Asian Art in London Chairman Roger Keverne opens the 2016 event last Thursday evening at The China Exchange Photo by Paul Harris
It was a chilly evening, in more ways than one, as AAL Chairman Roger Keverne opened this year’s event. He acknowledged difficulties within the trade and the economy but, of course, wished the event and its participants well. The champagne event was held in rather more spartan manner than is normal (previous locations have included the Knightsbridge Mandarian Oriental and The British Museum) It was in the former telephone exchange now known as The China Exchange in London’s Chinatown. The venue might have been lacking in charm (the overlit premises paid no homage to wrinkles) but, at least, the Laurent Premier flowed in the same unlimited quantities as were in evidence at previous events. It was, though, announced that next year’s event will return to the British Museum. This news was met with a heartfelt rousing cheer . . .
Dealers and gallerists reported that the first couple of days of AAL were disappointing. As one dealer in New Bond Street observed, ‘Very quiet. Where are all the Chinese? We’ve seen hardly any.’
I was musing on this as I went down Park Lane last Friday evening en route to the Duton’s (Tianjin, China, auctioneers) party in the Grosvenor House Hotel. As I passed the Aston Martin dealership, I could hardly fail to note that it was full of Chinese. I noted several prominent dealers and collectors (all Chinese, of course) underneath the bonnets, playing with the steering wheels and energetically pushing buttons to the general consternation of the sharply suited sales staff. Others were arguing the toss on sales prices, ‘We need at least £50,000 off that for a deal!’
A few doors down the road, guests were flooding in to the Duton’s party and exhibition at the Grosvenor House, APPRECIATION OF CHINA. There were more than 100 fine pieces of porcelain on display, many of which probably came from private collections in China, and elsewhere. Half a dozen or so bore red dots next to the descriptions. As the room filled with people, I counted that I was one of ten laowei present (also including Roger Keverne from AAL): the rest, approximately 150, were all Chinese.
Front rown VIP guests. Duton’s Charman Geng Du, second right Photo Paul Harris
The predominantly male, well suited Chinese businessmen represented a significant cross section of Chinese money: big business, very wealthy collectors and socialites. Many had flown in from Beijing esepecially for the event and a few days spending in London (some had been up the road at Aston Martin’s). After the lengthy introductions and welcomes, the preamble was followed by a charity auction.
Dutons announced that they will fund a London memeorial to 96,000 Chinese who apparently died fighting in the First World War (on the Allied side, of course) and a charity auction followed: some of us had hoped that the glittering objects in the display cases were to be sold in the room. No such luck! The offerings included bottles of wine signed by the VIPs in the front row, and a couple of rather recently produced paintings. Bidding was good humoured and highly competitive.
This is intended to be the first in a number of exhibitions and similar events presaging a move by Duton’s into the UK market. The evening raised several thousand pounds (more than £600 was put in a box that was handed around by, I was told, ‘Ladies from Buckingham Palace’), although rather more is going to be required for the statue which is to be erected. However, there was rather a lot in terms of assets in the room: representatives of the Dalian Wanda company, who are behind the massive luxury development One Nine Elms City Tower on the banks of the Thames. Raising a relatively small amount should not be too difficult . . .
Watch this space. When the Chinese get their teeth into something, they do not let go. Expect to hear more from Duton’s and don’t doubt the fact that the Chinese are always somewhere around . . .
Further reports on Asian Art in London will be published this week
Glitz and glamour at the Duton’s party . . .