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Chinese art that investors love Add to ...

The U.S. housing market is still in the tank. The euro is hanging by a thread. Angry citizens have occupied Wall Street and are raging in the streets of Athens, Rome and London and...what&rsquo;s this? Art sales are going through the roof?<br/><br/>It&rsquo;s true. Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty bordering on calamity, the global art market is on track for its best year ever, with auction revenues for fine art sales totalling $6.3 billion (U.S.) through the first half of 2011. Powering this market, as with several others: the redoubtable Chinese buyer. In 2010, for the first time ever, China became the planet&rsquo;s top auction marketplace for fine art, outstripping France, Britain and the United States; five of the world&rsquo;s top 10 selling artists today are Chinese, with names like Zeng Fanzhi, Zhang Xiaogang and Chen Yifei outshining art luminaries such as Jeff Koons, Richard Prince and Damien Hirst. <br/><br/>Because the majority of Chinese works at auction are contemporary pieces, the word &quot;bubble&quot; has crossed the lips of more than one art-world observer, who point to the rise and fall of Britain&rsquo;s Damien Hirst as a classic cautionary tale. In 2008, just over $270-million (U.S.) worth of his art was sold at auction; a year later, his annual auction sales had plunged 93%, to $19 million (U.S.). Many wonder whether Zeng or Zhang face a similar fate if the Chinese locomotive loses steam.<br/><br/>Bubble or not, the shift is bringing these art worlds closer together. Western-based dealers are embracing the Chinese market, with influential U.S. galleries Pace and Gagosian setting up shop in China within the past year, and Art Basel, the pre-eminent art fair, launching a Hong Kong festival in May, 2012. Meanwhile, the number of Chinese billionaires is expected to grow at a healthy annual clip of 20% through 2014 (after doubling last year from 130 to 271), suggesting a steady stream of potential buyers, at least for the foreseeable future.<br/><br/>Hirst, in describing his declining fortunes in late 2008, said, rather prosaically, &quot;What goes up must come down&quot;&mdash;which, as it turns out, doesn&rsquo;t translate very well into Mandarin.

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