Asian auction houses starting to come of age

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 May, 2009, 12:00am

Better-than-expected sales of contemporary art at a sale organised by four Asian auctioneers has boosted confidence that such events could become the region's answer to those of giants Christie's and Sotheby's.

The auction was timed to coincide with an international art fair in the city.

Sales of eastern and western contemporary art at the inaugural Asia Auction Week on Friday night at the Conrad Hong Kong hotel in Admiralty raked in HK$17.33 million, with 77 per cent of 146 lots sold. The auction was staged by K Auction of Korea, Shinwa Art Auction of Japan, Kingsley's Art Auction of Taiwan and Larasati Auctioneers of Singapore.

While the works of big names such as Andy Warhol, whose Flowers sold for HK$880,000, drew the most interest, Asian artists also performed well. Korean artist Lee Don-gi's Smoking fetched HK$224,200, 182 per cent higher than the mid-range estimate. Japanese artist Hiroto Kitagawa's sculpture Miruko Hayakawa - with an estimated value of between HK$40,000 and HK$60,000 - went for HK$118,000.

Korean artist Cho Jung-wha's sculpture of Lust, Caution star Tang Wei went for HK$88,500, 116 per cent higher than the mid-range estimate.

Daniel Komala, president and chief executive officer of Larasati and spokesman of the Asian Auction Week, said that he was delighted with the result, adding that most of the pieces were sold to Asian collectors. He said the Asian market was playing an important role during these difficult economic times.

He hoped that the joint effort by the four Asian auction houses would become a showcase for Asian contemporary art. 'We do not copy what Sotheby's and Christie's do, but we offer a portfolio that complements theirs,' Mr Komala said. 'We hope that this operation can be a new model which has the possibility of becoming Asia's answer to Sotheby's and Christie's.'

The Art HK 09 international fair at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai had acted as a catalyst, he said. Having auctions at the same time as an art fair could boost sales, but only if an auction house had an exceptional collection.

Est-Ouest Auctions had a sale of Asian contemporary and western fine art at the JW Marriott hotel in Admiralty yesterday, which raised HK$28.5 million. Although the top lot, Renoir's Femme au Chapeau, did not sell, Chagall's Village Rouge went for HK$3.6 million - the highest price at the auction. However, almost all the western fine-art works were sold, as was more than 90 per cent of the contemporary Asian art.

Est-Ouest president Takashi Seki said staging the auction during the art fair period was a wise move.

Magnus Renfrew, director of Art HK 09, said that the fair was only in its second year but had already affected related events in the city. The fair ends today.