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Tokyo? Singapore? Beijing? Shanghai? None of them. Sure, it's in China, but itís not in China. Far from our latitudes, Hong Kong is one of the most attractive markets of the moment. To learn more about it we talked with Jonathan Stone from Christie's, Daniel Komala from Larasati and Gagosian Galleryís Nick Simunovic. Through their eyes we approach one of the newest world and art capitals...
<b>WHAT IS THE CAPITAL OF ASIA?</b>Published on Monday, February 7th, 2011
A Western auction house, Christie's, with a long and illustrious history, Larasati, born in 2000 in Indonesia, coming with a considerable list of accomplishments behind itself; an international Gallery, Gagosian, one of the most important in the world. What is the picture of your type of collector in Hong Kong? What is he particularly passionate about?
Jonathan Stone: As it is difficult to characterize our customers in New York, London, Geneva and Milan, it is equally hard to do it here in Hong Kong. We have customers from all over the world participating to our auctions and, of course, especially from Asia: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Japan and South Korea. Obviously, our offers are heavily focused on Hong Kong Asian art - from the most extreme contemporary art to classical paintings and calligraphy, to works of art including Chinese ceramics and so on. We also propose items belonging to "lifestyle" such as jewellery, watches and wine. It is a broad spectrum of collectible categories, which adapts to a wide range of collectors.
Nick Simunovic: The art scene in Hong Kong is vibrant and diverse; the market is rapidly expanding and is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Chinese collectors are interested in different kinds of art, from ancient scrolls to contemporary Western art and design. I donít think we can talk of a "standard collector" in Hong Kong. Many people collect ink paintings or contemporary Chinese art and sometimes both of them.
Daniel Komala: The standard collector is cultivated and highly informed, he loves painting quality and at the same time he even recognizes its value in terms of investment.

Daniel KomalaWhat are the most popular subjects in local art?

N.S. : In general, figurative painting and sculpture are more popular than abstraction among collectors. But my idea is that this arrangement will change over time.

What is the relationship with Western art? Is there an interest among local collectors?

N.S. : There's a huge interest in Asia for Western contemporary art. Local collectors tend to have very different tastes amongst them, and while many are of course tied to a very targeted focus (jade, bronze, Ming era furniture ...), there are many others whose interest is being globalized. I get very often required for such artists as Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Richard Prince, as well as Picasso and Monet.

D.K.: Just as the consideration for Asian art is growing, collectors still love to have links with Western art. Its possession certainly entitles it to an international reputation. In terms of perception, Asian art is still lagging behind its Western counterparts. This has nothing to do with the quality, but more so with marketing and infrastructures; these are exactly the elements that we are working on at Larasati. We aim to bring Asian art to the same level Western Art is enjoying internationally, by encouraging and promoting modern and contemporary works. That's why we created One East Asia, by expanding our services, offering advice and training courses aimed at the knowledge of art, which is an expertise that the market needs.

What about Italian contemporary art?

N S.: Please send me the Fontana canvas! I have some customers who are looking for important pieces. Are there European and American collectors coming to Hong Kong for the auctions?

J.S.: Of course. As I mentioned earlier, many of our most important collectors - buyers and sellers - come from Europe, Britain and the Americas. Every season we offer important works coming from Western private collections. Looking at the autumn season offer in Hong Kong, we are presenting a series of objects including a stunning pink diamond of 14.23 carats (estimated between 14 and 19 million U.S. dollars), an important painting belonging to the Mask Series of our great contemporary Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi (estimated at between USD 1.5 and 2.3 million) and a rare vase (estimated between USD 1.3 million and 1.9 million).

Nick SimunovicThe world, not just the art sector, is facing an unprecedented global crisis. How is Hong Kong going through this period? What effect did the downturn have on the local market?

N.S.: Our work in Asia has expanded during the global crisis. We opened in Hong Kong in early 2008 and the growth we've experienced since that time has exceeded our expectations. Certainly collectors have shown a more cautious approach during the first terrible months after the collapse of Lehman. But this is understandable and appropriate. However, throughout the crisis period we realized that collectors were very interested in purchasing important works at very attractive prices.

J.S.: The recovery of the global art market is driven from this region, with Hong Kong representing its main hub. In fact, Asia was the only growing market in 2009, with a total amount of USD 2.2 billion realized at auctions only, against 2.1 billion in 2008. This is a modest growth of around 5%, but it is very favourable when compared to the 40% decrease which occurred in Europe and America. It is not surprising, therefore, to hear that collectors in mainland China have a huge buying power: the value of the works purchased at Christie's rose by 94% last year. The collectors belonging to this area are very active in our international sales, but there is obviously a natural affinity with those categories we sell within their borders: Chinese art, contemporary Asian art, classical Chinese paintings. The conjunction between purchasing power and passion for collecting these gentlemen bring to our auctions during each season here in Hong Kong is incomparable.

D.K.: No market is immune from global crisis. The market is experiencing huge corrections, which also focus on overvalued and overpriced works. Good art purchased as an investment in the medium term normally resists the test of time and in many cases exceeds the storms of recession. During this period of uncertainty, buyers tend to focus on safe value works, like those of modern masters with an established curriculum. These pieces exist in limited quantities. It will take some time before buyers feel confident towards the contemporary art market. Anyway this is a good time for those collectors who are interested in reviewing what is available today, before there is another rise in the market.

Jonathan Stone - photo Jimmy Luk
Are you satisfied with the results achieved over last semester auctions?

J.S.: We are indeed! Our spring sales series, which took place last May went very well and once again, it confirmed Hong Kong as an important art auction centre at a global level. The total revenue (USD 294 million) was our second highest ever achieved result of the season; we have established more than 50 records and two white-glove sales (100% sold). The recent success of our weekly Asian art sales at Christie's New York is a further indication of the strength and demand of this market. Our Chinese works auction made total revenue of USD 55.5 million, the highest result for a Chinese art series of auctions in New York. 

D.K.: Yes, we are very happy. The frequency of records and the performances achieved by our old Asian masters were really encouraging. Affandiís Tanah Lot, for example, was sold for USD 240,000 and his Self-portrait eating a watermelon has brought USD 264,000; both of the artworks have far exceeded original estimates; they actually nearly quadrupled. The Asian art market is clearly in a time of growth and Larasati closed its sales with a total of USD 2.1 million. 

Jonathan Stone is Managing Director, Asia and International Business Director of Asian Art & Antiquities per Christie's
Daniel Komala is CEO of Larasati Auctioneers
Nick Simunovic is Managing Director of Gagosian Gallery Asia

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with the collaboration of cecilia conti and susannah underwood


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