Mainland Chinese economic slowdown dents Hong Kong's autumn art sales

Takings down 20 per cent in Christie's autumn show in Hong Kong, but auction house calls results 'realistic' given mainland challenges

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 December, 2015, 5:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 December, 2015, 2:36pm

The mainland Chinese economic slowdown has dented the art market as the second wave of autumn auctions saw a substantial decline in total sales.

Auction giant Christie’s concluded its week-long Hong Kong autumn sales with takings of HK$2.6 billion - 20 per cent down on the spring sale and the lowest since the 2012 autumn auctions.

READ MORE: Chinese billionaire buys Modigliani painting 'Nu Couche' for world record US$170.4 million

Christie’s took HK$3.2 billion at its spring auction earlier this year - higher than the HK$3 billion recorded at both its spring and autumn sales last year.

But Christie’s results were still encouraging under the current economic climate, said Rebecca Wei, president of Christie’s Asia.

“There is a reasonable degree of concern about the market and the economy in China is a challenge,” she said. “It’s a solid sale under an economy like this.”

There is a reasonable degree of concern about the market and the economy in China is a challenge
Rebecca Wei

Wei said mainland buyers were still acquiring works, but they didn’t necessarily bid at Hong Kong auctions. “I do see a trend that they are stepping outside of China and Asia. Top [mainland] collectors are more mature and they want to diversify their collection,” she said.

The latest example is Liu Yiqian, founder of Long Museum in Shanghai with his wife Wang Wei. Liu last month bought the painting Nu Couche (Reclining Nude) by Modigliani at Christie’s New York sale for US$170 million.

READ MORE: Taxi driver-turned-billionaire Liu Yiqian, founder of China's Long Museum, has big plans after US$170m purchase at New York auction

“Overall, Asian buyers have spent more than US$2 billion at Christie’s sales around the world,” Wei said.

She said over the past week 80 per cent of lots were sold, which was similar to previous years. Top lots were still sought by buyers - 25 per cent of whom were new. “The numbers were not that off,” she said.

A Burmese 15.04-carat ruby known as The Crimson Flame was the top lot of the week-long sale. It was sold for HK$142 million including the buyer’s premium - a world auction record per carat for a ruby.

The total take for Asian 20th century and contemporary art was HK$730 million, with Chinese modern master Sanyu’s Vase of Chrysanthemums on a Yellow Table being the top lot. It sold for HK$46 million. Another Sanyu painting, also on chrysanthemums, fetched HK$81.9 million at Christie’s spring sale earlier this year.

A special sale of Singaporean art took in HK$36.7 million. Cheong Soo Pieng’s Balinese Dance fetched HK$7.7 million, far higher than the pre-sale estimate of HK$5 million, which excluded the buyer’s premium.

A Falangcai bowl was sold for HK$85 million - the top lot in the Chinese works of art category, which brought in a total of HK$382.8 million.

Rival Sotheby’s Hong Kong autumn sale in October took in around HK$2.7 billion - higher than the pre-sale estimate of HK$2.3 bilion.

Another auction house, Bonhams, held its autumn sales in the past week. However, the auction house did not announce its total takings, although it said 65 per cent of the lots were sold.

London auction house Phillips, which held its inaugural watch sale in Hong Kong in the same week, took in HK$117.8 million. It sold a Patek Philippe for HK$12 million, the highest price for a wristwatch in Asia.

Wei said she saw more Korean and Japanese buyers bidding this time, compared to previous sales which were dominated by mainland buyers.

Art dealer Vincent Chan of Leo Gallery said the gloomy economy had had an impact on the auction market. “No doubt the mood of the general market is negative. People hold and wait for better prices,” he said.

Chan said the art market needed to be more diversified and avoid putting all its eggs in the one basket of mainland China.