The message is clear in recently released figures for 2013 from the major international auction houses: without sales in Asia, the market would be flat-lining and it is both there, and in the contemporary art market, where most future growth looks likely to be.
Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales in Asia, principally out of Hong Kong, recovered dramatically last year after a pronounced dip in 2012 (as we recently predicted would happen). Christie’s report sales up last year in Asia from US$705.4m. to $977.5m. last year. Sotheby’s increase in sales was even more pronounced: up from $5592.9m. in 2012, to $931.4m. last year.
In 2012, China’s principal auction houses had seen revenue almost halve. That trend has been sharply reversed. At Beijing’s Poly Auctions, which is effectively government owned via the military colossus, sales leapt from the equivalent of $965m. (RMB 6.1bn.) to $1.3bn (RMB 7.9bn.). At China Guardian, the second largest auction house, sales were up from $820m. (RMB 5.2bn.) to just over $1bn. (RMB 6.6bn.). No figures have been issued in relation to hammer sales unpaid for but, after the setbacks experienced by Chinese auctioneers between 2010 and 2012, it might be assumed that they now have a handle on that particular situation.
Global results saw Christie’s easily beat Sotheby’s to the top spot with total sales of $5.9bn. with Sotheby’s managing $5.1bn. That having been said, Sotheby’s’ saw a faster year on year revenue growth of 19% as opposed to 12%. Christie’s overtook Sotheby’s in the currently fashionable contemporary art market and without that growth the two would have very much found themselves at similar levels.