A Chinese man purchases an Italian painting from the United States arm of a British auction house, by telephone, and pays in U.S. dollars – how’s that for an international trade?
But what makes this transaction even more spectacular is the price paid: $170.4 million. It’s the second-highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction, just behind Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (1955), which sold for $179.4 million this spring.
The painting, Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu Couché (1917-18) – or Reclining Nude – is a glorious work of art that had been off of the market for 60 years. The price paid was well above the minimum required bid of $100 million.
Yet Nu Couché is far from Yiqian’s first big purchase.
In July 2014, Liu paid $36.3 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for a Ming-dynasty ceramic cup once owned by emperors. And he’s been known to actually drink tea from this precious 500-year-old object!
He also previously paid $45 million for a 15th-century Tibetan tapestry and $4.9 million for a Tibetan yogi statue.
Liu’s intends to display his first major purchase of Western art at one of his two Shanghai museums, thus giving Chinese art lovers the opportunity to see artwork without having to travel abroad.
The $100 Million Club
There were six active bidders vying for the Modigliani, yet it took a mere nine minutes to complete the sale. As a result, Nu Couché became the 10th work of art to reach the exclusive nine figures auction club (see list below), along with the ranks of Picasso (three times), Bacon, Giacometti (three times), Warhol, and Munch.
It’s not surprising, then, that many alternative investors have called the art market overheated in recent years, driven initially by Russian wealth and now more recently by the Chinese.
Yet even while the financial crises caused a short-term trough in the space, it didn’t take long for the mega-buyers to come back into the art and collectibles market with a vengeance.
Just days after the Christie’s auction, a Hong Kong billionaire tycoon paid a total of $77 million at auctions in Geneva for two rare colored diamonds for his daughter.
Joseph Lau was the top bidder for the 12.03-carat “Blue Moon” diamond that sold for a record-setting 48.6 million Swiss francs ($48.5 million). Sotheby’s said Lau promptly renamed the gem “The Blue Moon of Josephine.”
Now, it may seem as though this exciting market is inaccessible if you’re not a sheik or a princess; however, there are a few ways that retail investors can take part.
First, you can invest in an art fund, which provides a means of entry into the largely inaccessible world of blue-chip art.
London’s The Fine Art Fund Group, for example, is the largest player in the market. It manages over $500 million in art assets; however, it requires a minimum investment of $500,000 to $1 million.
Other art funds include Artemundi Global Fund, also in London, as well as The Collectors Fund in Kansas City, Missouri, which reports an 11.3% internal rate of return on assets sold since its inception in 2007.
Secondly, you can invest in an auction house albeit most, like Christie’s and Phillips, are privately held. Sotheby’s (BID) is publicly traded, though its stock has struggled in recent months.
Finally, there’s an ever-growing and sizable market for less expensive art to adorn your walls or to diversify your portfolio.
Best of all, you don’t need to go to an auction house to find it.