Chinese interest rules the auction world
In a bold recognition of the world’s fastest-growing auction market, Sotheby’s recently hoisted China‘s flag at the most conspicuous spot outside its New York headquarters. The flag now flies between those of the US, UK, France, and Switzerland, where the auction house has established its core client base. “We proposed it. To my great surprise, […]
In a bold recognition of the world’s fastest-growing auction market, Sotheby’s recently hoisted China‘s flag at the most conspicuous spot outside its New York headquarters.
The flag now flies between those of the US, UK, France, and Switzerland, where the auction house has established its core client base.
“We proposed it. To my great surprise, not only was the Chinese flag hoisted, it was hoisted in the middle,” Kevin Ching, chief executive officer of Sotheby’s in Asia, told AFP.
Hong Kong has become the world’s third largest auction hub after New York and London, thanks to the rising political and economic prowess of China.
Sales to mainland Chinese buyers constituted as much as half of last year’s sales in Asia for Sotheby’s compared to about 15 percent when Ching joined the firm in 2006, he said.
Christie’s said mainland Chinese clients acquired the top-price items in six of the 11 sales categories and accounted for 21 percent of sales in its Hong Kong auctions last autumn.
The phenomenon reflects China’s growing wealth and increasingly sophisticated taste for fine art, but also a desire to assert its status as a global superpower.
“To complement its new-found political and economic importance, what would be better than Chinese imperial paintings and ceramics?” Ching said.
“What would be better than buying back the many treasures taken away from China when it was under the weak Manchu (Qing Dynasty) government?”
Sotheby’s in October sold an imperial throne from the Qing Dynasty — China’s last ruling dynasty from 1644 to 1912 — to a mainland Chinese buyer for 85.78 million Hong Kong dollars (11.07 million US), setting a world record for auctioned Chinese furniture.
Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s international head of Chinese ceramics and works of art, said by acquiring works of art from their glorious past, Chinese buyers were rebuilding their identity as the country emerged as from a long period of civil wars, defeats by foreign powers, and economic backwardness.
“Holding a seal of an emperor in their hand is like holding a piece of that history,” he said.
Carson Chan, managing director of Bonhams Hong Kong, said the auction house opened a representative office in Tokyo in February, targeting Japanese collectors of Chinese art.
“The Japanese have accumulated a substantial collection of Chinese art during their economic boom in the 1980s,” he said.
“By having a presence in Tokyo, we want to attract Japanese collectors who are interested in putting their collections on the market, seeing such a huge demand from the Chinese buyers.”
But increasingly, Chinese interests go further than art originated from their own country.
“They are looking at areas beyond Chinese art, to jewellery, watches, wine, and modern post-war Western paintings,” said Jonathan Stone, managing director of Christie’s in Asia.
Christie’s said the value per lot in its Hong Kong wine sales last year had already exceeded those in London and New York, traditionally the largest auction hubs for rare vintages.
Its top lot last year, a 1999 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, was sold in Hong Kong in November for 1.4 million Hong Kong dollars.
Sotheby’s held its first stand-alone wine sales in Hong Kong in January, on top of its annual spring and autumn auctions, capitalising on the strong demand from deep-pocketed Chinese businessmen and the scrapping of wine duty by the Hong Kong government in 2008.
Bonhams said it had increased the percentage of wines for immediate consumption to suit the needs of Chinese buyers.
“While many European buyers purchase wines for collection purposes, their mainland Chinese counterparts do so for immediate consumption,” Chan said.
In the jewellery category, Sotheby’s said Hong Kong’s share of international sales jumped from 19 percent in 1998 to 34 percent in 2008, overtaking New York to be its second biggest market after Geneva.
Christie’s sold a five-carat chickpea-sized pink diamond ring for a world record price of 10.8 million US dollars in Hong Kong in November.
“In the past, frankly, it could have been sold somewhere else in the world,” Stone said.
“The decision was made in conjunction with the consignor, who wanted to sell it in Hong Kong to take advantage of the growing position that Hong Kong had in the international art market.”
Ching said international auction houses are now facing an entirely different sort of challenge compared to the times during the financial crisis.
“Our worry is not about where to find buyers, but where to get enough good things to satisfy this insatiable demand.”
Source: AFPrelaxnews, 2010