Dealers wade in for Web feat

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am

Is it hype, speculation or the real thing? That question plagues artists, collectors and curators as they watch prices of Asian contemporary art spiralling to new heights.

Riding high on the booming market for Asian art, collector-cum-restaurateur Jai Waney and art gallery owner Johnson Chang Tsong-zung founded Atting House, the first Hong Kong-based internet auction house that specialises in Asian contemporary art.

Set up in January, Atting House will host its inaugural auction on Wednesday and Thursday, selling 132 'post avant-garde' contemporary paintings, photographs and sculptures by 66 up-and-coming mainland artists. The works are on display at Atting House's 10,000 sq ft space in Quarry Bay until the end of this month.

Atting House joins several high-profile art dealers in setting up on the Web. 'Saatchi has an online forum,' says Waney. 'Christie's and Sotheby's now have online bidding during house auctions, and Saffron has been very successful in India.'

Hong Kong art auctions are now the world's third largest after New York and London, thanks to the growing appetite for Asian arts. Last year's auctions of contemporary Asian artworks at Sotheby's

and Christie's, the two biggest auctioneers, collected US$190 million, up from US$22 million two years before.

The demand isn't only for work by Chinese artists. The Indian contemporary and modern art market is soaring, too, with an estimated worth of US$250 million. And the prices of some Vietnamese artworks have multiplied 10 times in just a few years.

Atting House plans to hold four auctions a year, featuring artworks from China and other Asian countries. But the founders of the online auction house say they aren't interested merely in financial gain.

An independent curator will work on each auction, choosing artists and artworks and setting prices. The first auction is curated by Wang Lin, a professor from a fine arts academy in Sichuan.

'It's not only an auction but also an art exhibition,' says Chang, of Hanart TZ Gallery in Central, who has been promoting avant-garde Chinese art to western audiences since the 1980s. 'Professor Wang has the total independence to make the choice, and it is based on academic criteria and artistic values. How well they'll sell, I don't care very much.'

The selected artworks, Wang says, 'reflect the real dilemma in the life of Chinese people: the widening economic gap between rich and poor, which has fundamentally shaken the traditionally accepted premise of equality. This is a critical issue for contemporary Chinese art.'

Although works by star artists such as Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang and Wang Guangyi can command millions of US dollars, even rivalling established western artists such as Damien Hirst and

Jeff Koons, Atting House aims to deal in more affordable art by lesser-known artists, in a price range from US$1,200 to US$130,000.

'[The auction is] a good way to introduce young artists to an international market they couldn't otherwise afford,' Waney says. 'Artists who may not have had much exposure will be able to let the market determine their worth.'

Buyers around the world can take part in the auction. Yet there is surprisingly little information about the artists or their work on the website and in the catalogue.

It isn't something that bothers art collector Judy Hong. 'I'm not so much into online auctions,' she says. 'There's a certain atmosphere and ambience in a traditional auction. You see other people bidding and it may motivate you. Watching everything on the screen feels more distant and removed.'

Phillip Tse, a curator and gallery owner who has bid in online auctions, says: 'It's quite exciting to sit in front of the computer screen and place a bid.'

Yet he says he isn't inclined to take part in the upcoming auction. 'I've met some of the artists who feature in the auction, and they are very young, very self-centred - not really my cup of tea,' he says.

'I want to see them become more mature before I consider buying their artworks.'

Post Avant-Garde: Chinese Contemporary Art auction, Wed and Thurs. Four Directions of the New Era exhibition, 10/F, 633 King's Rd, Quarry Bay, noon-8pm, until Nov 30. For details go to