For Auction Houses In Hong Kong, “Power And Patriotism Sell”

Sotheby’s Prepares For Upcoming Auctions Of Arts And Antiquities With Theme Of “Imperial Power”

An Imperial khotan green jade seal from the Qianlong period sold in London to a Chinese collector for nearly US$6 million last fall, far beyond its US$995,000 high estimate (Photo courtesy Sotheby's)

An Imperial khotan green jade seal from the Qianlong period sold in London to a Chinese collector for nearly US$6 million last fall, far beyond its US$995,000 high estimate (Photo courtesy Sotheby's)

Jing Daily has already put together a preview of what to look for next month at the Sotheby’s auction of Contemporary Asian Art in Hong Kong, but today the Wall Street Journal takes a more specific look at the particular techniques that Sotheby’s is using to promote spring auction season there. By highlighting the undertones of power and authority in the objects up for auction, particularly in promotional materials auctions of antiquities from the court of popular Qing Dynasty emperor Qianlong (previously on Jing Daily), Sotheby’s is smartly playing to the cultural and historical proclivities of (primarily) mainland Chinese collectors.

From the article:

The theme of the promotional materials, “Imperial Power,” is designed to appeal to collectors from China keen to buy artwork and antiquities from their own country, said Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s senior director for China and Southeast Asia. Many are business people, often with “a clear sense they are buying their history back,” he said.

For these buyers, an association with power and authority carries more clout than the usual approach taken with Western buyers of Asian collectibles. That approach is summed up by the title of a catalog for the same April 8 Hong Kong auction presented to Sotheby’s European and North American clients: “Objects of Contemplation.”

“It is really about pitching the right piece to the right clients and presenting the objects in such a way that our clients can make sense of them with their respective set of references,” said Mr. Chow. “It is about understanding the objects, what they are, what they say, and having a solid grasp of our diverse clientele.”

Buyers from mainland China have become important to the major auction houses. As China’s economy expanded, wealthier Chinese auction buyers were gaining ground on their Western counterparts. The global economic downturn, which was less severe in China, accelerated their rise.

That makes it more important for auction houses to tailor their marketing to the Chinese, who are active in other categories as well. Bonhams, which opened a Hong Kong office in 2007, initially sold only art, but soon added watches, jewelry, wine and even whiskey to its roster of Hong Kong auctions. The company also plans more promotional events on the Chinese mainland.

The stated focus on Confucian ideals in Sotheby’s promotional materials for these upcoming sales is particularly noteworthy because it shows that the growing importance of the Chinese market is creating — rather than aping — real trends in the global auction market. Where once Hong Kong was playing second fiddle to New York or London, now it’s clearly coming into its own as a major player — powered by Chinese collectors both local and from the mainland.

Categories

Art & Auction, Culture