Christie’s launches sale of Western art in Hong Kong to test Asian demand

Selection include works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, among others

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 10:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 11:08pm

Christie’s will hold its first major sale of Western art in Hong Kong this week to test demand in Asia for top, blue-chip names in art, with the hope that wealthy investors embroiled in market turbulences and the China downturn may perceive the best from the West as a safe bet.

The exhibition of works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, among others, will be held alongside Christie’s regular autumn auctions at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from today to November 28.

The sale, named “Loaded Brush”, will feature about 50 works of art, which are sourced from Europe and the United States, and have a total value of US$250 million (HK$1.9 billion).

Christie’s refused to disclose the prices, and unlike auctions, the transactions for the sale would be on a first-come-first-served basis and kept private.

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“In the 20th century and contemporary arena, there are about 20 to 30 active individuals in Asia who have the capacity to regularly buy art at the US$50 million level,” said Brett Gorvy, its international head of post-war and contemporary art.

“That is half the number in America but over there, the list is steady rather than expanding.”

The Hong Kong sale would replace a similar one of Impressionist, post-war and contemporary art in New York, he added.

Gorvy said that in 2013, Asian billionaires who had never bought at auctions were making bids of over US$100 million for Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969) in New York. They were outbid, as were those Asian bidders who bid for Monet’s Meule (1891) on November 16, but it was clear they wanted big brand names in art that could withstand downturns, he said.

Though Sotheby’s Hong Kong held its first sale of Impressionist and early 20th-century art in 2010, auction houses do not bring Western art for sale here regularly. That may change because of the success enjoyed by Western galleries during Art Basel Hong Kong and high-profile purchases abroad by collectors such as Liu Yiqian.

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Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Phillips are all selling Western art this autumn amid slower sales in some of their traditional categories.

Shaun Rein, managing director of CMR, a market intelligence firm based in Shanghai, said demand for Western art is linked to the current capital outflow from the mainland as the yuan hit an eight-year low against the US dollar this week.

“The Chinese market is really weak right now and everyone is trying to diversify from China-generated revenue and the renminbi. People are looking for investments that investors globally like as those assets are the most liquid. Chinese art is great but there is a fairly limited number of potential buyers compared with modern western art,” Rein said.

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Christie’s will also exhibit paintings by some of the artists featured in the sale that are already in the hands of Asian collectors. The not-for-sale works are on loan “to demonstrate the level of taste in Asia”, according to Gorvy.

Rein said this arrangement was not unlike that of companies lining up cornerstone investors to boost confidence in their stock offerings. “You point to one well-known collector and get a stamp of approval,” he said.