With the first half of 2012 already well past, a disappointing period particularly in the Asian art auction market, fine art investors and dealers look ahead to the remaining months of the year as a potential rebound in terms of supply of fine art presented at auction and in the amounts paid, if the world economic outlook improves.
While the Chinese art auction market was recently confirmed the largest in the world in view of 2011 sales, total art auction sales for the largest auction houses in Asia, namely, Beijing Poly International Auction Co., China Guardian, Chrisitie's Hong Kong, and Sotheby's Hong Kong, came in at $1.5 billion this spring representing a 32 percent decrease from last fall's auction season according to a recent New York Times article.
Francois Curiel, President of Christie's Asia, was recently quoted in connection with the New York Times article regarding the slow period in the first half of the year explaining that "[w]e had fewer works of art for sale in the first half of 2012 . . . one of the reasons being that there is so much financial uncertainty at the moment around the world, so many sellers are hanging on [to] their property, rather than selling and having to decide how to invest the funds: in Hong Kong dollars, U.S. dollars, renminbi." Mr. Curiel further noted that the sales volume for this year was "difficult to sustain" as the increase in sales volumes in 2011 over 2010 had been so strong.
Despite the slowing down of the Asian art auction business, Sotheby's Chief Executive, William Ruprecht, indicated during an August earnings call with analysts that Sotheby's business in Asia continued to be "very profitable and a source of substantial opportunity with new wealthy collectors." Notably, Sotheby's total revenue of $408.9 million for the first half of 2012 still represented a 16 percent decline even with the sale of "The Scream" by Edvard Munch for nearly $120 million during the same period.
Carson Chan, Managing Director of Bonhams Asia, was recently quoted in the same New York Times article acknowledging that "Chinese buyers are now buying more carefully and more selectively . . . [t]hey will only invest in pieces that have both a historical significance and art value. So you have to have extremely clean provenance and background, and this goes across the board between paintings and ceramics."
Notwithstanding the slow first half of the year, Anders Petterson, Managing Director of market research firm ArtTactic, observes that "[w]ith other investment asset classes performing poorly, art will still be viewed as an alternative investment."