HONG KONG (AP).- For newly minted Chinese billionaires looking to spend their money, a natural choice has been art and antiques from their own country, many costing millions of dollars.
Now art dealers and auction houses are trying to pitch them a harder sell: Western masterpieces by artists such as Picasso, whose paintings featured in three autumn shows in Hong Kong.
"They are the next big wave of buyers, and they could affect the market as much as the Japanese did in the '80s," said Jehan Chu, who runs consultancy Vermillion Art Collections.
China's rapidly developing economy has churned out many wealthy businesspeople who have made their fortunes in industries from soft drinks to property development to the Internet. The country is now home to the world's largest number of dollar billionaires, according to the Hurun Rich List 2010, China's version of the Forbes list. China's new rich have been snapping up Asian artwork, antiques and other collectables, pushing up prices to record levels. That was evident in November when an unnamed Chinese buyer paid $83 million at a London auction for a 19th century Qing dynasty vase found in a suburban house. The rising number of wealthy Chinese buyers has also made Hong Kong the world's third largest auction center after New York and London. Chu says a lot of the buying "is largely driven by investment rather than a love or appreciation of art," though that is changing.
In a sign of the hope that Chinese buyers are now turning their attention — and checkbooks — to Western art, Sotheby's displayed 20 works at its Modern Masters exhibition of Impressionist and early 20th century art in Hong Kong last weekend, after holding a preview in Beijing in October. It was the auction house's first show held specifically for the Asian market and featured seven Picassos as well as works by Monet, Renoir, Chagall and Degas, priced from $2 million to $25 million.
Picassos are also on show at Ben Brown Fine Arts and Edouard Malingue Gallery, both opened by European art dealers in the past year in the former British colony to cash in on the growing wealth of Chinese collectors.
Pablo Picasso is widely considered to be the greatest artist of the 20th century and his works consistently fetch record prices. A 1932 painting of his mistress, "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust," sold for $106.5 million in May, setting a world record price for any work of art at auction.
Many in China can now afford his paintings. The Hurun report's researcher, Rupert Hoogewerf, said in October that he knows of at least 189 dollar billionaires in China but the real number may be more like 400 to 500. The report lists 1,363 people with wealth of at least one billion yuan ($150 million). But do they want to buy a Picasso? The artist might seem a bit too challenging for buyers in China, who often prefer more literal and conventionally pretty scenes.
Art dealer Edouard Malingue said some of the Chinese visitors to his gallery's debut show have shown an appreciation for the works, some of which depict sexually charged scenes, including brothels and men peeping at women. "Some of them, I could feel it was very new so they need more time to get used to it," Malingue said. "Others had a much more quick interest. Even for people not familiar with his work, they had a sharp eye for his craftsmanship, they were attracted to pieces that curators would pick."
Malingue said he has sold two of 17 paintings on display at his show, the first for his gallery, which opened in September. Both were bought by European buyers. The show also features 23 sketchbook drawings. After it ends in Hong Kong on Friday, it will travel to Taiwan for a week. Ben Brown, who opened the Hong Kong branch of his London gallery a year ago, has 13 works spanning 70 years of Picasso's career in a show that runs until Jan. 28. He said that while he hopes to sell some paintings to Asian buyers, he also expects purchases to come from wealthy Europeans visiting the city. He would not discuss specific sales.
A Sotheby's spokeswoman said only that "some" paintings from the Modern Masters show have been sold, declining to be more specific. But there is plenty of potential if the results of Christie's sale of Asian contemporary and Chinese 20th century art held last weekend is anything to go by.
Thirty seven lots were sold raising more than $36 million, with most buyers listed as Asian.
3. CHINA.-ArtDaily.org - After the record-breaking $390 million autumn sales at Sotheby’s Hong Kong last month and China Guardian’s $620 million record sales last week – the overall Chinese art market is becoming very hot once again.
Whilst other art markets are talking about the recovery, the Chinese art market is experiencing a second boom - strongly supported by regional buyers. Auction prices in certain traditional sectors, such as Chinese painting and calligraphy, as well as antique porcelain and ceramics, have been pushed to new heights, and art market analysts are already questioning the sustainability of this surge in prices.
