Tough times? Someone forgot to tell collectors

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 December, 2011, 12:00am


Week-long auctions of luxury goods, art and fine wine in Hong Kong yielded satisfactory results compared to similar sales in New York and London.

But when it came to some contemporary works it was another matter, with buyers drawn to items better able to stand the test of the grim economic times.

Christie's ended its autumn sale after seeing HK$2.85 billion in sales, on a par with the pre-sale estimate of HK$2.6 billion, excluding buyers' premiums. But it was way down on the HK$4 billion it amassed at its spring sale, Christie's best outing in Asia so far.

The auction house said 87 per cent of the buyers came from Asia, most of whom were from the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Some items sold for well over their pre-sale estimates.

In the Asian 20th Century and contemporary art category, Zao Wou-ki's painting Cerf Volant et Oiseaux fetched more than HK$35 million, more than triple the lower estimate of HK$10 million.

Cui Ruzhuo's Lotus went for more than HK$123 million - against a HK$40 million pre-sale low estimate - setting a new record for the artist.

In both the Chinese classical painting and calligraphy and Chinese modern paintings categories, more than 80 per cent of the items found buyers. A set of albums entitled Landscapes and Poems by Shen Shichong and Chen Jiru from the 16th to 17th century sold for HK$23 million, 10 times the pre-sale lower estimate.

Ninety per cent of the lots in the watches category were sold. Buyers snapped up 84 per cent of the wines and 80 per cent of the jewellery.

But the sold-by-lot percentage dipped in the modern and contemporary art categories, with only 74 per cent being sold.

Antiques proved highly sought-after lots at Bonhams' part IV auction of the Mary and George Bloch collection of Chinese snuff bottles. All 170 items were sold, with one setting a new international record for a snuff bottle at HK$25.3 million.

All but 4 per cent of the ceramics sold, while about 90 per cent of the jade lots and 78 per cent of the works of art and paintings found buyers.

Bonhams said the total was about HK$240 million, a 15 per cent increase from the sale in May.

The company's head of Chinese ceramics and works of art, Julian King, said collectors were still prepared to spend on items that were once-in-a-generation offers.

King said very wealthy people would still be bidding under any economic climate. He said that while there was speculation in the property and contemporary art markets, people 'buy antiques as an asset as they are less likely to depreciate'.

The same bidding sentiment was on show at Tiancheng International, which had its inaugural Hong Kong auction on Monday.

Its blockbuster Auguste Rodin's Monumental Head of Pierre de Wissant fetched HK$64 million, tripling a pre-sale low estimate of HK$20 million, excluding buyer's premium. The auction house's total was more than HK$268 million, slightly under the pre-sale estimate of HK$280 million.

But over at SeoulAuction, which focuses on contemporary art, one of the big-name pieces bombed. The company's total - about HK$67 million - was a fraction of the HK$195 million-plus pre-sale estimate, mainly because its HK$55-HK$75 million Jeff Koons Smooth Egg with Bow sculpture failed to sell.

Nevertheless, 60 per cent of the items were sold at the sale.