People's preferences when it comes to buying works of art may defy explanation, but having too much money is among the more convincing when it comes to understanding the rationale for some of these purchases.
For example, those who this week shelled out more than HK$200 million for a Northern Song dynasty porcelain bowl presumably have more than enough cash - and for all we know, it may even have been a bargain if, some years from now, it sells for double that.
The boom in this city's art galleries is less easily understood, at least if you take a look through the shop windows along Hollywood Road, where 99.5 per cent of the overpriced merchandise is blatantly uninspired and derivative, if not fake, and a testament to this town's fixation with achingly bad kitsch. Enough people must be buying the stuff, though, because how else could the dealers afford their exorbitant rents?
Outbidding even Hollywood Road for evidence of art buyers' crassness is anyone who is willing to pay up to US$3 million for the 1,000-year-old Khmer statue offered for sale by Sotheby's in New York. Unquestionably it's a fine work, even though it is missing its feet, which, it was reported some weeks ago, still stand on the statue's plinth in a remote corner of Cambodia.
As beautiful as this sculpture is, why would anyone want to buy it in the knowledge that its feet are elsewhere, after it was hacked off at the ankles in a fit of greed in 1965? (The statue's photo taken from Sotheby's catalogue is lit in such a way that you cannot see that its feet are missing).
Mercifully, it may not be sold at all, after this week's belated intervention on behalf of the Cambodian people, to whom in all decency it should be returned immediately. Had its sale gone ahead, however, a successful buyer may have had to pay at least US$2 million. After all the publicity, such a buyer would have acquired the statue in full awareness of its true provenance, and thereby declare loudly that he or she has no scruples whatsoever. Surely there's something cheaper on Hollywood Road that could make the same point a little more discretely?
Alex Lo is on leave and will return next week