New York Auction Of Ancient Chinese Antiquities Draws Fevered Bidding, High Proportion of Mainland Chinese Collectors
The rising influence and enthusiasm of mainland Chinese art collectors is a subject we revisit very often, because the long-term implications of a strong domestic collector class could be huge for owners (or potential buyers) of Chinese art of all classes — from antiquities to contemporary Chinese art. At this week’s auction of Chinese antiquities from the Sackler collection, which brought in $3,285,875 — triple the low estimate — and was 97% sold by lot (99% sold by value), all of the elements that we feel will completely reshape the Chinese art world over time — mainland collectors and intense competition for scarce pieces from historical artists or rare antiquities — came to the forefront. This chart from Art Market Monitor speaks for itself:
While the huge gap between the estimates and realized prices is noteworthy, as it indicates strong bidding, what I feel is most important about this chart (and, to be more specific, the results as a whole) is the overwhelming proportion of Asian buyers. While, as usual, this chart does not specify the buyers’ countries of origin, from other reports (and previous trends) we can be fairly confident that these buyers are primarily mainland Chinese. With 80% (or, at least, most of that 80%) being Chinese, and the highest bidder at the auction being a private buyer, these auctions give us a good sense of the possible future of Chinese arts auctions.
With upcoming auctions like Sotheby’s Autumn auction in Hong Kong on October 6 expected to draw a similar high proportion of Chinese buyers, it appears the era of the Chinese art collector is ramping up. While they are still a relatively small group (based on population and compared to the number of western collectors), over the past few years Chinese buyers have indicated that they are often willing to spend whatever it takes to get a piece of art that means something to them — whether on a personal or patriotic level. A good example of this was yesterday’s sale of an imperial desk set, which belonged to the Qing Dynasty emperor Qianlong — who remains a popular figure in Chinese history. As Art Market Monitor reported today, this desk set brought in $1.4 million — over an estimate of only $30,000. I would have loved to be in that room when bidding was going on.
Another piece of good news in the Asian art world comes from Sotheby’s this week, as their vice chairman of Asian Art, Henry Howard-Sneyd, said ahead of today’s sales of Chinese and other Asian art, “We’re aiming as high as we can.” As Reuters notes, Sotheby’s is confident that the art market in Asia is in a good place right now, as evidenced by recent sales and trends that suggest a resistance to the global economic woes that are keeping many western art buyers indoors at the moment:
A rare mother-of pearl inlaid black lacquer wine table, dating to the Wanli Period (1573-1620) that once belonged to Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller, is expected to be among the top selling items in one of two Chinese works of art auctions on Wednesday. It could fetch up to $600,000.
Also included in the sale is a pale celadon jade carved brushpot, Bitong, dating to the 18th century that could sell for as much $400,000, and a large bronze figure of an 11-headed and multi-armed Avalokitesvara, one of the most important Buddhist deities, with an estimated price tag of $200,000.
“We see the price and interest in Asia art going higher and higher,” Howard-Sneyd added.
Forty lots of Chinese furniture from the collections of Dr Arthur M. Sackler, a psychiatrist, businessman and philanthropist, will also go under the hammer on Wednesday.