Bonhams CEO Singles Out China Among The Brightest Prospects For Future Auctions
A new interview with Malcolm Barber, CEO and group managing director of international auction house Bonhams, just caught my eye. Barber discusses his experience at the auction house over the years, noting trends and unique examples of the unpredictable auction market, and points out his predictions for his auction house’s long-term international prospects. Barber is optimistic that emerging auction markets like Dubai and China will continue to drive growth and demand, both in traditional luxury goods and more dynamic fields, such as contemporary art. Barber discusses the current state of auctions, and the exceptional growth his auction house has seen in China in recent years and expects to continue to see:
I would definitely say [the auction market is] more accessible and for people with liquid funds, people who are not having to raise finance to purchase, people who have got a good understanding of the market, who are perhaps not new to it. It’s a bit like the property market really, once these house prices and commercial real estate coming down in this recession. At what time is it a good time to jump in? Probably now.
(on buying contemporary art as a long-term investment) …In my view you buy art for two reasons. One, because you appreciate it and like it and want to live with it or perhaps use it if it’s furniture, who knows, and then at the end of the day it’s the commercial realism of what’s it worth later on.
In Hong Kong, being so closely associated with China and with the wealth of China still filtering through in many ways, we’ve seen wine sales went very well there [in our auctions]. Asian art and contemporary Chinese paintings were still pretty strong, but again people were being selective. Sometimes it wasn’t the very ultra expensive things that were selling, it was the well known contemporary artist[s].
It will be very interesting to keep an eye on Bonhams’ upcoming auctions. As Barber says, the contemporary Chinese art market is evolving and so too is its collector/buyer base. As competition among both artists and buyers increases and becomes more mature, scarcity of historical pieces will increase as well, and new, young artists will be more motivated to produce quality artwork that will appeal and hold value to a global audience. And since prices are more attractive right now, Barber has hit the nail on the head — “At what time is it a good time to jump in” to the Chinese art world? “Probably now.”