Quietly leading the way
Mainland auction houses have performed remarkably well in the face of tough competition from major international brands in HK, although they arrived in the city only over the last 20 years or less. reports.
Increasingly buyers from the Chinese mainland are on the radar of art dealers the world over. This is probably most apparent in Hong Kong which acts as a vital conduit between the mainland and the rest of the world. As Gary Yee, CEO of Hong Kong-based art consultancy firm Art Serindia Ltd, says, all auction houses — including big-time international players and the homegrown Chinese brands — are competing for the attention of mainland buyers at this moment.
While collectors from Europe and the US seem to be on the back foot, those from the Chinese mainland are vigorously buying. As figures from independent research by The European Fine Art Foundation show, in 2016 buyers from Asia beat the more-seasoned client bases in Europe and the Americas to claim 40.5 percent of auction house sales from around the world and 90 percent of them were from China. China today is home to an ever-widening pool of collectors at the center of the world’s art trade.
Hong Kong is often the first port of call of buyers from the Chinese mainland and, not entirely coincidentally, also the last. They come here to check out some of the world’s most priceless paintings that later go on sale in London or New York. They comprise the bulk of consumers who buy from the major auctions and art fairs in the city. That Hong Kong doesn’t count art as a dutiable commodity and has one of the world’s most advanced logistics facilities in place make the city a great transit home for the stuff the connoisseurs pick up from the city.
Unsurprisingly, a substantial chunk of the world’s art purchases in recent years is linked to Hong Kong. What might come as a bit of a surprise though is that the stars of record-breaking sales here have often been overshadowed by the hype over the runner-up. While Zhang Daqian’s ink and color painting Peach Blossom Spring made headlines when it earned $34.7 million at Sotheby’s spring auctions in April 2016, the sale of Cui Ruzhuo’s The Grand Snowing Mountains for more than $39.5 million — which is also the highest a painting ever sold for in the local market — only a day before at Poly Auction Hong Kong went relatively unnoticed.
Poly Auction Hong Kong, a subsidiary of Beijing Poly International Auction, has been on a winning spree since it set up shop in the city in 2012. In fact, six out of 10 of the most expensive painting purchases in this city were through Poly. The market survey and analysis portal Artprice reveals that seven out of 10 of the most expensive art pieces sold in Hong Kong last year were placed in the market by mainland auction houses, including Poly. Their success seems sweeter when one considers mainland auction houses now making a splash in the Hong Kong market arrived in the city less than 10 years ago, whereas the multinational heavyweights have been around for much longer (Sotheby’s hosted their first Hong Kong sale in 1973) and been in business elsewhere since the 18th century.
In 2016 Poly Auctions, Hong Kong sold Wu Guanzhong’s for HK$236 million — the most valuable oil painting in the Asian Modern and Contemporary category ever sold at an auction.
On a firm footing
At a time when the performances by international heavyweights of the auction industry — Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams — do not seem to create much of an upheaval in the local market, Poly Auction Hong Kong made HK$1.245 billion at the last spring auction, a 17-percent growth since their last outing. Their highlight piece in spring 2016, Wu Guanzhong’s landscape, The Zhou Village, which masterfully combines both Chinese and modern European sensibilities, was sold for HK$236 million.
Wu Guanzhong landscapes ruled the Chinese auctions in Hong Kong again this year. China Guardian, another auction house with roots in
Among the merchandize that could have travelled down that road were the Gandhara-style Buddha sculptures with Greco-Roman features that flourished in the 1st and 2nd century in regions that are now in Pakistan and Afghanistan. At China Guardian’s spring sales in late May, Wilson sourced a few rather rare specimens of Gandhara art, including a 2nd century panel carved in black schist, showing the death and funeral of the Buddha.
“Getting younger buyers on board has been a bit of a challenge,” said Wilson. “But we’ve been trying to address that, educate newer buyers, show them that these pieces can be quite worthwhile even in a contemporary setting, that they are really interesting historical pieces.”
We have been trying to educate newer buyers, show them that these pieces (of Gandhara Art) can be quite worthwhile (to display) even in a contemporary setting, that they are really interesting historical pieces.”
Mainland auction houses do not seem unduly anxious about whether or not they are noticed by the media as they follow a business model that’s different from the Western auction houses. Much of their sales are achieved largely on the basis of building a relationship of confidence and trust with the client, sustained over years.
Apart from having good guanxi, or relationship with patrons it helps to cater to an audience
A painting from Zeng Fanzhi’s 2017 spring auctions. sold for HK$105 million at Poly’s