One interesting facet of West Bund, and ART021 for that matter, is that while sales were in no short supply, the fair itself was never particularly crowded. The contemporary art collecting community in China is mighty but it is still relatively small. And, as indicated by the many private museums in Shanghai that are reportedly arduous to access by public transport—with some limiting access only to visitors directly invited by the collector—the art scene here remains relatively closed off to the wider public. (One notable exception is Photo Shanghai, which routinely welcomes hoards.)
However, Ink Studio’s sales director Christopher Reynolds explained that the community is beginning to widen due to supply constraints in collectors’ preferred genres. “We’re starting from a very low base,” said Reynolds. “The vast majority of money going into art in China is going into classical art. But now that it’s harder and harder to find great works of classical Chinese art, even those collectors are starting to look elsewhere.” This, coupled with the country’s growing middle and upper class, bodes as well for the country’s art market as it does for China’s growing economic sway around the globe.
As for Donald Trump? For the art market, it’s clearly too early to tell. The most dovish of Trump’s policy proposals, like tax cuts, loosened regulation, and fiscal stimuli through infrastructure spending, are things the market likes. These kinds of initiatives increase wealth and thereby disposable income among the elites who buy art—likely disproportionately in their favor. The hawkish, xenophobic, trade-warring, wall-building side of Trump’s campaign persona is another story entirely.
In either case, it appears that Trump’s election will serve to push the intersection of China’s and the United States’s economic influence ever closer. A less globally engaged United States could open up space for China to fill the gap, as the world’s economic baton potentially moves further from West to East. Following Obama’s abandoning of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) due to the election, TPP’s 11 other would-be signatories, including China, have indicated interest in moving forward with the deal. So, while the smog still hangs thick in the sky here, the country begins to build its version of the United States’s mid-century middle class.