Engaging and attracting millennials: What are Chinese art traders doing?

The spring auction at Sotheby's Hong Kong saw art by American artist KAWS break the artist's auction figure records and smash estimates with one piece, the KAWS ALBUM. It went for 116 million Hong Kong dollars ($14.8 million). This of course is not the first time the Chinese millennials’ power of consumption stunned the globe.


▲NIGOLDENEYE® Vol. 1 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 01 April 2019

Whether in the virtual online world or the off-line art social events, art traders in China are playing a positive role in “catering” to millennial art collectors’ tastes. After all, who wouldn’t welcome a group of new buyers with astonishing spending power?

Auction Houses: POP the Price up

Millennial collectors not only prefer to discover and purchase artworks online, but also pay more attention to lifestyle and aesthetic shopping experiences—they grew up in the era of consumption and social media afterall. How the auction houses in China present contemporary curated auctions and use social media to attract the rising rich - the secret definitely worth exploring.

Yuki Terase, Head of Contemporary Art of Sotheby’s (Asia), knows the incredible internet influence of Asian idols among young people better than any other auction professional. In early 2014, her collaboration with Japanese fashion designer, DJ, and record producer NIGO led to her first big success at Sotheby’s with A White Glove Sale . Later, another special sale called “#TTTOP” with a high turnover ratio of 90% and curated by Yuki Terase for Korean celebrity T.O.P also prompted significant attention on social media.

The recent record breaking KAWS piece also comes from NIGO’s collection. The KAWS phenomenon has raised a series of questions about the influence of millennial collectors in the art market. The conservatives unsurprisingly have doubts about their tastes, but even the artist himself posted an amazed comment on Instagram: “What a strange morning… Do I think my work should sell for this much? - No; Did I arrive at my studio this morning the same time I always do? - Yes; Will I do the same tomorrow? - Yes; Have a good day!”

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▲KAWS’s instagram post

Art Fairs: Median Price Attracts More

Unlike auction houses’ keen focus on promotion, art fairs have attracted millennial collectors in the Chinese art market by developing a new pricing strategy. The number of visitors to this year’s Art Beijing vreached 120,000. The number of buyers who purchased more than 3 pieces of art from the fair rose 15% compared to that of last year, with RMB 30,000-50,000 pieces ($4000-7000) having been the most popular.


▲Art Beijing 2019 data ©Art Beijing

According to Art Beijing officials, the data not only illustrates that the public now had more incentives to consume and invest in art, but also shows that the art fair succeeded in attracting more millennial collectors by selling median price pieces. All this indicates that Art Beijing tried to unlock a new game: We are looking forward to a more localized art fair to attract millennial collectors.


▲The exhibition “The Charm of Printmaking”, Art Beijing 2019

The same tendencies were sensed at Art Basel Hong Kong. One giveaway was that the artwork prices in Art Basel HK perfectly met ordinary millennial collectors’ spending power. For example, according to China Business Network’s news, a lot of young collectors purchased Taiwanese artist Jicong Wu’s artworks because the prices were around $6000.


▲Art Basel Hong Kong 2019

Galleries: Cutting-Edge is Always a Goal

We have already seen many galleries hold avant-guard exhibitions this past year in the Chinese art scene. For galleries, the most obvious way to attract Millennial collectors is to collaborate with cutting-edge artists.

Examples include Zhenghuan and Hayoun Kwon’s collaboration at ARARIO Gallery Shanghai, Qi Lei at Matthew Liu Fine Arts, Lai Zhisheng, Guan Shangzhi and Hu Xiangqian’s group exhibitions at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Shen Xin’s solo at Madein Gallery, and Shen wenxin’s solo at A+ Contemporary. The artists are focusing on new artistic techniques, such as new media art, to investigate the relationships among humanity, technology, and society. Compared with auctions and fairs, these art gallery approaches may seem silent, but definitely no less significant.


▲Zhenghuan’s solo exhibition at ARARIO Gallery Shanghai

According to Forbes Magazine, 92% of millennial art buyers talk about “some kind of feeling” as the determining aspect for the purchase. How do gallery owners help their clients discover and engage this feeling? Storytelling is a dispensable technique as it always has been. However, the difference between now and then is that today, millennials seek an interesting and meaningful purchasing experience not only in the exhibition space, but also online. Therefore, chats at cocktail parties are no longer enough for networking among young collectors. Nowadays in China, you can hardly find a good gallery which doesn’t own a WeChat page.