World Economy

China's art market is seeing signs of an 'obvious' warm up

Alternative investments in art take off in China

To get a picture of how Chinese government policy influences the country's art market, meet artist Tai Xiangzhou. Tai, a veteran of Song Dynasty-style painting whose work is usually sold in the U.S., says his pieces are attracting more buyers in China.

"Antique collectors in China have started to collect my work," Tai told CNBC while preparing a painting at his studio in Beijing for an exhibit in Chicago. "I am happy."

China's art market is becoming a popular way for its wealthy to invest. Many have purchased at auctions overseas in cities such as London or Hong Kong. But in late 2015, authorities started worrying about money fleeing the country and imposed tighter controls on capital. The increased restrictions have forced more Chinese to look for new ways to invest their money at home.

A gallery showing some work by Chinese artist Tai Xiangzhou.

Beijing gallery owner and art investor Chris Reynolds is seeing a surge in sales after a long dry spell in the market.

"Following the global financial crisis and the stimulus package in China, which really supercharged liquidity and demand for Chinese art, there was a lull after that period," explained Reynolds, co-founder of and director at INK Studio in the Chinese capital's Caochangdi art district.

"What we are actually seeing in the past year or so is a return to a rapid growth trend. For example, last fall if you look at the auctions in mainland China you saw a kind of heat and sizzle that we haven't seen in five years," he said. "We've seen liquidity increases, and at the same time we have capital controls, which are getting tighter and tighter and that is actually having the impact of trapping more capital within China, which will lead to different sorts of price appreciation and assets here."

Auction houses like China Guardian are feeling the fervor.

According to Guo Tong, vice president at China Guardian Auctions, turnover hit around 200 million RMB ($28.97 million) — up around 54 percent from a year ago.

"The warm up in the market has been quite obvious," she told CNBC. "More money is trapped in China. It is very likely that some of that money will go into the art market. This is one of the reasons people have upbeat predictions about the market this year." Guo estimated a 30 percent rise in 2017 in the Chinese art market overall.

That is welcome news for Tai, who used to restore paintings at the ancient Forbidden City before pursuing his own artistic career. He hopes his modern take on an ancient technique will be enjoyed well into the future — long past Beijing's policy decisions today.

"I want people to feel my work is connected to the world around us," he said.

—CNBC's Daisy Li contributed to this report.