Asian art auction sets record

Recession recedes

Asian art auction sets record

Although bidding for the auctions in Hong Kong on Monday night came from around the world, the sales are also testimony to the growing spending power of buyers in Asia, a region that mostly escaped the global downturn last year and is now bouncing back rapidly.

Both Sotheby’s and a rival auction house, Christie’s, say Asian buyers have emerged in recent years as a major force in sales not only of Asian arts and antiques, but also of other categories like top gems and ultra high-end wines.

On Monday, a work by Liu Ye, a well-known contemporary Chinese artist, went under the hammer for $2.45 million, almost three times the pre-auction estimate. The painting, “Bright Road,” which shows a smiling, dancing couple with a blazing jet in the background, also set a record for the artist. It was one of six works of art that fetched more than $1 million at Sotheby’s sale of contemporary Asian art on Monday, helping to take the total for that auction to $18.7 million — topping Sotheby’s pre-auction estimate of up to $16.3 million.

The sale, said Evelyn Lin, head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Asian Art department, demonstrated a strong return for blue-chip contemporary Chinese artists. At the same time, however, the market remains a long way away from getting overblown, Lin and industry analysts said.

Sharp property price increases in China, Hong Kong and elsewhere have raised fears that bubbles are developing in those markets. The Asian modern art market, however, “still has a long way to go,” Lin said.

Analysts at Nomura echoed this in a research note last week. Demand for Asian art extended to the other categories in Sotheby’s auction on Monday: sales of 20th century Chinese art and modern Southeast Asian paintings also did well.

An Asian collector bought Lee Man Fong’s “Bali Life” for $3.24 million, more than tripling the previous record for the artist and making this the most expensive Southeast Asian painting ever auctioned.

Sotheby’s sale of top jewels and gems on Wednesday is expected to raise a total of more than $47 million. The highlight of that sale is a 5.16-carat pear-shaped flawless vivid blue diamond, estimated by the auction house as being worth up to $5.9 million.

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