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Younger generations of Asians are spending big on art

Younger, wealthy shoppers in Asia are splashing their cash on art, according to a longtime collector and senior auction house executive.

Nicolas Chow, Sotheby's chairman for Asia, said more than 40% of its buyers of contemporary art are millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), while Gen X (1965 to 1980) are also likely to be big spenders, he said.

"The buyers are increasingly younger. What we've seen actually in 2023 … Gen X is the most important buy-base actually — over a million dollars, they dominate the market," Chow told CNBC's "Art of Appreciation."

Gen Z — the youngest age group for buyers — is "coming in quite strongly," he said, adding that he recently saw a 20-year-old buyer acquire a piece in Shanghai to celebrate his graduation.

Wealthy millennials in Asia spent a median of $59,785 on art and antiques during the first half of 2023, while for Gen Zers the figure was $56,000, according to the Art Basel & UBS Survey of Global Collecting 2023.

Buying at auction — instead of from a dealer, for example — is popular with millennials and Gen X collectors globally, according to the survey. The trend appears to be playing out in Asia. At Christie's Hong Kong spring season auction, held between May 25 and June 1, around a quarter of buyers were new to the auction house, and 43% of those were millennials, according to an online release.

And, while the size of the global art market fell 4% last year to around $65 billion, according to the Art Basel & UBS Art Market Report 2024, sales in China rose by 9% in 2023, overtaking the U.K. as the world's second-largest art market. "Activity surged as post-lockdown buyers snapped up backlogged auction inventories and as Hong Kong's major fairs and exhibitions returned to full-scale