Sotheby’s is suffering from the side affects of bad timing. The world-renowned art auctioneers have just opened a new gallery in Hong Kong, paying some of the highest rental fees in the world in order to attract wealthy Chinese bidders. However, Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby’s Asia, just reported that mainland Chinese buyers accounted for only 20 to 25 percent of sales from last month’s spring auctions, which amounted to $316 million. Six months ago, mainland buyers made up 44 percent of the $441 million generated from Sotheby’s autumn auctions in Hong Kong.
“There used to be five to six mainland Chinese individuals who would bid like crazy here but they did not make any offer in the spring sales,” Ching said during the new gallery’s opening at Hong Kong’s annual art fair. He attributes the decline to the country’s efforts to restrict credit access. Nearly half the buyers at Sotheby’s Hong Kong were from the Chinese mainland in 2010, helping Hong Kong to become the world’s third largest art market.
While there may be less buyers from the mainland, Ching sees that their places are being filled at auctions. “What is encouraging is that art buyers from Taiwan and south-east Asia have made a major comeback. Before, they were priced out of the market by new mainland buyers,” he said.
The president of Christie’s Asia, François Curiel, remains optimistic about the role of mainland buyers, citing that they have helped make Chinese auction houses among the best in the industry. “Even if some of the figures are exaggerated, it cannot all be faked. The trend is very clear,” he said.
[the globe and mail]
photo credit: sotheby’s