Collectors are bidding up prices at auctions in Asia to record-breaking levels.
Patti Wong, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, has been with the auction house for more than 20 years. She shares some of the hottest trends in the Asian auction market. Of note, the recurring theme is the rising dominance of mainland Chinese collectors in key categories.
Chinese Ink Paintings
Chinese ink paintings are red hot right now, especially the modern ones from the end of the 19th century until the 1960s. They start very modestly at auction for about HKD 60,000 to 80,000 (USD 7,740 to 10,320) but they can easily get HKD 300,000 (USD 38,702) for a small work or a sketch. The great ones can be HKD 20 or 30 million. There is a lot of interest especially from Chinese mainland buyers. New buyers have doubled the population which traditionally came from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Asia and America. The interest has brought better works out but will eventually plateau…but not yet.
The market for Chinese art is reaching a new peak. Sotheby’s has gotten a number of collections from the West – America, France, England. Some of the world’s greatest Chinese art are outside of Greater China. Perhaps, the collector is getting old or the younger generation wanted to cash in on the prices, some very distinguished collections are emerging. While most of the collections are well-known, there are still so-called ‘lost treasures’ throughout Europe and America and can pop up randomly. “Most of the finest pieces are purchased by Chinese collectors, whether from Hong Kong, Taiwan and now increasingly the Chinese mainland. We have just sold a vase in October for HKD 250 million and this is now the new standard for the best there is in Chinese art.”
There is growing interest in jades with historical significance, such as jade seals and jade books. Their value not only comes from the quality of the jade and the carving, but in the history that the piece captures. “With a seal, one can literally hold a piece of history in the palm of one’s hand. In our most recent sale, a white jade seal inscribed with the characters xintian zhuren (‘the ruler who believes in heaven’) sold for over HKD 120 million, which is a record for white jade. It made that price because it conveys so forcefully the power of the Qianlong Emperor.”
The Chinese are fierce contenders for such pieces. Provenance has become more important, especially to mainland Chinese collectors. On pieces like an imperial seal, it is significant to know what it was used on.
Jewelry is another growing area, especially diamonds. Sales are booming among Chinese mainland customers.
The wine business is exploding, largely driven by the entry of Chinese mainland clients who are very sophisticated and buy the top wines. First it was Bordeaux and now the focus is on burgundy.
There is also purchases by the wine trade, people buying it for stock, knowing the wines have been checked bottle by bottle. Provenance and authenticity are key, “especially for the wine business because by the time you find out, it is too late.”
photo credit: sotheby’s