First lot: Auction house Phillips to hold inaugural sale in Hong Kong as part of Asian expansion plan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 October, 2015, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 October, 2015, 3:54am

A 200-year-old international auction house is making big plans for Asia, starting with an inaugural sale in Hong Kong on December 1, as it eyes potential growth of the market in the region.

Edward Dolman, chairman and chief executive officer of Phillips, told the Post results of recent art sales in Hong Kong had been "encouraging" despite China's stock market crash, but the London and New York-based auction house was looking at a longer-term plan for the city.

"The market is stronger than expected," Dolman said. "But looking at one sales season is only short-term … we are not looking at two to three years, but 20 to 30 years. We have very significant plans in Hong Kong and Asia."

Dolman said art collecting in Asia had been growing tremendously, with increasing participation of "high-level" Asian buyers - spending US$300,000 upwards - at the auction house's sales in London and New York.

"There is an increasing appetite by collectors from the region buying international contemporary art," he said.

This week, Phillips has brought Femme Rouge et Pelote Verte, a 1932 painting by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier offered by the Heidi Weber Museum Collection, to show a handful of invited Asian clients at its Hong Kong office.

This could not have happened five to 10 years ago, as buyers were only acquiring contemporary artworks produced by artists from the region, said Dolman.

He said though mainland Chinese buyers had been active in the Hong Kong market over the past decade, collectors from Taiwan, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore were also important for the success of the city's art market.

The auction house, founded in 1796 and now specialising in contemporary and 20th-century art and design, will be offering watches in its first Hong Kong sale at the Four Season Hotel instead of paintings, despite holding a white-glove contemporary art sale in London on October 14.

That sale set new records for artists, including Japanese auction darling Yoshitomo Nara, as his 2000 work Missing in Action fetched US$3million. The sale also set a new auction record for rising star Danh Vo - a Berlin-based, Vietnamese-born Danish artist - for his 2010 work VJ Star, which sold for US$915,800.

Dolman said Phillips plans to host its first art sale in Hong Kong next autumn, and is in the process of assembling a team of art experts based in the city.

But he is optimistic about sales of watches. One of the top lots on offer in December is a Patek Philippe white gold automatic wristwatch, circa 1985, estimated to fetch between HK$8 million and HK$16 million.

"There is a strong market for vintage watches. They are popular and there is a big collector base in Hong Kong. It's the right thing for us to do," said Dolman. Sales of other categories including jewellery will be developed over the course of time.

Dolman declined to reveal the amount invested in Phillips' Hong Kong outpost, but he said in the long-run, it will be looking at a permanent gallery space capable of hosting auctions and exhibitions.

Meanwhile, Bonhams Hong Kong will host its first sale of prints, photographs and works on paper on November 14, a new category that aims to attract new collectors as well as broaden the tastes of existing ones.

Many of the works on the offer have five-digit to six-digit estimates only, coming from not just Asian artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Ma Desheng but also international big names including Mario Testino.

Hong Kong photographer Ho Fan's 1954 photograph Approaching Shadow is one of the major highlights, expected to fetch HK$200,000 to HK$300,000.