Chinese Collectors Maturing, Becoming More Discerning Each Auction Season
With the highly anticipated Sotheby’s spring auctions winding down in Hong Kong, it looks like our expectations for 2012 remain on target. Offering a wide range of categories, including wine, jewelry, contemporary and modern Asian art, Chinese ceramics and rare watches, buying at the five-day auction series remained driven by the appetite of China’s emerging (and fast maturing) new collector.
As at other recent Hong Kong auctions, many observers kept a close eye on the fine wine segment, one in which mainland Chinese and Hong Kong collectors have become some of the world’s voracious bidders. Unlike last fall’s lackluster Christie’s wine auction, when only 84 percent of the lots sold, this week Sotheby’s recorded 100 percent of lots sold over the two-day wine series, beating top estimates with a total of HK$63.6 million (US$8.2 million). This handily beat the pre-sale estimate of HK$57.3 million (US$7.4 million). As Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Wine, Serena Sutcliffe, remarked following the wine auction series, “Mature, classic Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne were a huge success.” Unexpectedly, China’s growing thirst for top-flight Burgundy Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (previously on Jing Daily) characterized the auction series, with the top two lots of 1988 DRC going for HK$1.6 million (US$206,064).
Buying in the 20th century Chinese Art segment remained consistent with what we saw in 2011, with auction favorite Zao Wou-Ki’s “25.06.86” breaking a record for the artist at auction at HK$25.3 million (US$3.26 million) and Wang Yidong’s “Morning Mist in Mengshan” going for HK$11.9 million (US$1.53 million). In all, 91 percent of lots were sold, with the auction pulling in a total of HK$255 million (US$32.84 million), over the pre-sale high estimate of HK$238 million. In terms of 20th century Chinese photography, however, the sale indicated the growing interest in photography among Chinese collectors, with all 17 photos up for grabs finding buyers, according to Sylvie Chen, Sotheby’s Head of 20th Century Chinese Art.
Following up last autumn’s Contemporary Asian Art auction series, which pulled in HK$227.8 million (US$29.2 million), the highest-ever various-owner sale in the category at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, observers kept a close eye on this weekend’s Contemporary Asian Art auction. At recent auction series, Chinese collectors have remained relatively cool towards Korean and Japanese contemporary art, focusing primarily on top works by blue-chip Chinese contemporary artists, and this buying habit remained on display this time around as well. Overall, despite being affected by Chinese buyer indifference towards lower-quality pieces or non-Chinese Asian art, 37 lots sold for over HK$1 million, with the auction pulling in a grand total of HK$211 million (US$27.2 million), the second highest total for a various-owner sale of contemporary Asian art.
Preference for rare and historical works by the most established Chinese contemporary artists among Chinese collectors was the name of the game this week, with Zhang Xiaogang’s “Bloodline – Big Family: Family No. 2” — the earliest example of this series to ever be sold at auction, and the first time this painting was seen in public — selling for twice its estimate at HK$52.18 million (US$6.69 million). According to Artinfo, the painting was acquired by the Indonesian-Chinese super-collector Budi Tek for display at his upcoming private museum in Shanghai, as was Fang Lijun’s “1993 No. 4,” which beat its pre-sale high estimate and sold for a whopping HK$28.66 million (US$3.67 million).
Looking back on the sale, Evelyn Lin, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Asian Art, remarked, “In line with the development in the market for Contemporary Chinese Art we experienced during the course of last year, this evening’s buying was completely dominated by Asian buyers.” As Artinfo succinctly put it,
The success of this sale as a whole, with 75 percent sold by lot and 89 percent by value, confirms the trend of the season, the strength of which is assuaging fears that the slowdown in the Chinese art market appreciable in fall 2011 might accelerate this year. The opening days have already seen pair of sold out wine auctions and solid results in the Chinese 20th Century Art and Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary sales.