As Hong Kong “Stirs From Slumber” And Buyer Confidence Remains High In China, What Can We Expect To See Next Week?
We’ve been interested in the upcoming Hong Kong Sotheby’s auctions of Contemporary Chinese, Southeast Asian and other Asian art, with a particularly obvious fixation on the Chinese side, for some time. After the surprising turnout of mainland Chinese, and their willingness to go far above and beyond lot estimates to take home something they’ve set their hearts on, Sotheby’s is likely expecting a good proportion of bidders both from the mainland and other areas of Greater China — definitely Hong Kong, since buyers from that market have been something of a fixture at Chinese art auctions for ages. And while the unpredictable nature of art auctions makes it difficult to forecast how next week’s auctions turn out (although total revenue estimates for all of the Hong Kong auctions are close to US$100 million), many people are excited and motivated to buy some high-quality, historical art.
One thing that makes the auction of contemporary Chinese art even more interesting to me on a personal level is the way it will coincide with “Golden Week,” a week of celebrations coinciding with both Chinese National Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival. If last year’s turnout was any indication, Golden Week could draw well over a million mainlanders to Hong Kong this year, most of whom are coming to the city either to shop for expensive objects or eat and drink for days. While Golden Week, on its own, really shouldn’t affect the Sotheby’s sale too much, it is within the realm of possibility that some of the shopping-mad mainlanders might be shipping a Yue Minjun or Liu Ye painting home along with their boxes of luxury goods.
Another reason I’m excited about the Hong Kong sales next week is because of this article, published today by Art Market Insight, which is bullish on the article because of the comparatively fast re-emergence of Hong Kong following the global economic crisis:
Once again, Sotheby’s is weighting its sale in favour of the Contemporary segment (Contemporary Asian Art) which carries the richest of the three catalogues with 190 lots and a total revenue estimate of $12.5m. In order to re-kindle interest amongst its biggest clients, the auctioneer has built a catalogue of very attractive signatures. Among the star lots: a powder drawing by CAI Guoqiang , Money net NO.2, estimated at HKD 4.7m – 5.5m, ($606,000 – $710,000), several paintings by YUE Minjun , including Hats series – The lovers expected to generate around $400,000 (estimated HKD 2.8m – 3.5m), three paintings from the famous Chinese Portrait series by FENG Zhengjie including a superb contemporary Amazon (4 x 3 metres) estimated at $100,000 – $130,000 (HKD 800,000 – 1m). A very similar monumental portrait fetched $133,000 in June 2009 (Phillips de Pury & Company, London, £81,000).
ZENG Fanzhi and ZHANG Xiaogang – known for their capacity to generate exceptional results even in periods of crisis – both have several works in the sale, including Zhang’s Comrade diptych offered at $600,000 – $700,000 (HKD 4.7m – 5.4m). Sotheby’s has prudently excluded his most expensive works from (the Bloodline: Big Family) series from the sale although two paintings from that series generated relatively respectable results in the autumn of 2008 at more than $2m each (Bloodline: Big Family No.1, fetched HKD 20m at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 4 October and Bloodline: Big Family No.2, fetched HKD 23m on 30 November at Christie’s Hong Kong).
I think Sotheby’s has been smart to weight in favor of contemporary Chinese art, especially on the heels of their sales of Chinese antiquities. Following up the momentum of those recent sales with a large-scale auction of contemporary pieces that are of exceptional quality and by historical, established artists is a good way to tap in to the economic exuberance of Hong Kong as it emerges from the shadow of last year’s crisis. It also gives mainland bidders the opportunity to snap up some fantastic pieces right in their backyard during a period of national celebration and holiday. These elements all have the potential to affect the mood of the bidding, particularly because — as the Art Market Insight study shows today — bidders are showing that they are in the mood to buy:
For these Hong Kong sales, Sotheby’s has brought together some very charismatic signatures, with chosen carefully subjects and modest price pretentions. The stage is therefore set to attract buyers who have expressed a strong acquisitive appetite: according to Artprice’s Art Market Confidence Index , more than 75% of respondents are in the mood for buying.
Keep an eye on our coverage of the Hong Kong auctions next week. They are certain to be interesting and important, and should give us a glimpse of what we can possibly expect to see at upcoming auctions in November.