Chinese Demand Clear As Christie’s Achieves Sales Of $117 Million In Seven Sales From March 22-25
Over the last several days, Christie’s New York set a new Asian Art Week record with $117 million in sales, beating the previous record by a whopping $40 million. With Chinese items ranking as the top lots in four of the seven categories (the remaining three categories were focused on South Asia or Japan and Korea), demand at the top end for high-quality Chinese art and artifacts clearly remains strong not only at auctions in Hong Kong or mainland China, but also in New York.
Demand from Chinese and other Asian collectors has translated to a steady (and lucrative) source of revenue for the world’s major auction houses. At the conclusion of Asian Art Week, Jonathan Stone, International Head of Asian Art at Christie’s, said, “The resounding success of Christie’s New York Asian Art Week at $117 million, almost $40 million more than our previous record, is a testament to the outstanding property Christie’s presented and to the robust market.”
Of the top lots recorded this week, several stand out simply because they so tightly fit in with the trends we’ve been watching in the broader Chinese art market. For instance, at the The James and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection auction on March 22, the top lot was a rare conch shell with gilt copper and enamel champlevé mount, which sold for $1.2 million, well over its pre-sale high estimate of $300,000. So what makes this shell so desirable? The Qianlong-incised four character yuzhi mark. The same goes for the Celadon-Glazed Carved Baluster Vase sold for a jaw-dropping $7.9 million, double its high estimate, at the Magnificent Qing Monochromes Porcelains and Earlier Works of Art from the Gordon Collection auction on March 24.
Lots with a connection to the reign of Qing emperor Qianlong (1735-1796), who is an incredibly popular historical figure among many mainland Chinese, continue to cast a spell over Chinese collectors in particular, with virtually any vase that dates back to Qianlong’s period seemingly fetching at least $1 million at recent auctions. Last week, Artinfo reported on perhaps “the grandest auction house underestimate of all time,” as a vase estimated by Sotheby’s to sell for $800 went for a staggering $18 million, simply because it was rumored to date to the reign of Qianlong. (Sotheby’s had dated it to the Republican period (1912-1949).)
The complete disconnect between pre-sale estimates and the prices that Chinese collectors are willing to pay may seem confusing, but as industry insiders understand, it pays to expect the unexpected. As London-based Chinese art dealer Ben Jannsens said in the wake of Sotheby’s $18 million vase sale, “Nothing surprises me about the Chinese art market today.” Seems to be the right attitude.