Christie's sees HK as a leader for global sales in 5-10 years

HONG KONG Wed Jun 1, 2011 11:49am EDT

A view of Hong Kong's financial district September 27, 2010. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

A view of Hong Kong's financial district September 27, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Global auction house Christie's rounded up a robust Asian sale series in Hong Kong on Wednesday with solid demand for Chinese antiques and paintings, a trend a Christie's director said could make Hong Kong one of its leading markets within a decade.

Christie's sold HK$3.65 billion ($469 million) worth of Asian and Chinese artwork, jewelry, watches and wine for its spring Hong Kong sales series, a 15 percent increase from the autumn and a record sales tally for the auction house.

A number of major works, however, failed to sell given overly aggressive valuations, including a "famille rose" revolving Qianlong vase expected to fetch more than HK$200 million ($25.7 million) and an 18th century imperial "dragon and cloud" wooden screen. In the end, the top lot was a Qianlong "falangcai" blue bowl sold for a relatively modest $7.7 million.

Christie's, which competes with fellow auction goliath Sotheby's in the global art space, sold about $5 billion worth of art globally in 2010, with Hong Kong accounting for around 20 percent of the total, below New York and London, which pulled in the lion's share.

Jonathan Stone, Christie's managing director in Asia, said the Chinese art market juggernaut in Hong Kong would roll on, luring millionaires from greater China and Asian countries such as Indonesia and South Korea in greater numbers.

"There will be a point when Hong Kong is on the level of London and New York. In Asia that is really a great objective to have ... let's say something between five and 10 years perhaps," Stone told Reuters in an interview.

Christie's marquee Asian sales in Hong Kong, considered a biannual barometer for the Chinese art market, were strong for Chinese artwork across many categories, particularly imperial ceramics and paintings by old masters.

An ink brush work "Lotus and Mandarin Ducks" by Chinese master painter Zhang Daqian fetched a whopping HK$191 million, a world record for the artist, at a Sotheby's sale on Tuesday.

"If nothing happens to the Chinese economy, I think the market will continue to rise for the next ten years," said Morris Low, with the Morris and Joey Low gallery in Hong Kong, who bought a blue-and-white late Ming dragon and phoenix vase with a bid of HK$10 million in a packed auction hall.

"The market is very strong. Chinese buyers now make up about 60 to 70 percent of our clients," he added.

But some experts said unrealistic estimates and tighter credit requirements for Chinese buyers given the growing risk of non-payment as prices sky-rocket, had killed sentiment for top lots like the feted Qianlong vase.

Fired in the imperial kilns during the reign of the powerful Qianlong emperor (1736-1795), the brightly colored lantern-shaped vase with an exquisite revolving core and a hibiscus pattern failed to excite bids from the assembled crowd after being put on the block for HK$130 million.

"The numbers are so big now that you have to get the estimate right or you scare them away," said James Lally, a respected overseas collector and dealer in Oriental art. "The vase was, I think, pure and simple, too greedy. An aggressive estimate."

Elsewhere, Christie's wine sales fetched $7.7 million, 100 percent sold by lot, and featured rare vintages from Chateau Latour, while its Asian 20th century and contemporary art sales were 82 percent sold by lot, fetching $98 million. ($1 = 7.778 Hong Kong Dollars)

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Chris Lewis)

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