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Chinese Auction Buyers Find “Treasures For The Taking”

High Proportion Of New Chinese Collectors Boosting Sales As Economic Mood Remains Relatively Tepid In More Mature Markets

Up for auction in Hong Kong on October 6: Ai Weiwei's “A Gift from Beijing (set of three works)”

Up for auction in Hong Kong on October 6: Ai Weiwei's “A Gift from Beijing (set of three works)”

Next week, Sotheby’s will hold one of the most anticipated auctions of the season, its autumn auction of contemporary Chinese and other Asian art, in Hong Kong. For this closely-watched sale, the location is no coincidence. According to recent stories in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Economist and dozens of art blogs, mainland Chinese buyers have rapidly become one of the fastest-growing buyer and collector groups in the world. Considering art collection was virtually nonexistent for much of the last 60 years in China (and probably significantly longer than that), many newly wealthy Chinese are taking advantage of the readjustment in prices of pretty much anything up for grabs at auction to bring home everything from Chinese antiquities to contemporary art by living artists.

Whether they are doing this more for personal reasons (decorating their house while holding on to something of great financial value which is expected to grow along with the Chinese yuan) or for patriotic reasons remains to be known. My assumption is that there is a little bit of both involved.

In the run-up to the October 6 auction in Hong Kong, a spate of auctions of Chinese art have taken place over the past few weeks, with Chinese bidders going far beyond the estimates and shocking many observers. The new Chinese collector has, in many ways, signaled his arrival by the manner in which he’s seemed completely impervious to either the global economic slowdown or auction trends, and is quickly building a reputation as willing to spend, brash, motivated and savvy.

This week, on Economist.com, the Chinese collector’s knack for repatriating Chinese art is examined, with the writer concluding that auctions — as a buyer’s game — are all about who brings the money and who’s willing to spend it. At recent auctions (and, I would have to assume, future auctions) many of these individuals are mainland Chinese:

Anyone who believes the art market has been felled by the financial crisis should have been in New York earlier this month for the seasonal auctions of Chinese bronzes, furniture and ceramics. The salerooms at Sotheby’s and Christie’s were overflowing with bidders, more than three-quarters of them from Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan. Extra Mandarin-speakers, all of them fluent and young, had been taken on specially to handle additional telephone bidding from Asia.

Chinese Art Collectors Buying In NYC, Expect Trend To Continue In HK Auctions

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:

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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.

Up for auction in Hong Kong on October 6: Ai Weiwei's “A Gift from Beijing (set of three works)”

Up for auction in Hong Kong on October 6: Ai Weiwei's “A Gift from Beijing (set of three works)” -- Estimate: US$ 30,800-44,800 (HK$ 240,000-350,000)

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.

(Via Art Market Monitor)

(Via Art Market Monitor)

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.

Update: Christie’s HK Evening Auction of Contemporary Chinese And Asian Art A Success

Evening Sale of Chinese and Asian Contemporary and 20th Century Art Brings In $23.4 million – 89% Sold By Lot, 98% Sold By Value, Zao Wou-Ki Takes In $4,585,704 For One Painting

Sold for $858,037: Contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang's "Big Family Series No. 21" (1999)

Sold for $858,037: Contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang's "Big Family Series No. 21" (1999)

A quick update about Christie’s first out of three Asian and Chinese contemporary and 20th century art auctions currently taking place in Hong Kong. As of the first sale — the evening sale — bidding was strong and prices healthy, with historical and top artists selling well and for good prices. Some artists, such as Chinese artist Sanyu — who was sold for $5.4 million — set artist records, as the artist (who died in 1966) far exceeded the previous record set for his work in 2006.

Although I don’t have much detail yet about the buyer demographics — I’ll post an update once I do — here are some of the figures from the first night of auctions:

Zao Wou-Ki $7,660,122 (Total, for three works)
Cai Guo-Qiang $1,091,341
Zhang Xiaogang $858,037
Zeng Fanzhi $780,270
Liu Ye $624,734
Fang Lijun $593,627
Yoshitomo Nara (Japanese) $562,520
Chen Yifei $267,003

You can see the final results of all lots for the evening sale here. Updates will follow on the following auctions.

Buying Opportunities in Contemporary Chinese Art: It’s Now in the East!

From Individual Collectors To Hedge Funds, Asset Allocation Is The Name Of The Game

Sui Jianguo's "Legacy Mantle" (2005) is expected to pull in $77,768 - $129,613 at Christie's upcoming HK auction

Sui Jianguo's "Legacy Mantle" (2005) is up for auction in Hong Kong this week

We have written several times about contemporary art’s value as a hedge against inflation, and discussed several contemporary Chinese artists whose work is increasingly being purchased by everyone from individual Chinese “New Collectors” to major world museums like MOMA and the Getty. Since there are a number of large-scale auctions scheduled this summer, from auction houses from Sotheby’s and Christie’s to their emerging counterparts China Guardian and Poly from China, Korea’s Ravenel, and Indonesia’s Borobudur, what should those interested parties know about what’s out there in Chinese art?

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Art Auction Season Warming Up As HK Auctions Near

With Auctions Of Western Favorites Doing Better Than Expected, Will We See The Same Excitement Surround Upcoming Contemporary Asian and Chinese Art Auctions?

Up for auction later this month in Hong Kong: Tang Zhigang, Chinese Fairytale (2006). Will Asian buyers pounce on the best buyers' market in years?

Up for auction later this month in Hong Kong: contemporary Chinese artist Tang Zhigang's "Chinese Fairytale" (2006). Will Asian collectors pounce on the best buyers' market in years?

As trend-watchers love to say, the art market may be down from last year, but it’s far from out. Yesterday’s auction at Christie’s suprised many, with better-than-expected bidding and several works exceeding their estimates. As the New York Times noted, works by historical favorites like Picasso and Giacometti brought solid prices, and the auction injected a dose of optimism into the auction market, which has recently been affected by the same drop in confidence as the rest of the economy. However, Christie’s success is not the main point that interested me in the New York Times article. This is what caught my eye:

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Put Your Money Where The Art Is

Growing Number and Influence Of Asian Auctions Will Provide Excellent Buying Opportunities For Diversifying Investors And Avid Collectors Alike

Up for auction in Hong Kong, May 24, Liu Ye, Boogie Woogie, Little Girl in New York (2006)

Up for auction in Hong Kong, May 24, Liu Ye, Boogie Woogie, Little Girl in New York (2006)

We have written several times that right now is the best time to purchase both top historical artists and emerging talent. Now that auction season is getting ready to really start heating up, journalists around the world are noticing that there are great deals to be had, and that anyone who is interested in jumping into art as an investment should do so now, when the market is more affordable. Upcoming auctions in Hong Kong and elsewhere are sure to reflect the trends we’ve been noticing — China and emerging contemporary art markets are going to continue to be the best place to put your money. Here’s why:

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The Ongoing Saga of the Summer Palace Bronze Heads

Rumors Abound That French Super-Retailer Carrefour May Be In Bidding

Will the Rabbit and the Rat finally return to Beijing? Image © Artworld Salon

Will the Rabbit and the Rat finally return to Beijing? Image © Artworld Salon

The Financial Times reports that the recent controversy about the sale of two bronze zodiac heads looted from Beijing’s Old Summer Palace by Anglo-French troops in the 19th century and put on the auction block by the estate of Yves St. Laurent may be close to an end. As you may remember, the auction, held in Feburary, were sold for £14m each, but the anonymous buyer soon revealed his true identityas the New York Review of Books writes,

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