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.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - POLICY REVIEW -

MaskSeries1996 TheZhouVil­lage

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.”

Sus­tained re­la­tion­ships

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


Ni­cholas Wil­son,

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