Sat at my desk, my reverie of researching Pre Raphaelite masterpieces is interrupted by an imposing visit from three men. Sporting Prada loafers with matching ‘man bags’, my initial reaction is to smile and say hello then get on with my task in hand. My boss for the week however springs to her feet and reads the situation with aplomb. The ‘heavy’ in the middle is the buyer, merely interested in price and whether the artist is known or not. His right hand man is his son, there to advise and give an opinion, but really, he has no sway on what his father will buy. And the shy, coy other man is his translator. This group of people represent a new wave of art appreciators; the East is taking over the art world and these men were certainly on a mission.
During the next ten minutes I witnessed some bizarre scenes. Barely taking note of the paintings, a series of repetitive traits would unravel. The ‘heavy’ would point to an oil painting, appearing to disregard its artistic merit; his translator would enquire after the price and the artist. My counterpart was quick to provide this relevant information whilst always maintaining eye contact with the main man. A whistle stop tour of the downstairs gallery and the men left almost as soon as they arrived, our catalogue in hand, price list included.
This is the new rising generation of art buyer. Seemingly more and more now, wealthy business men from Hong Kong and Japan are visiting the galleries and auction houses on Bond Street, stopping off at big brands to buy a classic item of clothing or the new item of foot wear, rounding off their ‘visit’ to the city with a ‘small’ purchase from a gallery.
It was interesting witnessing what struck them artistically for it is unlikely these men have an actual interest in the art works they are selecting. One canvas was enormous and depicted a classical English rural scene from the late nineteenth century, the other an intricate portrait of a woman, evidently appearing as though she had freshly stepped out of Jane Eyre. Seemingly so, the art is becoming of lesser importance to the buyer, rather they are more interested to know about its status or the status of the artist in order for them to see whether the next purchase will be beneficial to them and their status within society.
It has been noted a significant increase in paintings bought from Western Europe have been from countries in the Far East. Evidently this is where the money is lying. Our current economic situation has seen a fall in artwork bought by the ‘old type’- old money dressed in their father’s suits, sporting a Panama on a summer’s day, with a signet ring adorning a finger. Instead the big-guns are moving into shape, ready to buy with cash in hand and all of them are seeing their purchases as a happy memory of their ‘trip’ to London. Alongside the Louis Vuitton bag and Prada slip-ons, a slice of quintessential Britannia will be put on display amongst their ever increasing array of hotchpotch ‘famous’ and dare I say it, clichéd art work.
It seems sad to me that this is becoming the fate of some beautiful paintings, but right now, this is a very viable market and without it we would be losing out and traipsing behind other nations. We should be ready to embrace this new cosmopolitan buyer and be excited by the opportunities it will bring about; it certainly makes for a vibrant and exciting change within a frequently stuffy and ‘old boys’’ network.