October 6, 2009

“The Chinese Are Out In Force” At Sotheby’s Hong Kong Auctions

Mainland New Collectors Pushing Contemporary Chinese Art Nearly Back To 2007 Levels As Classic Chinese Photography Sells Out

Sold in Hong Kong for $1.1 million USD, $372,000 over high estimate: Zhang Xiaogang's "Comrade (Diptych)" Image: Sotheby's
Sold in Hong Kong for $1.1 million USD, $372,000 over high estimate: Zhang Xiaogang’s “Comrade (Diptych)” Image: Sotheby’s

There’s been no shortage of jaw-dropping figures coming out of Sotheby’s Hong Kong autumn auction, as this weekend’s fine wine auctions brought in nearly US$8 million, Fine Chinese paintings took in US$23.5 million, 20th century Chinese art made US$14 million and today’s contemporary Chinese and other Asian art pulled in almost US$15 million — mainly on the strength of contemporary Chinese artists like Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun. Among the countries represented in the Asian contemporary art sale — China, Japan and South Korea — sales of Chinese art were the most consistent and showed the highest sell-through.

With spirited bidding by mainland Chinese collectors, and important milestones like 100% of the classic Chinese photography selling out, it looks like the contemporary Chinese art market is back in business in a very significant way, driven more by domestic rather than foreign demand as its performance parallels the Chinese economy. The prevalence of mainland collectors in all of this week’s auctions could really indicate that these autumn auctions are a major turning point in contemporary Chinese art as the point at which the Chinese collector really came into his own.

Although news reports are still forthcoming about the buyer breakdown, based on the turnout these last few days it seems as if Golden Week has indeed attracted many mainland Chinese collectors to depart with their gold in Hong Kong. From Bloomberg yesterday, regarding Chinese buyers at yesterday’s auction of Fine Chinese paintings:

The Chinese are out in force,” said Jerome Chen, 60, a Hong Kong-based collector…“It’s hard to outbid them.”

Low-key and unassuming, the Chinese buyers at yesterday’s auction sat mostly clustered in the back rows, watching their rivals and whispering into mobile phones between bids. China’s accelerating growth and a 50 percent gain in the benchmark Shanghai stock index from the same time last year have generated wealth and stirred buyer confidence.

Sotheby’s wouldn’t say how many buyers were Chinese, only that nearly all were Asians. Yesterday was the third day of Sotheby’s sale, which is expected to fetch a combined HK$780 million. The Chinese also dominated the weekend wine sale, paying a record $94,000 for a 6-liter bottle of Chateau Petrus 1982. The sale continues today with modern and contemporary art.

Yue Minjun had an exceptional showing, taking in $823,000 for "Hats Series - The Lovers"

Yue Minjun had an exceptional showing, taking in $823,000 for "Hats Series - The Lovers"

The fresh figures coming out of Hong Kong this morning indicate that these “low-key” Chinese bidders were present at the contemporary Asian art auction as well. One of China’s premier contemporary artists, Zhang Xiaogang, attracted the highest bid with his “Comrade (Diptych)” going for US$1.1 million (US$405,000 over high estimate), and top artists like Yue Minjun (whose “Hats Series – The Lovers” sold for US$823,000, US$372,000 over high estimate), Liu Ye (whose “Portrait of L” went for US$467,000, or $209,000 over high estimate), Huang Yongping, Zeng Fanzhi, Wang Guangyi, Xiang Jing and others all surpassed their high estimates and found new homes — presumably back in the country of their origin. Note: all sale prices include buyer’s premium.

Following the reputation we’ve seen developing over the last several months, Chinese collectors are fast becoming notorious in the auction world as sophisticated and determined buyers. As the Bloomberg article about yesterday’s auction notes, either you love [selling to] them or you hate [competing with] them:

It’s very clear the Chinese are holding up Asia’s art market,” said Eddie Leung, 51, an art collector and managing director of Paper Communication Exhibition Services, in an interview at the venue. “It’s great if you’re a seller, but awful if you’re bidding against them.”

Art / Culture
Tag: 20th century chinese art, Art, artwork, auction... , More
  • ellie

    I heard that collector groups are sprouting up, discussing and trying to see where the works are outside china…

  • Angel

    The “Hat Series – The Lovers”, sold for $823,000; I am very impressed ( no disrespect), wondering if some Ricky Martin (alike) is coming out of the closet.

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