Asian art rebound? Speculation abounds after New York Asian Art Week 2012

Art market observers strike a note of cautious, qualified optimism in anticipation of the crucial fall Hong Kong auctions.

Christie’s and Sotheby’s both held successful Asian art and antiques auctions during New York’s fall 2012 Asian Art Week, reaching over USD90 million in combined sales. The sales may indicate a rebound from the dramatic drop off in the Asian art market over the past year.

Subodh Gupta, '1 K.G. War', 2007, 24 carat gold. Sold for USD80,500 at Sotheby's South Asian Modern & Contemporary Art auction during New York's fall 2012 Asian Art Week.

Subodh Gupta, '1 K.G. War', 2007, 24 carat gold. Sold for USD80,500 at Sotheby's South Asian Modern & Contemporary Art auction during New York's fall 2012 Asian Art Week.

Overall, the auctions, which lasted from 11 to 14 September 2012, were considered to be largely successful by many observers. Sotheby’s held three auctions which sold USD46 million in all, while Christie’s five sales took in a total of USD44.7 million. The totals surpassed the auction houses’ initial estimates, which hovered around USD30 million.

Jonathan Stone, Christie’s international head of Asian art, told Reuters about the growing international participation in their Asian art auctions, saying that the success of the sales reflected “a worldwide demand for the greatest objects of Asian art.”

Though the auction results will certainly reassure collectors worried about a market-wide downturn, some uncertainty remains, especially in the contemporary art section. Of Sotheby’s and Christie’s eight auctions, only two of them contained contemporary art, with no Chinese contemporary art to be seen.

Christie’s South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art auction on 12 September 2012 sold 76 percent of its lots for a total of approximately USD7 million, while Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art auction saw only 58 percent of its lots realised for a total of approximately USD2.6 million. In both auctions, modern artworks greatly outnumbered contemporary.

The big test for the Asian contemporary art markets will come later this autumn, with the two major auction houses’ Hong Kong sales. The first of these is Sotheby’s upcoming Hong Kong auctions, which will run from 5 to 9 October 2012, with the contemporary sales all falling on 7 October.

The Chinese contemporary market still faces several challenges if it hopes to rebound from a considerable drop off in sales over the past year. As discussed in the Business Standard, the domestic Chinese market is largely skewed by speculation in an economy with few other investment vehicles. The recent drop-off has also not deterred many speculative buyers. In response to the downturn, François Curiel, president of Christie’s Asia, told The New York Times,

Art is still viewed as a good investment in the Chinese collector’s mind. I have yet to meet someone who buys art and think[s] they are going to lose money.

The Hong Kong art auctions, which typically attract a larger percentage of Chinese collectors, may also be negatively impacted by the slowing Chinese economy, which some analysts are saying might be indicative of an upcoming hard landing. As to what the effects of a recession or hard landing might be on the contemporary art market, only time will tell.

PR/KN/HH

Related Topics: market watch – auctions, festivals, market watch – recession

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