‘Only here because of T.O.P.’ Hong Kong K-pop fans throng art auction

Big Bang singer’s role as co-curator generates unprecedented interest in Sotheby’s #TTTOP sale – even though 28-year-old was only there in spirit, having flown out a day earlier – with schoolgirls queueing to get in

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 12:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 12:56pm

Auction houses worldwide are keen to shed their fusty image and get the younger generation interested in collecting, so getting a K-pop superstar to co-curate an art sale on was a strategic move by Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

T.O.P., a 28-year-old rapper whose real name is Choi Seung-hyun, is a member of Big Bang, Asia’s biggest-selling pop group. He has the looks, the money and a serious collection of international contemporary art to make him the perfect ambassador for an auction house. His tastes are wide- ranging – from Korean dansaekhwa to German post-war paintings – a fact reflected in the sale, called #TTTOP after Choi’s Instagram handle.

K-pop’s T.O.P. has been a collector since he was 4 years old

It must have received more attention than any auction ever held in Hong Kong, simply because Choi kept posting updates to his 5.8 million Instagram followers.

Sure enough, the star’s pulling power was sufficient to bring some first-time visitors to the Sotheby’s auction room, even if he was only there in spirit (he left Hong Kong the previous day, causing havoc at the airport).

Angelia Mak, a Form Three student in Hong Kong, and her friend Bonnie Guo, both in their school uniforms, were among those who stood patiently at the entrance to the sale room just to catch a glimpse of the action. They were among dozens of T.O.P. fans who weren’t initially allowed into the auction room because access was limited to registered bidders. However, management magnanimously let in the hoi polloi a few minutes into the sale and the two teenagers managed to watch their first auction up close.

It’s not clear if the sale has converted pop fans to art fans.

What did Mak and Guo make of the art? “Don’t get it,” they said . Or perhaps they didn’t get why someone would bid HK$40 million for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Infantry (1983), one of 28 lots by Western and Asian artists consigned for the sale.

“The prices were incredible. It’s all very new to me,” Mak said.

The sale yielded HK$136 million in total, including buyers’ commissions to Sotheby’s, and a healthy 90 per cent sell-through rate.

Would the two start paying attention to contemporary art from now on? Maybe go to another auction? “No. This is a one-off. We are only here because of T.O.P.,” Guo said without hesitation.