In the era of market analytics, the art world has produced its own selection of reports sponsored by large players and savvy think tanks across the globe. Some notable recent reports include the Art Basel & UBS Global Art Market Report 2018, TEFAF Art Market Report 2018, South Asian Art Market Report 2018 by ArtTactic, and more recently the Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report 2017 by artnet.
In a bid to understand its own internal dynamics, reports are rolled out often to coincide with calendar highlights such as a large-scale art fairs or series of auctions. These reports offer tremendous data and insights into art market activities from the past few years, and collectively have aimed to cover Europe, the Americas, and Asia. The behemoths of the global market (USA, the U.K. and China) and exciting emerging markets take turns in the harsh but welcome spotlight of data; as the art market expands, so does interest in market performance statistics.
However, as a professional working in the Southeast Asian market, the absence of proper coverage of Southeast Asia in these well-circulated art market reports adds to the struggle of trying to figure out where the region falls relative to the established’ Western markets, ‘buzzing’ South Asian scene and ‘booming’ cities of the far east.
Market research outfit ArtMarketGuru has published reports focused on Southeast Asia in 2017. Although it places the focus on exactly the aspects of the Southeast Asian art market many wish to know about, much has changed in the local scene in the short few months since it published. Seemingly grounded fairs have faded, museums are gaining momentum and confidence and collectors are engaging in dialogues across their borders more visibly than before. That is not to say 2017’s reports may not still be accurate, but the uncertainty of it all just adds to the strange feeling of wilderness and nascence in a region known for its 'robust and burgeoning market', as a fellow commentator puts it.
Asserting accuracy is difficult for the exhausted+predictable reason: privacy, privacy and more privacy. It really just comes down to this: high net worth individuals engage in private sales at a rate that distorts perceptions of the truth nature of Southeast Asia’s art market.
If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it. So goes the saying in modern business management theory**
So in a region that is already elusive in its art market practice, and with no truly large-scale art fairs or events garnering international attention in recent years as compared to the likes of Shanghai and Hong Kong, how does one even begin to measure the sub-sectors of auction markets, galleries and dealers?
Regarding dealers, the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2018 purports that the dealer sector is not as financially healthy as in the West, with fewer dealers reporting profits. Asian dealers account for an estimated 13.9% of the dealer population, according to the report’s findings.
Yet, in Indonesia and Singapore especially, there is no observable dearth of dealers.
This discrepancy can perhaps be explained through considering how the concept of agency differs between the East and West. In the West, agency is a well-established, well-utilised and non-cryptic legal relationship between two individuals in its definition.*** It is also very well regulated and well-documented in contractual relationships. Although equally rigorous in litigious circumstances, agency takes on a much more cryptic form in the East - there is still a strong aversion to contracts, perceived to set an undesirable tone for business dealings, and more laissez-faire approaches to a relationship of agency are favoured.*Cough* wildwildwest handshake *end cough*
Prof. Dr. Rachel Powell in the TEFAF Art Market Report 2017 shared that ‘extremely high growth in dealer markets expected…in particular in UAE, Korea, India and Japan. Moderate growth in Hong Kong and Singapore’ for the year following the report which was published in early 2017.
Man…I wish I could find out somehow if she was right.
** ‘If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it’ - the adagé is attributed to author and brain behind modern business management Peter Drucker. Just an outdated ‘mad men’ type of ethos, or still useful for understanding the behaviour of businesses in the social & environmental consciousness movement?
***Not sure the same can be said about it in execution.