Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sotheby’s Hong Kong Auction Total Drops by Half as Buyers Stall

What is interesting about this story, aside from the fact that the world recession continues it depressing decline, is that those pieces that did not sell will probably still find buyers behind the curtain. This is a lesson once again for all auction enthusiasts. If a piece does not sell on the day of the auction and you still want a chance at it, call the house and see if you can make a deal..and a deal you will be making but keep it quiet, or tell me about it. Cheer's Homer.

By Le-Min Lim

April 9 (Bloomberg) -- Sotheby’s sold HK$691 million ($89 million) of antiques, paintings and gems in its five-day Hong Kong sale, less than half of last year’s figure, as collectors delayed purchases because of financial uncertainty.

While Sotheby’s last night said wine, ceramics and paintings by Chinese masters such as Lin Fengmian boosted the total for 1,700 lots above the HK$600 million presale estimate, the tally compared with HK$1.77 billion raised in 2008.

“The financial crisis is still with us, so many potential collectors took a wait-and-see attitude,” said Michael Wang, an art collector and chief executive of Humble House Art Space.

The decline came as art dealers looked for signs of stability after declines in sale totals in New York and London. Asia auctions had been growing for a decade as Hong Kong became an arts center. This time, Sotheby’s offered fewer expensive lots, which are less attractive in an economic slowdown, and replaced them with wine lots, which are cheaper.

The company sold all of the bottles it offered at its first Hong Kong wine auction. It also set an artist record for Lin, who founded the predecessor of China Academy of Art and died in 1991. Still, works by contemporary artists, including China’s Zhang Xiaogang and Indonesia’s I Nyoman Masriadi, sold for a fraction of the record prices they fetched last year.

Art offers a haven from traditional investments; in Asia, stocks have fallen as much as a third in the past six months because of the credit crisis, the MSCI Asia Pacific Index shows.

Seeking Value

“Buyers are looking for value,” said Tian Kai, a Beijing- based art dealer who flew in to attend the auction. “Governments are printing so much money now. Fine artworks might be a better way to store value than currency.”

Lin’s oil-on-canvas “Fishing Harvest,” executed between the 1950s and 1960s and showing the catch being sorted, sold for HK$16.3 million, the priciest painting at this auction. Another Lin work was the second-highest. In third place was a 1955 oil work by another Chinese master Chang Yu, “Potted Peonies,” which sold for HK$6.3 million.

In a sign of more frugal times, Sotheby’s stopped serving free coffee and canapes. Guests and bidders had to pay HK$20 for coffee or tea, a quarter of which goes to charity, said Hong Kong-based spokeswoman Rhonda Yung.

Mainland Chinese buyers made their biggest stamp yet on the Hong Kong auction scene, sweeping most of the priciest items.

Contemporary art, the auction darlings of previous years, lost some luster.

Prices Decline

Works by Yue Minjun and Zeng Fanzhi sold for a fraction of last year’s prices. Zeng’s 1998 oil-on-canvas, “Mask Series: Man with Flower,” fetched HK$3.6 million. Yue’s 2005 oil painting, “Armed Forces,” sold for HK$4.6 million.

“Untitled,” a 2006 oil-on-canvas painting by another Chinese contemporary artist, Zhang Xiaogang, which shows the face of a boy with a yellow patch of light across his left eye, sold for HK$4.8 million. At the same auction last year, a 1995 Zhang painting sold for HK$47.4 million, a record for the artist.

A 2008 work by Masriadi, “Negosiasi,” fetched HK$1.7 million. Last October, a Masriadi painting of bloodied boxers sold for HK$7.8 million, the most for Southeast Asian contemporary art.

Jasdeep Sandhu, whose Gajah Gallery represents the Indonesian artist, said it’s unfair to compare the Masriadi paintings because “each work comes with its own merits.” For one, the record-setting piece of boxers, over 4-meter in length, is much larger than “Negosiasi,” he said.

Estimates Reduced

Sotheby’s factored in the recession and cut its presale estimates of contemporary-art pieces by an average of 20 percent at this auction, said Evelyn Lin, who heads the department.

Sotheby’s departed from the city’s auction tradition by offering bulky, non-painting Asian contemporary art, including video installations, and works by Hong Kong artists. The risk paid off. The biggest lots, including a 4-meter-long wooden chariot by Huang Yongping, all found buyers.

“We are now seeing conceptual art at Hong Kong auctions, which is fantastic,” said Sandra Walters, a Hong Kong-based collector who runs a namesake art-consulting company.

At yesterday’s antiques sale, bidders vied for ceramics of good provenance and quality. A Qing Dynasty celadon vase was the surprise top lot, selling for HK$47.7 million, or double its presale estimate. An 8th-century tortoiseshell box that was tipped as the star and slated to fetch HK$40 million didn’t sell.

Private Sale

“Obviously, we are disappointed it didn’t sell; it’s an item that’s never appeared at auction before, so there are no price comparisons,” said Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s Hong Kong- based head of Chinese ceramics. The company is negotiating a private sale of the box, Chow said.

The second most-expensive lot yesterday was a blue-and- white stembowl from the Xuande reign (1426-1435) bearing Tibetan script, which sold for HK$23 million and won by Chinese dealers.

An unidentified third party had guaranteed eight antique ceramics, all of which sold for a combined HK$95.5 million.

The sale is the first of Sotheby’s biannual auctions in Hong Kong, its third-largest market after New York and London. Rival Christie’s International will hold its auction next month.

Sotheby’s buyer’s commission is 25 percent of the hammer price for the first HK$400,000, 20 percent for between HK$400,001 and HK$8 million, and 12 percent above that

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