Chinese contemporary art palls in Sotheby's HK sale

Sat Oct 4, 2008 12:42pm EDT
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Global financial turmoil has caught up with the red-hot Chinese contemporary art market as bidders failed to buy top-flight paintings at a major Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong on Saturday.

For the past few years, auction rooms in London, New York and Hong Kong have crackled with fierce interest in Chinese contemporary paintings as prices broke record after record.

But in Sotheby's marquee autumn sale of Asian contemporary artwork, a key twice-yearly barometer of market sentiment among the world's top collectors, 19 of 47 prominent works went unsold and others barely hit low estimates.

"The results weren't at all ideal, and prices of contemporary Chinese art seem to have reached a peak now," Jackson See, a Singaporean buyer, told Reuters in the packed auction hall.

"It is showing signs of a real correction," he added.

Works by feted artists Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun, Liu Wei, Liao Jichun and Zeng Fanzhi failed to sell with Zeng's "After the Long March Andy Warhol arrived in China," for instance, attracting bids far short of its HK$20 million reserve price.

Sotheby's said that after 5 years of "unprecedented growth" the poor showing was to be expected.

"It is not surprising that there will be some leveling off, which is what we also experienced this evening, in addition to some estimates which were overly optimistic," said Evelyn Lin, the Head of Sotheby's Contemporary Asian Art department.   Continued...