Cracks appear in Asian demand for contemporary art

Mon Oct 3, 2011 12:24pm EDT
 
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The Asian art market juggernaut showed signs of weakness on Monday in Sotheby's sales of Chinese 20th century and Asian contemporary art as global stock markets plunged on a darkening global economic outlook.

Sotheby's biannual Asia sales in Hong Kong, the world's third largest art auction hub after New York and London, are a closely watched barometer of art and luxury market sentiment for its array of offerings spanning Chinese antiques to fine wines.

While prices were still strong for early masterpieces from prominent artists like Zhang Xiaogang, mid-tier works struggled to find buyers with 27 percent of Asian contemporary works and 22.6 percent of the 20th century Chinese art work failing to sell on tepid bidding.

On Sunday, auction room sentiment for the feted Guy Ullens collection of contemporary Chinese art was noticeably cooler than April when the first batch of the Belgian tycoon's works raked in $54.8 million with a sprinkling of record prices.

While the 91 pieces were considered inferior to the April offerings from Ullens, including more experimental conceptual and installation works produced in China in the pivotal 90s, the recent market turmoil weighed on buyer sentiment.

"It'll be the same in New York. The top lots will fetch crazy prices and the average ones will sell poorly," said Edouard Malingue, an Asian art dealer.

"If you focus on medium quality, mediocre quality then I would be worried," added Malingue.

The top lot in the Ullens sale was Zeng Fanzhi's "Mask Series 1998 No. 26" that sold for $2.6 million.   Continued...

 
<p>A fine and rare famille-rose "peach" vase, Tianqiuping, with a seal mark and period of Qianlong, which is estimated to fetch 10.3 to 15.4 million dollars, is shown during a Sotheby's preview in Hong Kong September 7, 2011. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>