May 30, 2008 / 4:42 AM / 11 years ago

Christie's sets record with Asia art sales, eyes more

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Global auction house Christie’s sold a record $310.7 million worth of Asian art at its Hong Kong spring sales this week, cementing the region’s reputation as one of the most promising in a thriving international market.

A visitor looks at a ten-piece set paper screenprint of Mao Zedong by Andy Warhol, which is part of Warhol's series of the late Chinese leader, displayed at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre during Christie's 2008 Spring Sales May 26, 2008. Christie's sold a record $310.7 million worth of Asian art during the sale this week. REUTERS/Victor Fraile (CHINA)

The tally was Christie’s highest ever for an Asian sales series and a 58 percent increase on the same event last year.

The auctions featured a characteristic smattering of record results in various categories of artwork, anchored by an especially strong showing of Chinese and Asian contemporary art.

“The results of our Hong Kong spring sales highlight the importance of Asia for Christie’s and the potential that this region offers,” said Edward Dolman, CEO of Christie’s International.

A diptych painting by top Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi “Mask Series 1996 No. 6” fetched $9.7 million, setting a new mark for Asian contemporary artwork at a glamorous evening sale which raked in $104.6 million, a 33 percent increase from last spring.

While Chinese artists hogged headlines, other emerging Asian talent, including 29 Japanese contemporary artists, 10 from India and 10 South Koreans, saw record prices paid for their work.

The strong Asia showing — well in excess of pre-sale estimates — comes on the heels of a spectacular auction series of postwar and contemporary Western artwork by Christie’s and rival Sotheby’s in New York earlier this month.

Sotheby’s sold Francis Bacon’s “Triptych, 1976” for $86 million, setting a record for post-war art, while Christie’s sale of Lucian Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” established a new mark for any living artist when it sold for $33.6 million.

“Global interest in art continues to grow and supported by new wealth in the region, we are committed to expanding our business in Asia,” Dolman added in a statement on Friday.

Rivals Sotheby’s sold $227 million worth of artwork in their Hong Kong spring sales in April. Hong Kong has matured into the third largest art auction market behind New York and London.

For more traditional categories of Chinese artwork however, such as imperial ceramics and modern and classical paintings, results were far more modest, suggesting more restrained bidding from Chinese buyers, who have aggressively driven up valuations in recent years.

There have been other signs of strain in the frothy Chinese art market amid continued financial market turmoil.

An index run by Chinese art website Artron (, which tracks the works of 18 “red-hot” Chinese contemporary artists, has dropped 4.1 percent in the first quarter this year after almost doubling in 2007.

Other highlights at the Hong Kong sales included a 101.27-carat diamond, the largest colorless stone ever to be auctioned in Asia, which was sold for $6.2 million. A Chinese Qing dynasty musical and automaton “Jardiniere” clock fetched $5.1 million, a record for any Chinese imperial clock.

A finely carved lotus leaf-shaped “water-dropper” rhinoceros horn from the late Ming dynasty sold for $1.04 million, while a Chinese Qing dynasty glass brushpot embellished with European style “mother and child” pictures sold for $8.3 million, with the proceeds donated to charitable causes including victims of China’s Sichuan earthquake.

($1=7.802 Hong Kong Dollar)

Reporting by James Pomfret; editing by Jonathan Hopfner

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