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Sotheby's Asian art sale moves into new territory

Updated: 2013-03-29 09:52
By Liu Lian in New York ( China Daily)

 Sotheby's Asian art sale moves into new territory

Mee-Seen Loong, curator of SHUIMO/Water Ink, says many works exhibited were sold even before the exhibition. Liu Lian / China Daily

Sotheby's is hosting its first public exhibition of Asian art with fixed sale prices at its New York headquarters, and more than half the 45 contemporary water-ink paintings by 14 Chinese artists have sold, according to the auction house.

The exhibition, SHUIMO/Water Ink, opened March 14 and is on view through on March 28. Each painting has a fixed price, from $8,000 to more than $1 million.

"A lot of them are under $100,000," says Mee-Seen Loong, a consultant to Sotheby's and a former managing director of Sotheby's Hong Kong, who is the exhibit's curator.

The artworks with fixed prices - rather than being offered in the traditional auction - are an attempt by Sotheby's to gain new business at time when its auction revenues have declined. It's also a move into an area traditionally run by private art galleries: sales exhibitions. And it's drawing criticism from some gallery owners who deal primarily in Asian art.

"This will be an uphill battle," says Martha Sutherland, principal of M. Sutherland Fine Arts gallery. "We offer the personal touch."

Beatrice L. Chang, owner of the gallery Dai Ichi Arts, is also hosting a contemporary Chinese water-ink exhibition. "Big auction houses are monopolizing this (the art market)," she says. "Galleries are the ones who work hard, who educate people and who are there for collectors for many years to come."

In 2012, Sotheby's reported a total revenue of $768.5 million, which included auctions and private sales. That was a decline of $63.3 million, or 8 percent, from 2011. The decrease was mainly caused by a $79.4 million (11 percent) drop in auction-commission revenue. Private sales were a record $906.5 million, an 11 percent increase from $814.6 million in 2011.

Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby's vice chairman of Asian art, says the auction house doesn't see its move into sales exhibitions as a threat to galleries.

"There are new galleries being formed and galleries closing down all the time," he says. "It's a constant cycle. I think Sotheby's is one of those new faces in that marketplace. It's just part of the ongoing innovation and creativity of the contemporary art market."


Sotheby's Asian art sale moves into new territory

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