London and New York both have advantages over a number of other cities where buyers can buy and sell art, in that they’re both long-tested and well-regulated ground. Each city enjoys a tried-and-true legal apparatus with applicable precedents for most art disputes. This means sales can generally occur without obfuscation or corruption. And, in the event a dispute arises, ample specialized service providers are poised to step into play. There are a number of “lawyers in New York who spend a majority of time on art world related disputes—ownership, authenticity, change of ownership, whether art was seized by a government at some point, and so on,” said Thompson. “Those lawyers bill more money a year than the size of the Canadian art market—which is about $65 million,” estimates the economist. “There is a trustworthy legal system.”
Such is not necessarily yet the case in China. Hong Kong offers much more by way of legal certainty than the mainland, but trouble abounds beneath the amounts works ostensibly fetch in the country. “The physical numbers are big but the question is, how many of those totals were actually paid and how much of that is just pure market manipulation to get the numbers up?” said Levin, adding that such inflation and nonpayment are “a very significant problem.” Such a lack of confidence “in any sort of market causes people to pull back or at the very least think carefully about how involved financially they’re going to be in that market,” Levin added. Thompson noted that predicting the economic climate in China going forward is incredibly difficult, since the economy is impacted by the policies of a non-transparent government, and thus demand can fluctuate in a way unfriendly to choosy consignors of top lots.