese Art Market

Ikea Atlanta
Ikea store in Atlanta

Several articles that appeared in the popular presses recently touch on the art and antiques industry and caught my attention. The first was a September 7 article about the Chinese art market in the New York Times. If you caught that you’ll already know that Chinese buyers are moving beyond reclaiming cultural heritage and are beginning to buy up Western art, except European Old Masters.

As an example, the article points out that it was a Chinese buyer who shilled out $21.3 million for Picasso’s “Femme Lisant (Deux Personnages)” at Sotheby’s last Spiring.

The most intriguing line came next, however. It’s one thing to buy a couple expensive Picasso’s, but the article uses data provided by ArtFact to suggest Chinese buyers are responsible for some $8.3 billion in sales– “which would make them the world leader.”

Folk’s that’s not Chinese art market, that’s art market. It could have tremendous ramifications- and pretty immediate ones. Especially since the article suggests the number of Chinese billionaires is expected to increase 20 percent each year through 2014.

Now back to those Old Masters.

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, a museum with a building that is as much art as the collection in it- and some of the best European art in the country, announced the acquisition of Nicolas Poussin’s “Sacrament of Ordination (Christ Presenting the Keys to Saint Peter).” While the $24.3 million price tag is nothing to sneeze at, the painting failed to sell at Christies last December. $24.3 million was the low estimate, and less considering the commission savings.

Kimbell Interior
Inside the Kimbell

A writer for the LA Times wondered loudly, “Why the Getty didn’t buy it?” (short answer, they already have two). In one of the articles I read that the delivery to the Kimbell happened in part because the wealthy Russians aren’t interested in Old Masters anymore. But guess who is? Jeff Koons. While searching around I came up with an article about Koons lending three Old Master paintings, including a Poussin, to a Paris art fair.

Why is Picasso in and Old Masters not so much? My sense is we’re living in an international world. Collectors want international things. Picasso’s art is not Spanish in the same way Michelangelo’s is Italian. Art that transcends the geography that confines us will continue to be in demand.

The final note is about furniture. I’ve talked a lot about how not only the economy, but demographics is impacting the antique furniture industry. At the low and mid-range of the market, there’s a sense out there that big retailers, including Ikea, are the enemy. There not coming out of this unscathed, however. According to Bloomberg, Ikea’s sales are off and prices are being slashed at U.S. stores. Yes, this time there should be plenty of Millennials around to be buying up Ikea products, so I have to in this instance agree, it’s the economy.

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