Weirder, cheaper, more diverse: art market players woo Asia’s next generation of collectors

Examples include Sotheby’s coming Hong Kong sale, guest curated by K-pop star T.O.P

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 3:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 9:22pm

The volatility of the art market has prompted players to make long-term investments by cultivating a new generation of collectors through initiatives to attract a younger crowd in the region.

Auction houses and art fairs eyeing the potential of those aged 40 or younger are offering works of art that are more experimental, and which are at a relatively affordable price range.

And they are boosting their presence on social media and their sales on digital platforms in order to draw the attention of these new buyers.

For its coming autumn sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong has teamed up with musician and actor T.O.P, from K-pop sensation BIGBANG, for a contemporary art sale titled #TTTOP on October 3. The sale is “curated” by the 28-year-old singer.

But K-pop credentials aside, Jonathan Wong, director (Asia) and senior specialist of the contemporary Asian art department at Sotheby’s, said T.O.P, whose real name is Choi Seung-hyun) comes from an artistic family and is a well-known art collector.

Wong said that there is a strong growth in young collectors in Asia, particularly in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. He said over 20 per cent of Sotheby’s clients in Asia were aged 40 or under – a percentage that is higher than the auction house’s worldwide average.

Forty per cent of the first-time bidders at the Hong Kong sales were aged 40 or under, he added.

“Many of them come from [families with a background of collecting]. But compared with their seniors, who might be more into traditional and classical works of art, the young generation is more interested in contemporary art,” Wong said.

“Many of them have studied abroad. They travel around the world to visit museums and art fairs. Their Asian cultural roots and experiences in the West make them more receptive towards art across various disciplines and cultural boundaries.”

The #TTTOP sale features 25 lots of Western and Asian contemporary artwork, with a total pre-sale estimate of HK$90 million, excluding the buyer’s premium.

Highlights include Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting Infantry (1983), which has a pre-sale estimate of HK$30 million to HK$40 million, and a series by Keith Haring from the collection of David LaChapelle, which is expected to fetch an estimated HK$4.5 million to HK$6 million. Specially commissioned works by Kohei Nawa and Takashi Murakami are also among the lots.

Part of the proceeds will go to the Asian Cultural Council.

Wong admitted that having T.O.P on board helped draw a younger crowd, whose broad interests affected the auction house’s selection of consignments.

“Our recent sales [included] more photography, video and installations, which did not exist in our past sales,” he said, adding that the auction house also hosts mid-season sales offering a range of works including design and collectibles.

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Art fairs are also targeting a similar crowd. The Asia Contemporary Art Show, which opens to the public on Friday at the Conrad Hong Kong, highlights works by young artists such as Wang Min and Luo Yang, both born in the mid-1980s.

Mark Saunderson, co-founder and director of the show, said one-third of its visitors were aged 35 or younger, according to its exit poll. He said the fair offered works of art starting at the lower end of five digits, a price that young professionals could afford.

Besides offering a diverse range of artwork at reasonable prices, Saunderson said players in the market must master the art of social media if they wanted to tap the young crowd.

“This new generation of art lovers will be buying art, and hopefully will become collectors in the future. It is important to speak their language,” he said.

“The acceleration of social media means that they search for information and buy works of art in ways that are different from their parents. It helps us to keep up with our potential audience.”