Chinese Credit Crunch Cools Demand for Bordeaux, Ming at $370 Million Sale

By Frederik Balfour – Nov 30, 2011

A Ming dynasty flask joined cases of Bordeaux wines and Chinese paintings on the unsold list as Christie’s International wrapped up a six-day Hong Kong auction marathon that raised more than HK$2.84 billion ($370 million).

Record prices for some lots were balanced by muted bidding as the Asian art market’s growth slows. Tight money in China and economic concerns reduced enthusiasm, said dealers.

“It has taken more than six months for the credit crunch to filter through to art,” Cheng William Qian, a London-based adviser specializing in Chinese ceramics, said in an interview at the sale. “There’s a lot of uncertainty for 2012 and people are more cautious about spending in the current climate.”

At yesterday’s auction of Chinese antiques, a 15th-century Ming dynasty blue-and-white porcelain moon flask failed to sell. It was estimated to fetch as much as HK$35 million. An 18th- century white-jade vase and cover from the Qianlong era with the same presale estimate sold for HK$33.14 million. A Meiping vase from the Qianlong era fetched HK$46.58 million.

The six-day sale’s total, including fees, as calculated by Bloomberg News, was in line with a Christie’s presale estimate of HK$2.6 billion at hammer prices. In June, the London-based auction house’s Hong Kong sale raised HK$3.65 billion.

The restraint displayed this week is seen by some collectors as a welcome sign.

“A lot of Chinese buyers are just speculators,” London- based Asian art dealer Daniel Eskenazi said. “There are really very few genuine collectors. If they aren’t buying, then in the long run, that’s a good thing.”

This week’s tally was boosted by a pair of unmounted diamonds that sold for a combined $HK127.9 million and Chinese artist Cui Ruzhuo’s eight-scroll sequence of lotus flowers painted this year, which fetched HK$123.9 million.

While demand for Burgundy remained strong, only 84 percent of the lots sold during the three-day wine auction. Paintings by Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi and Zhang Daqian also failed.

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