Global auction house Sotheby's kicked off its spring sales in Hong Kong by selling all lots in a two-day wine sale, outstripping expectations, but the picture was less clear for its Asian and Chinese art sales as buyers became more selective.
The five-day sale by Sotheby's of wine, jewellery, Asian and Chinese art, ceramics and watches, held from March 31 to April 4, is closely watched as a barometer of emerging market demand from Asian and Chinese buyers in 2012.
Soaring demand, particularly from Chinese investors for expensive artwork and luxury goods, has become the norm in recent years. But escalating prices in 2011 and challenging economic conditions resulted in lackluster demand for certain lots at the previous season's sale.
China, which has been the engine of growth for luxury brands including Prada and international auction houses, cut its annual growth target to 7.5 percent for 2012, a pace the government hopes will give it room to push structural reforms.
Sotheby's said its wine sales beat top estimates at HK$63.6 million ($8.19 million) compared with a forecast of HK$57.3 million.
"Mature, classic Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne were a huge success," said Sotheby's Worldwide Head of Wine Serena Sutcliffe.
Demand for bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti dominated the auction, which took place on March 31 and April 1, with the two top lots of Romanee Conti 1988 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti sold for HK$1.6 million, topping estimates of HK$1.1 million.
At the 20th Century Chinese Art sale on Monday, 90.7 percent of the lots were sold, fetching a total of HK$255 million against a presale high estimate of HK$238 million.
Top works sold included Zao Wou-Ki's abstract painting 25.06.86, which sold for HK$25.3 million, a world record for the artist at auction, and Wang Yidong's Morning Mist in Mengshan which fetched HK$11.9 million.
Sylvie Chen, Sotheby's Head of 20th Century Chinese Art said the sale "represented Sotheby's first offering of photographic works in the context of a sale of 20th Century Chinese Art, and we are very pleased that all seventeen works found buyers."
CONTEMPORARY ART STRUGGLES
Demand for Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings was muted with 20 percent of the lots remaining, while the Contemporary Asian Art sale, which had 25 percent of lots unsold, netted HK$211 million compared with a presale high estimate of HK$218 million.
However, bidders from all over Asia, particularly Greater China, maintained voracious demand for selected pieces, with Zhang Xiaogang's "Bloodline - Big Family: Family No. 2", fetching HK$52.2 million, far surpassing the estimate of HK$35 million.
Evelyn Lin, Sotheby's Head of Contemporary Asian Art, said the painting had never before been seen in public, having been initially purchased in 1996 by a private European collector who has owned it ever since.
"We are pleased that this rarity, which sold for twice its estimate, will go into a private museum in Shanghai," she said.
Le Pho's Le Rideau Mauve (The Purple Curtain) achieved HK$2.9 million, setting the record for any Vietnamese painting at auction, Sotheby's said.
Sotheby's, like rival private auction house Christie's which will hold its spring sale from 25-30 May, is trying to capture growing demand from Asian buyers by fortifying its presence in the region.
Chinese demand has been a boon for other auction houses and more esoteric investments as well.
Zurich Asia saw a new record set for a Republic of China stamp at its Rare Stamps auction in Hong Kong on March 18., gaining over HK$2 million for a rare 1941 Dr. Sun Yat Sen inverted center $2 black & blue New York print stamp. ($1 = 7.7653 Hong Kong dollars)