Art auctions see moves in quality but not quantity

Experts pay top dollar for rare works, but many lots do not sell and living artists turn to art fai

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 3:46am

A series of autumn art auctions held in the city notched up some record prices for fine works and ended on a high note, but while total figures rose the number of lots sold was fairly static.

"People are willing to spend, but they are after top-quality works," said Loretta Lo Suk-heung, operations director of China Guardian (Hong Kong) Auctions.

And for galleries, selling works by mid-career living artists, art fairs - such as those held over the weekend - are becoming the main sales avenue.

"Auctions are only part of the reality," said Calvin Hui, co-director of Fine Art Asia. "Auction results can only act as a benchmark for masters like Pablo Picasso or Zao Wou-ki, whose works already have strong academic references. But for emerging and mid-career artists, they are only one reference."

Sotheby's five-day autumn sale, marking the international auction house's 40th anniversary in Asia, brought in total sales of HK$4.196 billion, including the buyers' premium - a record for a global arts business in Asia.

Compared with the sale in spring, which earned HK$2.184 billion, and last autumn's HK$2 billion, the sale that ended on Tuesday appeared to show a dramatic lift in the auction market.

It set a number of new records and these high-value objects contributed to the strong final figures, but the percentage of lots sold was more or less the same - 89 per cent - as in the spring sale and 1 per cent up on autumn.

Beijing auction house Poly Auction realised a total of HK$989 million at its three-day autumn sale offering some 2,000 lots, but only 39.2 lots were sold at the Chinese ceramics sale.

Fellow mainland auctioneer China Guardian totalled HK$510 million sales over the weekend, offering 635 lots. However its total sold-by-lot rate dropped from more than 80 per cent at the last two sales to about 76 per cent.

Fairs are growing in popularity. Hong Kong's Fine Art Asia had nearly 32,000 visitors, 7,000 more than last year, and an estimated sales value of HK$520 million. The Asia Contemporary Art Show, a hotel fair, attracted more than 8,000 visitors, with estimated sales of HK$17 million.

Hui said the fairs saw a mix of collectors from Asian territories, not just the mainland.