Sothebys cautious on Asia art sales in fragile market

Thu Apr 2, 2009 9:43am EDT
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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - Auction house Sotheby's expects to sell artworks for $77 million at its spring Asian sales in Hong Kong, a condensed and competitively priced selection tailored for these financially difficult times.

While the expected sales tally is substantially lower than a year ago, Sotheby's is hoping the Asian art market will show signs of convalescing in the first of its biannual flagship regional sales this year, often seen as a market barometer.

"The actual feeling is that the mood is much, much better than what we experienced in the fall last year," said Kevin Ching, the Chief Executive Officer of Sotheby's Asia.

"We made the necessary adjustments, like we decided to only present fresh objects with great provenance, and adjusted prices to reflect the market," he told Reuters.

Sotheby's last spring sold HK$1.77 billion ($228.3 million) worth of artwork, almost three times as much as what it expects to sell this time round. After a record-breaking bull run, last autumn heralded weakening demand for Asian and Chinese art as the global credit crisis deepened and collectors stayed away.

Ching said certain categories, like contemporary Chinese paintings, had seen pre-sales valuations scaled back by some 20 to 30 percent from last year, while a wine auction on Saturday -- intended to tap the city's burgeoning wine market -- will see more attractively priced vintages.

Despite the global art market's weakness, there have been recent bright spots. Christie's February sales in Paris of Yves Saint Laurent's monumental art collection yielded a record-breaking $470 million.

The sale did however stir a major controversy over the hammering off of two looted bronze animal heads from Beijing's Old Summer Palace, which sparked protests from China, a nationalistic backlash, and strict checks being imposed on Christie's trade of high-end imperial antiques into China.   Continued...

<p>An untitled contemporary Chinese painting by Zhang Xiaogang is displayed at Sotheby's auction house preview ahead of its Spring Sales in Hong Kong April 2, 2009. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>