October 10, 2008 / 7:56 AM / 10 years ago

Christie's upbeat on Chinese art as credit crisis bites

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Auction house Christie’s is confident global demand for Chinese and Asian art will remain firm at its autumn Hong Kong sales despite the global financial crisis seemingly cooling sales at rivals Sotheby’s this week.

This week, the troubles roiling world markets put a damper on Sotheby’s major biannual Hong Kong sales, which netted around half the expected total of over HK$2 billion ($258 million) with numerous unsold lots in categories like Chinese 20th century and contemporary paintings, fine Chinese ceramics and jewelry.

But wealthy collectors so far immune to the global financial crisis and solid, quality art are infusing global auction house Christie’s with confidence ahead of its Hong Kong sales in November.

Jonathan Stone, international business director for Christie’s Asian Art departments, told Reuters on Friday the auction house was banking on the artworks on offer, from several private collections, as well as a larger “collecting base.”

“We feel confident about the auctions,” he said during a preview in Singapore of the November 29-December 3 sales.

“We’ve got some good works, and some reasonable estimates and very nice collections in every category, and good property in any circumstances sells well. Chinese buying remains very strong of pieces of Chinese taste and also the number of new people who want to get into the art market has never been greater.”

In addition to fine wines and jewelry, the sales include Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art — popular with collectors — classical Chinese paintings from the Ping Y. Tai Foundation, imperial Chinese lacquerwear from the Lee Family collection and a collection of Chinese contemporary art belonging to Oscar-winning Hollywood director Oliver Stone.

The total estimate for the artwork sales is about HK$102 million ($13 million).

While the Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale, seen as a key barometer for Chinese art market sentiment, appeared to indicate the seemingly unstoppable market had run out of steam, Jonathan Stone believed there was still appetite for Chinese art.

“During our New York sales in September, which occurred as the financial crisis was unfolding, pieces that were of Chinese taste did very well,” he said.

To drum up more interest, Christie’s is also taking the collection on an extensive world tour that includes Moscow, home to ranks of super-rich Russians and an economy boosted by oil prices — still relatively high by historical standards; Abu Dhabi, the capital of the oil-rich Gulf state of the United Arab Emirates; as well as several Chinese provinces.

Newly wealthy buyers in India and Southeast Asia will be targeted as well.

Stone said highlights of the sales include an Imperial Famille Rose “Butterfly” vase, described as a masterpiece of Qing Imperial porcelain; Balinese paintings by Adrien-Jean Le Mayer De Merpes, pieces by Indonesian artist I Nyoman Masriadi and Malaysia’s Ahmad Zakii Anwar as well as Chinese contemporary artists Yue Minjun, Wang Guangyi and Zhang Xiaogang.

Asked if he expected to see unsold lots, Stone said: “There are casualties in every sale, even at the best of times. But who knows where we will be by November.”

Christie’s spring 2008 Hong Kong sale totaled $315 million, making it the most valuable series of art sales held in Asia.

($1=7.762 Hong Kong dollar)

Editing by Jerry Norton

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