As recent figures from leading auction house Christie’s show, Hong Kong is increasingly flexing its muscles as a hub for fine art collectors. The Thai art market is set to prosper too, as Naphalai Areesorn discovers
Naphalai Areesorn experiences the excitement of leading auctioneer Christie’s Hong Kong sales week and discovers that Asian collectors are increasingly flexing their financial muscles in the global fine arts market
This was like visiting a museum. The works of art on show could rival the collections of some of the leading museums in Asia. The difference is here, you get the chance to go home with a piece that catches your fancy—provided you have the means to pay. I was walking through the exhibition of Asian 20th century and contemporary art that is part of Christie’s major marquee Hong Kong week sales at the Convention and Exhibition Centre. Held twice a year in May and November, the event covers several floors and has helped to confirm Christie’s as the market leader in Asia in 16 of the last 19 years in combined annual auction turnover.
Christie’s currently has two salesrooms in Asia in Hong Kong and Shanghai, another eight salesrooms around the world and a presence in 46 countries. The auction house continues to lead the art market with sales during the first half of 2018 up across all platforms: auction, private and online. During this same period, sales increased by 35 per cent to US$4 billion, recording the highest half-year sales total in company history. Some 80 per cent of the highest selling objects in the first half of 2018 were sold at Christie’s, with 55 lots sold at over $10 million. Contributing significantly to this record-breaking period was the Rockefeller collection comprising over 1,500 pieces sold over 10 days, achieving $832.6 million—the highest auction total for a private collection.
Figures from Christie’s show buyers from Asia increasing last year by 39 per cent yearon-year, contributing to 31 per cent of global sales. Almost a quarter of new buyers are from Asia, while slightly over half of Asianbased clients’ buying is outside of the Asian art category even though this category shows sales up 50 per cent year-on-year. During the Asian 20th century and contemporary art spring evening sale in Hong Kong in May this year, the highest ever evening sale total for Christie’s in Asia was realised at $133.3 million, including a work by Zao Wou-Ki
at $22.6 million, who also achieved world auction records in the spring and autumn sales in 2017.
In addition to fine art, Hong Kong holds sales in Chinese ceramics, Chinese classical and modern paintings, jewellery and jadeite, handbags and accessories, watches and fine wine. Specialists in different categories are on hand to offer their expertise, including Jonathan Stone, chairman of Asian art and deputy chairman of Christie’s Asia. Stone, who worked in London for 10 years as a specialist and head of department, is credited with Christie’s rapid growth in Asia and the development of Hong Kong as a major hub in the global art market. Dexter How, vice president of Christie’s Asia and specialist in Southeast Asian art, led a quick tour of the exhibition of works by artists from the region, pointing out pieces by the only two Thai artists available at this auction, Natee Utarit and Damrong Wong-Uparaj.
Never having been to an international auction before, it was rather exciting for me to attend the evening sale, especially when the prices climbed in increments of tens of thousands of Hong Kong dollars at a time. You’ve seen it in the movies, but to be an actual part of the proceedings is quite an experience. I made sure I kept my hands by my side—although you’d have to have a paddle to be able to bid, I wasn’t taking any chances of being mistakenly thought to be trying to buy a masterpiece. In addition to action in the salesroom, bids were also taken by phone as well as online. The representatives of each of the regions relayed the phone bids from clients in their respective regions.
Although, as I was reliably informed, on this occasion there were no bids coming in from Thailand that evening, the interest from the kingdom’s discerning collectors in both fine and Asian art has increased in recent years. According to Stone, Thailand is a growing market for the company. The Thai office was set up in 1998, the year in which Christie’s was acquired by Artemis, a French holding company owned by Francois Pinault. Co-founders of Christie’s Thailand, Punchalee Phenjati and Yaovanee Nirandara, now serve as senior consultants while Prapavadee Sophonpanich is the general manager. Stone acknowledges that Thai artists are underrepresented at international auctions but hopes that now with a dedicated team in Thailand, this will change. “We have initiated discussions with leading Thai personalities in the art world—including art historian and curator Apinan Poshyananda, who is the artistic director of the first Bangkok Art Biennale—and hope to work with him on promoting Thai artists,” he says.
In addition to global auction and private sales, Christie’s offers a worldwide property network, education programmes in London, New York and Hong Kong, global fine art storage services and art shipping services.
museumquality Art lovers admire the paintings on display at the Christie’s auction at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
promotingart (Clockwise from above right) Christie’s Asia deputy chairman Jonathan Stone; the painting by Zao Wou-Ki which sold for US$22.6 million; Chrisite’s Hong Kong salesroom at the Convention and Exhibition Centre