The first time the bidding reached one million up went a cheer. Some delivered bids by phone; others waved their paddles or just a pair of specs; others still jiggled their legs as they decided whether to break upper limits decided in cooler moments. After all, the champagne was flowing, the warm room turned febrile and bidding resembled competitive volleys.
By the time the auctioneer put his gavel down on all 47 works, it was clear that east Africa’s first art auction – held in Nairobi this week – was a huge hit, exploding into impromptu applause and whoops in stark contrast to usually poorly attended and rarefied western counterparts.
So far, China has been the emerging market worth watching in the art world. Now, the big boys are getting serious about India, too.
Christie’s said this week it would hold its first auction in Mumbai in December.
By Georgina Adam
The Chinese art market, which in 2011 was reported to have leapfrogged the US to become the largest in the world, took a severe battering in 2012 and may have already lost its number one position, according to the front-page story in February edition of The Art Newspaper.
According to the publication, sales at China’s two largest auction houses, Poly Auction and China Guardian, have plummeted by more than half. Poly, part of a conglomerate which also includes the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, saw sales drop from $1.9bn in 2011 to $965m in 2012. China Guardian reported $1.8bn in 2011 but just $820m in sales in 2012.
The final tally is in from Christie’s annual Autumn sales in Hong Kong and the auction house is gloating. Last month, rival Sotheby’s sold 37 per cent less at this year’s Hong Kong sales than it did a year ago. Christie’s, however, got away with a far less dramatic 9 per cent year-on-year decline from its six-day sales, which raised around $333m including buyers’ premiums.
There is a chill in the air as Sotheby’s opens its Hong Kong autumn sales on Friday, and it’s not because the worst of the summer heat is over.
This week is China’s “Golden Week”, traditionally the public holiday when the world’s most populous country goes on holiday and spends a lot of money abroad. But retailers in Hong Kong – the most popular destination for mainland tourists – have noticed a sharp fall off in sales growth this year.
Is the retreat by mainland Chinese buyers to be blamed for a 32 per cent drop in total sales at Christie’s spring auctions in Hong Kong, which concluded on May 30?
No, says the auction house’s Asian chairman. It’s the sellers. The reserve prices for some items were set too high on the vendors’ insistence, says François Curiel, President of Christie’s Asia. This may well have been the case for Wednesday’s sale of imperial Chinese ceramics and works of art, where over a third of the lots were left unsold.
Sotheby’s has just announced its roadshow schedule ahead of the spring auctions in Hong Kong. This year, it has added the Chinese city of Chengdu to the list of stops.
Best known for pandas and tea houses, the provincial capital of Sichuan province has never really been on the international art world map, and Sotheby’s exhibition is not going to change that. But it is a sign of the times.
Christie’s, the auction house, sold less in this year’s autumn sales in Hong Kong than it did last year, the first year-on-year decline since 2008 and evidence that Asian demand for art is finally cooling.
Having been clobbered in 2009, auction houses in the city – both large and small alike – are hoping to weather any coming storm by looking to both new buyers, and new types of art.