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Christie’s and Sotheby’s galleries raise the stakes in Hong Kong

10 April 2012Written by Tom Derbyshire

LARGE new gallery spaces in Hong Kong look set to provide the battleground in the competition for private treaty sales between Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

Christie's opened a 15,000 sq ft gallery and saleroom space in the heart of Hong Kong early in 2010. Now Sotheby's are to launch a similar venture, which is virtually the same size.

The new facilities will allow the two auction houses to showcase major artworks to wealthy Asian buyers on their doorstep all year round. They will also free them from the limitations of their time slots at the main convention centre where they continue to hold their major sales.

Christie's are already using their space for wine sales and previews, and both houses have mentioned future sales on their premises, but neither will yet give details of what these will entail.

However, the facilities will certainly  give them a more visible presence in an increasingly important market beyond the biannual auction series they currently hold.

Christie's Asia president François Curiel told ATG: "It can be used for any kind of auction, and if we find we need to have additional auctions in addition to the big two auctions at the convention centre every year then yes, why not, but at the moment there is nothing on the calendar."

Meanwhile, Patti Wong, chairman of Sotheby's Asia, said: "It has been very clear for the last couple of years that our clients want to transact with us outside of our current twice-yearly schedule, and that there is eager anticipation for the launch next month of our Hong Kong gallery space where we will mount auctions and selling exhibitions, show upcoming sale highlights from our other international centres and hold other events."

The Sotheby's HK gallery includes a permanent salon for Sotheby's Diamonds, "a unique partnership" with Steinmetz Diamond Group, "allowing clients to purchase from the collection throughout the year".

Selling Exhibitions

On top of previews in May for June sales in London, Sotheby's have announced two selling exhibitions for their new gallery space, from May 19-31.

One covers 30 'important works' by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and the other is Modern Masters: Corot to Monet - French Landscape Painting in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

The latter appears to be, at least in part, an exercise in taste-making, the key to broadening demand for Western art and antiques among Asian buyers.

Sotheby's president and CEO Bill Ruprecht added: "This transformative space will increase the level of activity and the range of objects we will offer to clients in Asia on a regular basis."

The results of Sotheby's five-day Hong Kong spring series of sales, which ended on April 4, illustrated why competition is becoming ever more heated in this market. Sotheby's Asia chief executive Kevin Ching announced "more than 2780 lots sourced from nearly 30 countries around the world were sold to buyers primarily from across Asia, but with substantial worldwide competition", and achieved over US$316m, "solidly over" pre-sale estimates of over US$244m.

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