As the West slumps, art dealers eye rich Asians

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2011, 12:00am


As economies in Europe and America slump, Western art dealers are turning their attention towards Asia.

Next week, more than 20 galleries - from the United States, Britain, France and the Netherlands - will make their debut at Fine Art Asia in Hong Kong, a fair showcasing antiques and contemporary art.

For the first time since the fair's founding seven years ago, the Western dealers will comprise more than 20 per cent of the 102 exhibitors this year.

The galleries - which specialise in 17th to 19th century furniture, antique jewellery, silverware and paintings - hope to cultivate mainland patrons, having observed that Asian buyers, particularly rich mainlanders, have been acquiring Western antiques and valuable paintings by European old masters.

Auctioneers Sotheby's and Christie's will also be showcasing Western antiques, as well as Impressionist and modern artworks at their pre-sale exhibition next week.

Sotheby's will be exhibiting selective pieces from the Fabius Freres Gallery collection.

It would be the first exhibition of a collection comprising a range of 17th to 19th century artworks and furniture.

The items will be auctioned in Paris next month.

Christie's will be displaying highlights from its upcoming sale of Impressionists, postwar and contemporary artworks in New York.

'The market gears towards where the money is,' said art critic Oscar Ho Hing-kay.

'But seeing them coming here all at once ... you can smell the desperation of the market.'

'[China] is a potentially huge market,' said Harry Apter, director of British antique furniture dealer Apter-Fredericks.

'From history, when the wealth of a market suddenly exploded, like the Middle East and Russia, collectors will diverge into what they don't know. [The Chinese] have been collecting Chinese art, and the next step forward will be to expand their overseas collection.'

Andy Hei, fair director of Fine Art Asia, said it was natural to see mainlanders buy Western antiques and artworks after having bought Chinese antiques back to the mainland from international auctions.

'Chinese people aspire to Western culture,' Hei said.

'Some wealthy Chinese families have been buying antiques, in particular furniture and silverware, in Europe and the US, but they just keep it low profile.'

Hei said that given the economic malaise in the West, he was not surprised to see the sudden surge in the number of Western dealers seeking Asian customers.

Ho said, however, that whether the dealers would be bringing high quality artworks to the city will depend on the sophistication of the prospective buyers.

'You can't rule out the possibility that some dealers might want to get rid of the unwanted stocks, but whether this would happen depends on how sophisticated and knowledgeable the buyers are,' Ho said, warning that potential buyers should research the artworks thoroughly before opening their wallets.