Auctioneers look to Asia for expansion

opinion hl

It is being reported that the larger auction houses are looking to Asia for growth over the next few years. We reported, almost a month ago, that the substantial provincial house Woolley & Wallis attributed their success during 2014 to the twin effects of their Asian sales and their jewellery sales. Now, both Christie’s and Sotheby’s are identifying Asia, and particularly Greater China (the PRC, Hong Kong and Taiwan) as the repository of their hopes in the near and medium future.

However, there is a slightly different cast to this analysis than that of recent times. Rather than looking to China and the Chinese recovering their heritage in the salerooms, there is a realisation that Chinese buyers are becoming more ambitious and wide ranging in their quest for art: they are becoming a regular, and vital, feature of Impressionist and Modern art sales, as well as jewellery and European furniture sales, especially in the area of highly decorated, extravagant pieces which appeal to the Asian palate.

The new President of Christie’s Mr Jussi Pylkkaenen is reported by The Antiques Trade Gazette as saying, ‘It’s not just the amount of money they are spending, but how they are spending it that matters. They are moving on from buying just Asian art to new categories.’

It is understood that Sotheby’s, soon to announce their 2014 results, will report that their Greater Chinese clients spent more than US$1bn. at their auctions. Quite apart from any national analysis, both houses seem to be saying that around 30% of their sales last year came from buyers new to them.

If Chinese buyers are moving on to European and international items will this diminish their interest in buying back their own art? This is what many experts are wondering. The key probably lies in the fact that the number of new buyers entering the market at auction generally is expanding dramatically. It seems doubtful if Europe or, even, America is providing such new entrants in vast numbers. We suspect that a large proportion of them are from so-called Greater China, including SE Asia.

This represents a newly affluent middle class with sums in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend at auction. This is a market which is set to expand dramatically and which will, in numbers if not in cash, overtake the more traditional millionaire (and now billionaire) sector of the population. They will be the unknown internet bidders hunched over their computers in bedrooms and boxrooms from Beijing to Baotou driving up the prices in the auction rooms of the UK.


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