Betting on Asian Collectors’ Appetite for Western Art, Sotheby’s Organizes a $200 Million Selling Exhibition in Hong Kong

Four Picassos in the sale have come directly from the artist's granddaughter.

Willem de Kooning, Untitled (1977).
Courtesy Sotheby's.

Sotheby’s is doubling down on Hong Kong this season in an effort to capitalize on wealthy Asian collectors’ growing appetite for Western art. The auction house has announced a private selling exhibition titled “Panorama: A New Perspective,” which will include more than 40 works of Modern and contemporary art valued at a hefty $200 million—an amount more typically associated with a major evening sale than a smaller, temporary show.

The exhibition will run alongside Sotheby’s regularly scheduled sale series in Hong Kong, which includes art as well as wine, jewelry, and watches. (The show opens one day before Sotheby’s sales begin on March 30; both run through April 3.)

Sotheby’s scheduled its sales slightly earlier than usual this year to overlap with Art Basel Hong Kong (March 29–31). Conveniently for Sotheby’s (and its clients), both the fair and the auctions will be held at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Pablo Picasso, <i>Pablo Picasso Femme à la robe verte (Femme Fleur)</i> (1946). Courtesy Sotheby's

Pablo Picasso’s Femme à la robe verte (Femme Fleur) (1946). Courtesy Sotheby’s

The auction house has been active in Hong Kong since the early 1970s and has been showcasing Western work there for the last two decades. But collectors’ appetites for the category have grown substantially in recent years. Ten or 15 years ago, displays of blue-chip Western works “raised interest but it was limited,” Patti Wong, chairman Sotheby’s Asia, told artnet News via phone from Hong Kong. “Now its incredible to see that the appetite is really there. With Art Basel having done a lot of the legwork for us, the timing is quite right to expand.”

The crown jewel of “Panorama” is a group of four Picasso paintings consigned directly from the collection of the artist’s granddaughter, Marina Picasso. The exhibition also includes work by Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall, Pierre Bonnard, Willem de Kooning, Alexander Calder, and Gerhard Richter. Prices for individual works in the show range from $250,000 to $40 million.

The mix of visitors in town for Art Basel, as well as the high-profile opening of a number of Western gallery outposts, presents a “fantastic” opportunity, Wong said. “Obviously sellers agree and that’s why they’ve given us these great works,” she added. “It’s a very busy month. Whether its Taiwanese, Singaporean, or Indonesian clients, they are all coming to Hong Kong.”

Salvador Dalí, <i>Las Llamas, llaman </i> (1942). Courtesy Sotheby's.

Salvador Dalí’s Las Llamas, llaman (1942). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

The money generated by Panorama could rival the total realized during Sotheby’s live Hong Kong auctions. For perspective, note that last year’s Hong Kong auction series realized $404 million overall, with Modern and contemporary art accounting for about $91 million of that. The overall estimate for Sotheby’s Hong Kong spring sales is $360 million; Modern and contemporary art is estimated to account for $82 million of the total.

Meanwhile, Sotheby’s isn’t waiting for the kickoff of Art Basel Hong Kong to start selling. Last week, the auction house’s private sales arm S2 opened another exhibition of Western art in Hong Kong. “Face Off: Picasso/Condo” juxtaposes portraits by Picasso with those by American artist George Condo (on view through March 31).

To date, six of the 29 works on offer (17 by Condo and 12 by Picasso) have sold, including Condo’s The Escaped Hippie (1998), which Sotheby’s says was snapped up by a young Asian buyer. Prices for works in the show range from $100,000 to more than $20 million.

George Condo, The Escaped Hippie (1998).<br> Courtesy the artist and Sotheby's.

George Condo’s The Escaped Hippie (1998). Courtesy the artist and Sotheby’s.

Like Picasso, Condo seems to be having a moment in Asia right now. Sprüth Magers and Skarstedt Gallery are presenting the first major Condo exhibition in Hong Kong, featuring brand new paintings and works on paper, at the city’s Maritime Museum during the fair. Condo created the works especially for the show, which will be on view for just two weeks, beginning Tuesday March 27.

“Panorama: A New Perspective,” takes place March 29–April 3 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (New Wing), 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai, Hong Kong.

“Face-Off: Picasso/Condo” is on view March 16—31 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery, 5/F, One Pacific Place, Admiralty.

“George Condo: Expanded Portrait Compositions” takes place March 27–April 6 at the Maritime Museum, Hong Kong (with a public reception on March 26, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.) Central Pier No. 8, Man Kwong Street.

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