HONG KONG (Reuters) - Auction house Christie's sold $146 million worth of Asian artwork in its Hong Kong autumn sales concluded Wednesday, around 35 percent below its pre-sale estimate as the financial crisis shrunk demand for Asian art.
After the five-day sales however, Christie's made a total of HK$1.13 billion ($146 million), around 35 percent less than the pre-sale estimate, with 70 percent of the 2400 lots sold.
From ancient Chinese inkbrush scrolls to flawless diamonds, edgy contemporary Asian art, antique watches, lustrous Ming ceramics, fine wines and carved lacquer bowls, Christie's lush Hong Kong fall auctions were expected to tally HK$1.75 billion.
"Like all markets we are affected by confidence and we've definitely seen less confidence in our world in the last two or three months," Edward Dolman, the CEO of Christie's International told Reuters, adding he was bullish on Asian art in the medium term and building stronger sales in 12 months time.
In May, Christie's raked in $310 million from its spring Hong Kong sales, a best-ever tally for an Asian sales series.
Over the past few days of sales in Hong Kong, now considered the world's third major auction hub behind New York and London, the worst bruised categories were Asian and Chinese contemporary art -- with around 40-50 percent of lots unsold.
"We've had six years of bull-run, so there's definitely a tightening of belts," said Arun Vadehra, a New Delhi-based art dealer and consultant who sat through the Asian contemporary art sales earlier in the week.
"It is no longer the days of indiscriminate buying."
There were periods when the auctioneer's gavel rapped quickly from lot to lot, amid patchy bidding in half-empty auction rooms.
But bidding for rare and exceptional lots proved livelier, while demand proved more resilient in traditional categories of art including higher-end Chinese imperial ceramics and a rare imperial lacquer collection of impeccable provenance.
An 18th century pink-ground famille rose "butterfly" vase formerly in the renowned Ping Y. Tai collection was the blockbuster lot, hammered off for HK$53.3 million ($6.9 million).
"If you're chasing quality, you tend to have to pay for it, and that's the way it is," said Roger Keverne, a London-based art dealer, who bid HK$720,000 for a Ming Cinnabar lacquer "dragon" circular bowl, almost three times its pre-sale estimate.
"I like to think there will be bargains, cheaper works of art. But I tend to think we'll have to keep paying full price for a good piece unfortunately," he laughed.
Amid largely sluggish sales, there were luminous moments.
Chinese painter Zao Wou-Ki's "Hommage a Tou-Fou," a large abstract work of swirling grays and reds fetched HK$45.5 million ($5.86 million) -- an auction record for the artist.
In the watch sale, a pair of antique pocket watches sparked ferocious rivalry between a telephone bidder and an online Turkish buyer who eventually snared the timepieces for
Christie's first wine sales in Hong Kong after a long hiatus uncorked sales of $4.07 million with 93 percent of lots sold, buoyed by an exceptional selection of "unmoved" wines sourced direct from the cellars of the renowned Chateau Latour.
Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani