the world of Asian art, the center of gravity is shifting to the East.
For years, New York's Asia Week, which starts Tuesday, has attracted
well-heeled collectors and big-name dealers. But more mainland Chinese are
acquiring the wealth and sophistication to become collectors. That has prompted
Hong Kong dealers to create a rival art festival in their city, which will be
launched with two fairs this May.
Andy Hei, a Hong Kong-based dealer in Chinese furniture, says the market for
his goods in the West has slowed while his own gallery "is seeing more and more
mainlanders." This year, Mr. Hei isn't going to ship any of his objects to the
New York show after more than a decade of participating in the event. Instead,
he is spearheading one of the two new Hong Kong shows, the International Asian
Antique & Art Fair. That show is attracting more than a dozen local and
international dealers, including Robert Hall and Fabio Rossi from England and
Paris-based Christian Deydier.
"The Far East is a developing and growing market," says Mr. Rossi. He says he
made "a few important sales" last year to dealers working on behalf of mainland
clients, involving Mongolian and Tibetan bronzes. Rather than wait for these
buyers to come to the West, he adds, "I will come to them."
New York Goes Contemporary
The second new Hong Kong art fair, sponsored by a consortium of Chinese
museums, has a name similar to Mr. Hei's. The Asia International Arts &
Antiques Fair has lined up more than 30 local exhibitors. Both fairs are
scheduled to coincide with Christie's Hong Kong spring sales set for May 28-31.
This shift in the global art market is taking some steam out of Asia Week New
York. That series of shows was given its moniker in 1996, after two Asian art
fairs timed their launch to coincide with Christie's and Sotheby's auctions of
Chinese, Indian and Southeast Asian art in the city. The events attracted so
many buyers that numerous galleries started holding private shows during the
same period. The annual blowout typically attracts about 140 Asian art vendors,
and 2005's auctions brought in $58 million in sales.
But while traditional Chinese works remain the centerpiece at Asia Week,
organizers are moving into contemporary Asian art and Islamic art. The
International Asia Art Fair, one of the premiere New York events, has broadened
its scope to include African, Oceanic and contemporary Asian art. With some
dealers in Chinese goods deciding not to attend, including Mr. Hei, Grace Wu
Bruce and Marcus Flacks, organizers have opened the floor to exhibitors such as
African specialists Tambaran Gallery and Donald Morris Gallery of New York, and
contemporary art vendors such as Sundaram Tagore Gallery, which handles new
works by Indian artists.
Meanwhile, New York's Arts of Pacific Asia Show will continue to feature
traditional Chinese exhibitions, but this year the fair expects a greater
presence by Islamic-art dealers. Show organizer Bill Caskey says that with Iraq
and Middle East politics in the news, "people want to diversify their
collections and want to know more about" the history of Islam.
Sotheby's and Christie's are introducing separate catalogs for their New York
shows featuring contemporary Asian and Indian art. Sotheby's estimates it will
take in $6 million to $8 million from these goods, out of its total Asia Week
estimate of $31 million to $43 million. Christie's, meantime, estimates it will
fetch $7 million to $9 million from its auction next Friday of 166 lots of
contemporary Indian art. That sale is believed to be the largest and most
diversified selection of Indian art ever offered by an international auction
house. Christie's estimate for its total Asia Week sales is $29 million to $40
In 2000, Christie's stopped selling Chinese paintings in New York because it
was having trouble sourcing enough of them for both the Hong Kong and New York
markets. While Christie's New York saw its sales of Chinese antiques rise to
$28.4 million in 2005 from $24.2 million in 2001, its Hong Kong sales more than
doubled since 2001, hitting $59.5 million last year. At Sotheby's New York,
meantime, sales of Chinese works have risen steadily, reaching $29.5 million
last year. But Sotheby's sales of Chinese art in Hong Kong jumped to $94.3
million last year from $18.5 million in 2001.
Record Prices on Mainland
The Western auction houses can expect to see more competition from their
Chinese counterparts. Sales at mainland auctions jumped to $1.1 billion last
year from less than $50 million in 1999, says Zhang Yan Hua, director of the
China Association of Auctioneers. (This figure includes modern and contemporary
paintings, whereas the Sotheby's and Christie's figures don't.)
Mainland auction houses have also started to ring up world-record prices. Lu
Shao Yan's Du Fu Poem Folding Pamphlet, a piece that was "repatriated" from
abroad, sold for $8.62 million at Beijing Hanhai Art Auction Corp. in 2004 -- a
record for this category of Chinese paintings.
The shift of the Asian art world to the East could accelerate if China is
successful in curbing the trade of its antiques in the U.S. The Chinese
government has petitioned the U.S. State Department to halt imports of articles
more than 95 years old, under the provisions of a United Nations convention on
trade in cultural goods. If the U.S. government agrees, "it will mean that the
Chinese art market [in New York] will be over," says Melissa Chui, museum
director of New York's Asia Society. The move by Hong Kong dealers to launch
their own Asia Week is "pre-empting what a lot of people think will eventually