| HONG KONG
HONG KONG Oct 9 Sotheby's sold HK$2 billion
($258 million) worth of Asian and Chinese artwork and luxury
goods in its autumn sales in Hong Kong on Tuesday, a 37 percent
decline from the same period last year as the market
consolidates on a weaker China economy.
The tally was also some 18 percent less than the $316
million Sotheby's sold in its Hong Kong spring sales.
The modest showing comes as two major Chinese auction houses
muscle into the Hong Kong market for the first time, posing a
fresh competitive threat for Sotheby's and rival Christie's
whose revenues in Hong Kong have soared on the Chinese art boom
in recent years, but which may now be difficult to sustain.
Anchoring the five-day auction series was again Chinese
imperial ceramics with a pair of yellow ground famille-rose
double-gourd Qianlong vases fetching HK$107 million ($13.7
million) while a pair of turquoise-glazed "pomegranate" vases
from the Qianlong period that sold for HK$23 million from the
prominent J.M. Hu collection of Qing monochrome wares.
Faring less well, however, were pieces of lesser quality and
minor flaws amid more discriminating bidding, with buyers
indifferent to some porcelain pieces from even great old
European collections such as the Meiyintang.
"It's still quite strong, but more selective," said John
Berwald, a London dealer in the room. "It's not so crazy and I
think it's better like this. It has just lost some of its
exuberance," added Berwald who bid for several Qing wares.
China last year accounted for nearly 44 percent of global
auction revenue, according to the French government's Conseil
des Ventes art market report, and is a vital driver for the
global art market now, making Sotheby's results a stress test of
sorts with broader art sector repercussions.
But the market has been dogged by a proliferation of issues
including a large-scale Chinese customs probe into tax evasion
on art imports that has cooled recent sentiment, while high art
taxes, complex regulations, widespread fakes and market
manipulation remain tangible risks.
China's annual economic growth is expected to slow for a
seventh straight quarter to the weakest level since the global
financial crisis, with luxury demand having waned substantially.
"To cool down a bit is a good thing," said Zheng Hong, a
mainland Chinese buyer at the ceramics sale. "Last year, it was
too high ... China's economy is weakening, property and other
sectors are not booming as before, so this is a natural result."
In Sotheby's contemporary Asian art sales, demand was again
patchy, even for blue chip artists with 27 percent of lots going
unsold, though master works like a 1992 painting by Liu Wei,
"Revolutionary Family Series - Invitation to Dinner," made an
artist record of $2.24 million, while Indonesian modern artist
Lee Man Fong's "Fortune and Longevity" also fetched a record
$4.4 million after competitive bidding.
Sotheby's fine Chinese paintings sale was strong with 97
percent of works sold by lot, including auction favourite,
Chinese ink master Zhang Daqian's "Swiss Peaks; calligraphy in
Xingshu", and Fu Baoshi's "Lady at the Pavilion" that each sold
for HK$23 million.
New Hong Kong auction debutante China Guardian, now ranked
among the world's top four auction firms is shaking up the
landscape in older Chinese paintings, having sold some of the
most expensive ink brush paintings in the world in recent years
including Qi Baishi's "Eagle Standing on Pine, 1946" that
fetched 425 million yuan ($57.2 million) in a Beijing sale.
At Guardian's debut Hong Kong auction on Sunday, a landscape
series by Chinese ink painting master Qi Baishi, "Album of
Mountains and Rivers, 1922" sold for HK$46 million, helping the
Chinese house notch up an eye-catching HK$455 million sales
total, nearly a quarter that of Sotheby's overall autumn tally.
Sotheby's, however, recently forged a breakthrough
partnership with a Chinese art firm to enter the mainland
Chinese market in Beijing for the first time, which could lead
to fully fledged sales early next year and let them take on
Guardian in their home base.
Chinese authorities have long refused to grant licenses to
Sotheby's and Christie's for the lucrative mainland market, with
Beijing topping even New York and London for art and
collectibles revenues last year with sales of 6.4 billion euros
($8.30 billion) according to the Conseil des Ventes French
government annual art market report.