Regional Buyers, International Sellers Converge On HK’s Red-Hot Auction Market

“Hong Kong Is Right At The Center Of Several Markets”

Zeng Fanzhi's "Mask Series" sold this weekend in Hong Kong for nearly double its low estimate

With Christie’s, Bonhams, Beijing Poly, Ravenel, Seoul Auction, Tiancheng and United Asian Auctioneers holding overlapping auctions in Hong Kong through November 28, the city is the center of attention in the auction world this week. With a growing number of international collectors now hoping to sell items in the city, and more auction houses crowding in to get a piece of the action, the argument could be made that the city is, at the moment, the single most exciting auction market in the world.

Though competing sales complicate buyers’ schedules, auction houses have reported strong overall sales over the past several days, with Bloomberg noting that the current autumn auction series has thus far taken in more than HK$1.8 billion (US$234 million). As Yoichiro Kurata, chief executive officer of Shinwa Art Auction Co., put it, right now “Hong Kong is the best place to hold an auction.”

In terms of some auction categories, such as fine wine and contemporary Chinese art, this has been particularly true for international houses like Christie’s. This weekend, the auction house raised HK$108 million in its three-day wine series, selling a case of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti 2005 — a regular target for mainland Chinese buyers — for HK$1.7 million (US$138,063). High-profile art sales over the weekend included “La foret blanche II” by Chinese-French master Chu Teh-Chun, which went for a record-breaking HK$60 million ($7.7 million), Zhang Xiaogang’s “2001 No. 8,” which sold for HK$12.4 million ($1.6 million), and Zeng Fanzhi’s “Mask Series,” taking in HK$15.8 million ($2 million), nearly double its low estimate.

Chu Teh-Chun's "La forêt blanche II" sold for a record US$7.8 million this past weekend

With Hong Kong’s importance in the global auction world growing, an increasing number of international collectors have begun eyeing the city as a sales destination. According to the South China Morning Post, despite recent sales records set at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York, collector bullishness about the Asia market in general and Hong Kong in particular is at fever pitch. From the SCMP:

An increasing number of overseas consigners are requesting auction houses to sell their collectibles in Hong Kong instead of other, more traditional locations, according to auctioneers.

Poly International, which hosts its first Hong Kong sale today, said the city’s market had been strong in the past three years and more local buyers wanted to start art collecting.

The auction house told the Post that all items it sold recently were sourced from overseas.

“This is definitely a trend. Sales in Hong Kong can attract buyers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland China and other parts of Asia,” said Gladys Chung, Poly Auction Hong Kong’s senior specialist for Chinese modern and contemporary art.

Chung said this was one of the reasons the Beijing-based firm decided to sell in Hong Kong, after its rival China Guardian raised HK$354 million in its inaugural sale in the city last month.

Roy Lichtenstein, "Crying Girl" (1963). From the UBS Collection. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

The convergence of mainland Chinese, local Hong Kong, international Asian and Western collectors on Hong Kong has made it one of the most diverse auction markets in the world, with demand high for everything from traditional Chinese ink paintings to rare watches and contemporary photography. Though demand for Western art has remained relatively low, some auction houses think regional buyers are ready to add a few Warhols or Picassos to their collections.

On December 3, days after the closing of the ongoing “Pop Sensation” pop art exhibition, Sotheby’s Hong Kong is set to hold its first-ever sale of Asian and Western contemporary art in Asia, Boundless: Contemporary Art. With works like Roy Lichtenstein’s Modern Room (Study) and Andy Warhol’s $(1) Sign going under the hammer alongside Chu Teh Chun’s Composition No. 170 and Ay Tjoe Christine’s We Made The Red Path, we expect the sale to become — if nothing else — an important snapshot of the current tastes of mainland Chinese, Hong Kong and regional Asian buyers and a bellwether for the 2013 spring auction series.


Art & Design, Market Analysis, Retail