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Hong Kong sales marathon continues

[23/08/2016]

Compared with the deceleration of mainland China’s art market, Hong Kong is still looking buoyant. In 2015, it was the only Chinese city to post an increase in annual auction turnover on Fine Art and this year the city has consolidated its status as an international platform — a strategic crossroad — resisting the current art market turbulence, especially that experienced in Beijing. Over the last 12 months, the slowdown in the Contemporary art market (particularly sensitive to periods of market adjustment) has been much milder in Hong Kong than in mainland China as a whole. Hong Kong’s resistance may well be due to its high concentration of major art buyers and the abundant supply of works offered by the likes of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams, who all have the capacity to ‘internationalize’ both supply and demand.

A healthy pace…

So, as the mainland’s art market contracts, Hong Kong is resisting with the steady pace of sales proving that auction operators remain confident. Sotheby’s Hong Kong sales programme for autumn 2016 promises yet another marathon with no less than seven Fine Art sales sessions between 2 and 4 October at the Convention Center. This is essentially a repeat of last year’s planning when eight sessions were dedicated to Asian Art on 4 and 5 October 2015 and a further six sessions between 3 and 5 April 2016. The sales range from Traditional art, including works in ink, to top quality works by Modern and Contemporary Asian artists and the week promises to be one of the busiest of the autumn.

Less spectacular records…

By condensing their sales into action-packed weeks in the autumn and the spring Sotheby’s has managed to generate a number of major records for the Asian art scene. These include $10.4 million for SAN Yu’s Potted Chrysanthemums (聚瑞迎馨) on 5 April 2014 and $5 million for a 1930s canvas (Nu au chat) by the Japanese artist Tsuguharu FOUJITA on 3 April 2016, acquired by Shanghai’s Long Museum. Records are still being hammered… but they are not quite so impressive. Times have changed, and the price inflation we saw at the beginning of the decade on Chinese Contemporary artists like ZHANG Xiaogang and ZENG Fanzhi has now considerably slowed.

Indeed, Zeng Fanzhi’s auction record of $23.2 million for his The Last Supper on October 5, 2013 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong now seems like a distant memory. In 2013 Zeng Fanzhi was the fourth most expensive living artist in the world after Gerhard Richter, Jeff Koons and Jasper Johns. Two years later he abruptly descended from that pedestal with an annual auction turnover down -75%. Nowadays not even the Hong Kong market could generate such prices… and when a major work by Zeng Fanzhi is offered for sale, it is expected to fetch not much more than $2 million. In October, Sotheby’s intends to rekindle this major artist’s market by offering his canvas Society No. 3, at between $1.5 and 2.3 million. However, its current focus is more oriented towards lower-priced artists whose market progress is “underway” like AFFANDI (Indonesian), Kazuo SHIRAGA (Gutai Group) and Ufan LEE, the most internationally renowned artist of the Korean Dansaekhwa movement.

With over 40 years of experience in Asia, Sotheby’s uses Hong Kong as a platform to develop the markets of Contemporary artists from Southeast Asia, including Koreans, Indonesians, Malaysians and Filipinos. For these artists, inclusion in the Hong Kong sales means access to new collectors and higher prices.

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