In detail: How Young Money is changing the art market in Hong Kong

Sotheby’s senior auctioneer Ian McGinlay drew the attention of the sparsely populated downtown Hong Kong room, calling “Going once.” I go there twice! before slaughtering his hammer on “Sheng Shi Xue” by Franco-Chinese artist Chu Teh-Chun.

After more than 70 bids and more than 20 minutes of deadlocked bidding, thunderous applause resounded in the auction room. Taking into account the commission, the total transaction price of “Sheng Shi Xue” was approximately HK $ 230 million ($ 29.6 million), the highest transaction price of any auction that has taken place. takes place in April during Hong Kong’s spring season.

Sold for HK $ 198 million, the large triptych snow scene cost about three times its guide price of HK $ 80 million to HK $ 120 million to a customer over the phone.

In the art world, the first round of spring auctions in Hong Kong is seen as an indicator of the Asian market. This year, contemporary art was booming, with young Chinese collectors looking internationally leading the trend.

Pandemic weakening

Last year, art museums, galleries and exhibition spaces in Hong Kong closed as part of efforts to control the virus, and an art market worth hundreds of dollars. million people quickly closed its doors. Most Hong Kong auction houses have postponed or canceled their events.

Globally, art sales in 2020 fell about 22% year-on-year to $ 50.1 billion, setting a whole new low, and global auction turnover was around 113 billion yuan ($ 17.6 billion), a decrease of 30% compared to 2019 according to a report from Art Basel and UBS.

Subject to travel restrictions in the event of a pandemic, mainland and overseas visitors to Hong Kong are at their lowest. Even the Hong Kong teams can’t easily see the prizes, but the internet has helped. Auction venues are only open to actual bidders, and live broadcasts and online auctions make up the bulk of the business.

However, things are improving. Flooded with capital globally, the auction market advanced along with stocks and real estate. Of the 10 pieces exceeding 100 million yuan in Hong Kong this season, nine were from Sotheby’s and one was sold by Poly Auction Hong Kong.

Poly Auction, owned by the entertainment arm of Chinese state-owned hardware giant Poly Group Corp., was forced to cancel its auctions of Chinese antiques, paintings and calligraphy last year, and to postpone its other spring auctions, due to the impact of the epidemic.

This year, its spring auction in Hong Kong went according to plan, with total sales of over HKD $ 700 million, but it was still down more than 20% from 2019. before the virus hits.

Zhang Yixiu, executive director of Poly Auction Hong Kong, said liquidity was increasing. Everyone in the art investment market is trying to preserve their assets. With interest rates low after the pandemic, buyers are more enthusiastic than ever, but prefer blue chips to crazier acquisitions.

The Art Basel UBS Art Market report in 2021 surveyed 2,569 wealthy collectors in 10 markets, including the US, UK, mainland China and Hong Kong, 66% of whom said the coronavirus would make them buy more art rather than less. 57% plan to enrich their collections and 35% plan to put works on the market in the near future.

Guo Dongjie, head of modern art at Sotheby’s Asia, affirms his “survival of the fittest”. The works of the greatest masters are at the center of the market. “The best pieces on the art market are seeing their prices skyrocket.

Guo revealed that its spring auction in 2021 grossed HK $ 3.85 billion, the second highest on record for the auction house in Asia. The “Sheng Shi Xue” auction has been one of the most intense in Chu Teh-Chun over the past decade, with bids coming from four different regions. The end buyer was a Chinese collector.

China Guardian (Hong Kong) holds auctions at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center annually, grossing over HK $ 500 million on average. Revenue for this quarter was HK $ 364 million. Hu Yanyan, president of the auction house, named by the Financial Times as one of the five most influential women in the art world in Asia, said: “In the long term, the next five to ten years will be a golden period for the development of the art market. . ”

A modern touch

But contemporary art is more and more essential. This year’s Guardian Hong Kong Spring Auction was attended mostly by online bidders, and the most expensive sale, Yoshitomo Nara’s “Sprout”, came from one of over 4,000 among them. them.

The eccentric 62-year-old Japanese artist’s work, described in a Christie’s catalog as straddling “infantile imagination, adult anxiety and ageless rebellion” has grossed colossal sums of money this spring.

The guide price for “Frog Girl” was between HK $ 40 million and $ 80 million. That is, its sale price on May 12 was about 20% higher than the highest expected price. So far, this is Nara’s third most expensive work. “House Installation” and “Two Paintings” also hit records.

Sotheby’s data shows that the estimated total value of this spring’s modern art auctions ranged from HK $ 1.5 billion to HK $ 2.2 billion, and the final turnover topped the pre-sale valuation, reaching HK $ 2.25 billion, accounting for 58% of total spring auction sales.

Old and new

“The (art) market is hot,” said Chen Xiao (pseudonym), a middle-aged partner at a large private equity firm. “Since last year’s outbreak, many auctions have exceeded expectations.”

Insensitive to contemporary art, Chen prefers the classics. Chinese painting and calligraphy are his strong point, as are Western Impressionist oil paintings. He cares about the artistic value of the work – and its ability to retain value. “It’s certainly not as fast as the stock market, and the liquidity isn’t as good, but it can play a role in diversifying risk.”

It also helped him expand his social circle. “A lot of people play with their cars and yachts, but they’re not unique. There is only one (of) table. If I have it, you don’t have it. You can have more expensive ones, but you don’t have this one, ”he said.

Zhang of Poly Auction is more pragmatic. “I bought Monet and Picasso 10 years ago, and now they’re the same price,” he said bluntly.

The collectors of the vintage of Chen are gradually supplanted, including by the young collectors of the Chinese mainland. “Regardless of the category, everyone has to come to terms with the reality that (millennials) will definitely play an increasingly important role in the art market in the future. It’s an obvious trend, ”said Sotheby’s Guo.

In the global art market, young collectors are unstoppable. According to UBS and Art Basel, of the 18% of collectors surveyed who spent more than $ 1 million on art in 2020, 63% were millennials.

The latest data from Sotheby’s shows that more than 30% of bidders and buyers are young collectors under the age of 40. Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti said the influx of millennial buyers made him optimistic about the art market in 2021.

The buyer of Nara’s “Knife Behind Back”, which handed over HK $ 195 million, for the painting was under 30 years old.

“What the market is currently lacking are very great works, but there is no shortage of money,” Zhang said.

Contact reporters Heather Mowbray ([email protected]) and editor Flynn Murphy ([email protected])

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