Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Tale of Three Auctions

Ru Guanyao Brush Washer

It was a busy week for auctions in Hong Kong and involving Asian buyers. The takeaway? Appetite for rare and exotic items is alive and well, despite some uneven results and the uncertain global economic environment.

Auction #1: Sotheby's 5-day Spring Auction in Hong Kong concluded on April 4. The results were generally positive, but a bit more tempered than feverish auctions of the recent past. A total of US$320 million was spent over 2,784 lots - impressive figures but slightly lower than last autumn, when 3,000 lots worth $410 million were sold. The highlight of the auction was a modest-looking bowl (pictured above), which sold for almost $26.7 million - three times the estimate. This flower shaped ceramic is over 900 years old, and one of only five privately-held Song-dynasty brush washing bowls in existence made in the Ru Guanyao (government ceramic kilns) facility. Another highlight was the wine collection, which sold 100% of its lots at a 11% premium over its $7.4 million estimate. This result underscores that the fine wine market among Asian buyers is recovering in 2012 (the Liv-ex 100 Index was up 2.5% through Feb), after a precipitous drop-off in 2011. Lastly, top-end contemporary art such as this Zhang Xiaogang "Bloodline" series piece (shown below), did well, selling for $6.7 million, 50% above its estimate. An Indonesian and Vietnamese artist also set records.

However, there was a lack of depth of interest for contemporary art below the top-end. The huge appetite for modern pieces present in recent years was absent, perhaps reflecting the cautionary stance of "new money" Asian wealth below the super-rich. Still, the overall collection sold close to its pre-event estimate.     Details Here

Auction #2: Seoul Auction held its Spring Auction of Asian contemporary art in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Similar to the Sotheby's event, results were mixed, even though the auctioneers claimed satisfaction with the results. 41 out of the 64 lots sourced from around the region sold, for a total of $4.1 million. A piece by Whanki Kim - Korea's most revered modern artist - was auctioned at a pre-event estimate of c. $1.3 million.

Auction #3: On the other side of the world, an auction of a very different sort took place, for America's smallest town - Buford, Wyoming with a population of 1, set on 10+ acres with a convenience store, gas station and mobile home. In the internet auction, this lot also went to an Asian buyer, who bid $900,000. The anonymous Vietnamese buyer was quoted as saying that he was fulfilling a dream by owning a piece of America. He beat out other bids from 46 countries.

Perhaps he will need some interesting Asian art pieces and a wine cellar to keep himself company once he moves in.