Asian Art Lots Keep Going Well Above High Estimates, As Long As Sellers Keep Projections Realistic
This fall, we covered autumn auctions by Sotheby’s (in Hong Kong) and Ravenel (in Taipei), both of which drew large number of mainland Chinese “New Collectors,” who eagerly snapped up antiquities, wine, Chinese contemporary art and modern art, traditional Chinese art, jewelry and watches. As we wrote last week, the rise of the New Chinese Collector was one of the major developments in the art world in 2009, following the shakeup we saw in the wake of the global economic crisis.
Today, an Economist article about recent auctions of Asian art suggests that the market for Chinese art is showing a marked difference from that for other East Asian artwork, and how, in the last year or so, ”[d]ealers have come to believe that anything Chinese will sell in this market, as long as there is nothing wrong with it.”
Unlike the market for Chinese ceramics and decorative works of art, which is crowded with Chinese buyers from Hong Kong and the mainland energetically seeking out treasures to bring home, the markets for Japanese and Korean works of art are dominated by Western collectors.
The contrast with the Chinese portion of [auctions of Asian art held by Sotheby’s and Christie’s in December] could not have been greater. Chinese dealers and collectors have been quick to recognise how much porcelain, jade and cloisonné there still is in private French collections, much of it unknown and uncatalogued. And they pay attention to all Chinese sales, not just those in Paris but in the country too. At Sotheby’s Paris sale 294 lots of Chinese works of art were offered, at Christie’s slightly fewer—233 lots. Although Sotheby’s bought-in rate was higher (at just under 30%, whereas Christie’s was just under 20%), what did sell went spectacularly well, most of it to Chinese buyers.
Nearly two-thirds of the Chinese art in Sotheby’s auction sold for more than the top estimate. At Christie’s over 70% of the lots surpassed the high estimate, some for as much as 12 times the price they were expected to fetch. A rare pair of white porcelain bowls, decorated with a copper-red pattern of peach, pomegranate and persimmon, seemed to push all the buttons…Consigned from a private French collection, where they had been for 40 years, the bowls were expected to earn €6,000 ($8,600), but went on to sell for €73,000, including commission and taxes.
Dealers have come to believe that anything Chinese will sell in this market, as long as there is nothing wrong with it. The Paris sales were proof that they are right. At Christie’s only three of the 192 lots that sold fetched less than the low estimate. This also means the estimates were set at a sensible level.
As we noted in our 2009 wrap-up, we should expect to see even more Chinese collectors on the scene this year, particularly in the antiquities market but also in Chinese contemporary and likely modern art. With confidence among Chinese collector expected to grow, and prices expected to approach previous highs within the next couple of years — according to the recent ArtTactic confidence survey, expect to see (and hear) plenty of Chinese buyers at auctions of any and all classes of Chinese art this year.