Evidence of the frenzy was seen in early November 2010, when a bidding war between Asian buyers pushed a Qianlong-dynasty vase to a price of $83.2 million, an auction record for Chinese art. The vase was offered through the west London auction house Bainbridges, with a pre-sale estimate of £800,000 to £1.2 million. It made more than 40 times the high estimate, with a hammer price of £43 million.
The action taking place in the more traditional collecting categories of the Chinese art market, is also rubbing off on the Chinese contemporary art market. Christie’s Asian & Chinese 20th Century Art (Evening Sale) held on 27 November 2010 in Hong Kong, achieved a total of $31,060,900 (excluding premium). This was 8% lower than Christie’s ‘white glove’ sale in spring 2010.
In terms of Chinese contemporary art, Christie’s Hong Kong raised a total of $24,140,220 from both the Asian Contemporary art and the Chinese 20th Century art sale. This was at the top end of the pre-sale estimate of $16,773,250 to $24,438,050. The total was 54.4% higher than spring 2010, and the result supports the strong positive trend set out by Sotheby’s Hong Kong last month. The two houses are competing neck and neck, with Christie’s total for contemporary art only 9.1% higher than the equivalent sale for Sotheby’s. In Christie’s Contemporary Asian Sale, Chinese contemporary art accounted for 89.5% of total value, versus 72.1% for Sotheby’s.
The success of the Christie’s sale was underpinned by broad interest in the mid- to high end price segment. In contrast to the contemporary Chinese sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October, where the top 10 lots accounted for more than 72% of the value - the top 10 contemporary lots in Christie’s Hong Kong sales accounted for only 42% of the total. The average auction price for Contemporary Chinese art increased to $182,880, more than double that of spring 2010.
The price segments that saw the strongest interest was works sold for $100,000 and above, with significant interest in the $100,000 to $500,000 price bracket. This price category saw its share increase from 14% to 18%, or in terms of value from $2.19 million in spring 2010 to $4.35 million in the autumn 2010.
Similar to Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale, the demand for Zheng Fanzhi’s works remain very strong, and 4 out of the top 10 prices were achieved by the artist, accounting for 27% of the overall total. The second highest lot in the sale was by artist Mao Xuhui’s ‘92 Paternalism’ (1992), which sold for $1.3 million against a pre-sale estimate of $390,000 to $650,000. Zhang Xiaogang also had a good run, and despite only having one lot from the ‘Bloodline’ series in the top 10 price list, 6 lots sold for a total of $2.6 million with only one painting failing to find a buyer.
4. Boston, Mass.: Antiquesandthearts.com - The normally reserved audience of Chinese dealers burst into applause when one of their own, representing a mainland China buyer, won an album of 25 ink and color paintings at Skinner's two-day sale of Asian works of art December 3–4. The price: a record-breaking $1,227,000.
The paintings of landscapes, flowers and birds by the stars of Twentieth Century Chinese art had come to auction from the collection of Pah-Yuen Wang, for whom the pictures were made. The sale total was around $5.7 million, a record for the auction house.
The ArtTactic Auction Indicator for contemporary Chinese art at Christie’s Hong Kong fell 23.5% from spring 2010, and the current Auction Indicator is now standing at 39, down from 51. The reason for the drop in the Indicator is largely a result of a higher unsold rate, which increased from 18% in spring 2010 to 34% in the recent sale. The equivalent Auction Indicator for Sotheby’s was 43 in October 2010.
5. HONG KONG (REUTERS).- A Hong Kong tycoon paid $16.7 million on Wednesday for a quartet of Chinese cloisonne cranes at a Christie's sale in Hong Kong that also saw strong prices paid for high-end Chinese ceramics amid a white-hot streak in the market.
At Christie's Asian sales in Hong Kong, considered a barometer for the Chinese and Asian art markets in the world's third largest art auction hub after New York and London, demand was again strong for Chinese works from three major Western collections.
The four enamel cranes, part of a trove of Chinese treasures had been cloistered for decades in the late Alfred Morrison's Fonthill estate in the western English county of Wiltshire.
Crafted in the Qing Yongzheng period (1723-1735), the near life-sized birds were sold after brief bidding for HK$129.5 million to Hong Kong tycoon Joseph Lau who has paid high prices for works by Andy Warhol and Paul Gauguin in recent years.
"Many pieces sold above the high estimates because of the provenance and as fresh material to the market," said Robin Markbreiter, the director of Arts of Asia magazine, at the sale.