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May 31, 2012 03:37 PM IST | Source: Reuters

Asia art sales dispel some, not all, China uncertainty

CHRISTIES-ASIA:Asia art sales dispel some, not all, China uncertainty

By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Global auction house Christie's sold HK$2.7 billion worth of Asian and Chinese art, wine and jewellery in its Hong Kong spring sales, a steady showing despite a gathering pall of economic uncertainty in the euro zone and China.

Sales of Chinese porcelain were mixed as Chinese buyers eased off with more selective bids, targeting works of rarity, quality and superior provenance.

Sales of modern Chinese paintings, however, along with classical brushstroke and Asian 20th century works, performed solidly, with sell out rates of over 90 percent.

In the auction room, bidding was patchy for Chinese objets d'art and ceramics. The top lot, a blue and white charger from the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), made $3.8 million, far less than a Song dynasty bowl sold by rivals Sotheby's in Hong Kong in April for a whopping $26.7 million, a world auction record.

"There is a degree of price awareness and some of the speculative element that may have existed in the market two years ago is reduced ... I think it's a very real market," said Jonathan Stone, Christie's international director of Asian art.

At a time when China's economy is expected to ease to its slowest pace in 13 years, Christie's said it was pleased with the results from Hong Kong, a closely watched biannual weathervane of art market sentiment in China and Asia.

"It doesn't seem so much that the general economic uncertainties in various places have had that much impact on the sales," Stone told Reuters.

China's wave of millionaire buyers and art investors have helped propel Hong Kong into the world's third largest art auction hub after New York and London, though a clutch of Chinese auction houses in Beijing including Poly International, China Guardian and Council have broken Sotheby's and Christie's once dominant share of the China art market.

But some dealers said there were now signs of the market losing steam.

"The Chinese collectors don't have the same energy anymore. There are fewer objects going for over HK$10 million. It was crazy in 2010 and 2011, but it has cooled down," said Joey Low, a ceramics dealer in Hong Kong.

Christie's sales come as part of a spring jamboree of art market events in the former British colony including gallery openings, auctions, antique fairs, and the ART HK contemporary art fair that has drawn a minted global audience of art power brokers and put Hong Kong firmly on the global art calendar.

While the difficulty of consigning exceptional Chinese artwork and ceramics has increased amid dwindling supplies, Christie's sales of more traditional Chinese paintings were a notable bright spot.

"They'll continue to go higher," said Robin Markbreiter, the executive editor of Arts of Asia magazine, citing relatively low entry prices for top-notch Chinese inkbrush works by the likes of Qi Baishi, compared with imperial porcelain wares.

A Sanyu "Blue Chrysanthemums in a Glass Vase" was the highest priced painting at $6.1 million, while works by Chinese masters such as Zhang Daqian and Zao Wou-ki sold well.

Christie's most expensive lot over the five-day sales series was a "Martian Pink" 12-carat intense pink diamond cut by famed jeweller Harry Winston that made HK$135 million, easily smashing its high estimate.

Meanwhile, smaller auction house Bonhams achieved its best seasonal sales tally in Hong Kong of HK$250 million, anchored by a HK$42.4 million sale of Chinese snuff bottles from the Mary & George Bloch collection, along with a HK$40 million canvas by Italian court painter Giuseppe Castiglione of the emperor Qianlong's famous consort Chunhui.

(Reporting by James Pomfret; editing by Elaine Lies)

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