Chinese Contemporary Art Sells Out At Sotheby's Auction In London; Hong Kong Auctions Expected To Follow

    Last week, across four strong London auctions of contemporary art, one point that really stands out when you break down the results is the performance of works by Chinese artists.
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Lifestyle

    100% Of Chinese Contemporary Art Lots Sell In London At Sotheby's Sale, All Within Or Above Estimates, As Chinese Buyers Keep Bidding#

    Jing Daily

    Last year, a major development that Jing Daily kept a close eye on was the growth of the New Chinese Collector -- a demographic that appeared virtually out of nowhere and ended up becoming one of the defining forces in the auction world. Although mainland Chinese collectors have gradually grown in number over the past couple of decades, following the onset of the global economic crisis (when many established Western collectors cut back their activities), the enthusiasm and tenacity of Chinese collectors -- especially at auctions of Chinese contemporary and traditional art as well as fine wine and rare watches -- became even more apparent.

    This year, New Chinese Collectors are expected to continue their momentum. Last month, at the first major Hong Kong wine auction of the year, Chinese buyers were the dominant force behind the sale's nearly US$7 million takings -- the highest ever for a single Sotheby's wine auction. As Ian McGinlay, Head of Client Development for Asia at Sotheby’s told Jing Daily earlier this month,"the phenomenal results and the active participation of mainland Chinese buyers at Sotheby’s worldwide wine auctions in 2009 will continue this year, demonstrating the strength of these new clients in this market." However, the active participation of mainland collectors is also expected to continue in another area that they now dominate: Chinese contemporary art.

    In our "10 for '10" feature, McGinlay mentioned that he expects mainland Chinese collectors to become increasingly ubiquitous -- and forceful -- at auctions of contemporary art, with these buyers going for works by "blue-chip" Chinese artists like Cai Guo-Qiang, Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi and others. If the results of the most recent contemporary art auctions in London are any indication, McGinlay and other observers seem to be right on the money.

    Last week, three auction houses (Sotheby's, Christie's, Phillips de Pury) held contemporary art auctions, the results of which surprised many participants. Though all three posted surprising results that Reuters said "underlined the strength of the market," across four sales that included works of Chinese contemporary art, one point that really stands out when you break down the results is the strong performance of Chinese art. Though details about individual bidders aren't available, from all reports Jing Daily has, the turnout of mainland Chinese bidders was substantial.

    Regardless of who bought what, the sell-through rates of the Chinese contemporary art lots are impressive: at Sotheby's, 100% of Chinese works (9/9) sold; at Christie's, 82% (7/9); at Phillips, 100% sold (3/3). At Sotheby's and Phillips, the sell-through rate of Chinese contemporary art beat that of entire sale, and the overall sell-through rate of the four auctions held by the three auction houses -- 90.5% (19/21) -- was well above the overall performance of the entire aggregated sales. This bodes well for auctions of contemporary Chinese art in 2010, and this is definitely stoking optimism among auction houses with a strong presence in the Hong Kong and/or mainland Chinese markets.

    In April, we'll start to see if the predictions made by auction participants and industry insiders about the strength of Chinese buyers in 2010 will hold true. One of the first sales where these predictions will be tested is the Sotheby's auction of Contemporary Asian Art on April 5. Jing Daily will definitely be watching that auction -- as well as all Spring auctions in Hong Kong -- and will be sure to make a "Top 10 Lots to Watch" before the auction takes place.

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