President Trump's trade war with China continues as the US Trade Representative (USTR) announced a new 10% tariff on art, antiques and antiquities which will take effect from 1 September.
Cheng Rong's Six Dragons, originally from the Fujita Art Museum in Japan, sold for US$4.896m at Christie's New York in 2017
The USTR published a list of items with a worth of US$300 billion to be subject to a 10% tariff from 1 September. The list includes “antiques exceeding 100 years, paintings, drawings, engravings, sculpture and statuary... collections of zoological, botanical, mineralogical, anatomical, historical, archaeological interest". Regardless of who imports the artwork or where the work is sourced from, all Chinese art has to be taxed.
In the earlier periods of the trade war, art dealers and collectors, led by New York antique dealer J.J. Lally, protested against imposing tariffs on Chinese art, demanding the Trump administraton to exclude Chinese art and antiquities from the imposition of 25% import tariffs. Lally expressed that these tariffs will cause little harm to China but will greatly damage the US economy.
New York antique dealer J.J. Lally
First of all, most Chinese antique and contemporary art collectors come from China, as well as other Asian countries while Chinese art is mainly sold through international auction houses, US-based auction houses, US art dealers and collectors in the US, not through Chinese dealers. Besides, everyone knows that antiques are not created in recent years in China. Therefore, they have little to do with the current, ongoing trade war. Last but not least, China has always strictly monitored the export of antiques as they do not want an outflow of the country's antiques.
In 2017, the total auction value of Chinese art was US$7.1 billion while that of North America was US$410m. Out of the US$410m worth of auctioned art, many came from the US and would not be affected by tariffs. In terms of international auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby's, they can transfer any artwork to other sale centers to avoid the heavy tax.
Take Christie's New York 2017 Spring sales as an example, Chinese art from the collection of Fujita Art Museum totaled a whooping US$260m. If 10% import tax was in effect, Christie's could have sent the pieces to Hong Kong without compromising much in terms of sale revenue.
Pace Galery in Beijing closed down after 10 years
Last month, Pace Gallery closed down its Beijing branch after 10 years of operation. Its founder, Arne Glimcher, stated that the trade war has made it impossible to do business in China. Pace Gallery was the first American contemporary gallery to open in Beijing during the frenzy of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was situated in the famous "798 Art Zone" and occupied an area of 2,500 sq. metres.
For many years, Pace Gallery Beijing have blended together Chinese and Western art. It featured artwork by famous Chinese artists such as Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, Qiu Xiaofei as well as Western masters like Willem de Kooning and Jean Dubuffet. Glimcher expressed that art has become a victim of the trade war and it's extremely unfortunate.