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China's cultural revolution is to buy art

world Updated: Sep 07, 2011 23:50 IST
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As auction houses prepare for their fall sales, Chinese collectors are expected to be a major boost for the market, raising their paddles for big-ticket artworks despite a backdrop of global economic turmoil.

With China's economy booming, art collectors there have become an increasingly powerful force in the market, demonstrating a growing interest in Western as well as Asian art.

At Sotheby's spring sale, a Chinese buyer bought the evening's priciest painting - Picasso's Femme Lisant (Deux Personnages) - for $21.3 million. In March, at the auction house Lebarbe, in Toulouse, France, a Chinese buyer set a new French record for Chinese art with a $31 million bid on a scroll painting from the Imperial Palace in Beijing.

Chinese auction houses are now selling works at a pace formerly associated with those in London and New York. "We have seen exponential growth by mainland Chinese buyers who were brought up during the Cultural Revolution," said Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby's vice chairman for Asian art.

The auction market is responding to the new demand. Last year Sotheby's held its first exhibition for the private sale of art for the Asian market.

The surge in Chinese collecting is not just a reflection of new wealth, experts say, but also a reaction to the repressive Mao years when the country was denied culture.

For the Chinese, who watched art disparaged as a frivolous exercise, the freedom to explore simple aesthetic pleasures, to repossess historical works and to show off recent affluence has been liberating.