Just about every writer who covers the art market had something to say early this week about Sotheby’s premium lots in their recent Hong Kong sale. The issue threatens the growing prominence of the Chinese market which, despite its size, has many unreliable aspects. Among those are winning bidders who fail to honor their commitments which forced Sotheby’s into the precaution of asking Chinese buyers for security deposits on the top lots which also happen to have been the ones with the least bidding activity.
Bloomberg’s Scott Reyburn asked why:
“There must be a problem with payment, otherwise the auction houses wouldn’t do this,” the London-based dealer John Berwald said. “It’s a difficult balance to strike between being stringent with the buyers and not making them discouraged.”
Colin Gleadell gives some of the pretext by outing the recalcitrant Chinese buyer of the Bainbridge Qianlong vase:
In an effort to secure payment for the £43 million Chinese vase sold by Bainbridge auctioneers in Ruislip last November, auctioneer Peter Bainbridge and the owner, retired solicitor Anthony Johnson, have reportedly flown to China to meet the buyer, billionaire property investor Wang Jianlin.
Reyburn spoke to the Parisian dealer who asked for deposits during a sale two weeks ago:
Paris-based Asian-art expert Pierre Ansas was mindful of non-payment issues when he asked clients to leave a 200,000 euro deposit to bid on a Qianlong-dynasty Imperial scroll painting and seal offered at auctions in Toulouse, France, on March 26.
“It’s not popular,” said Ansas, prior to the auctions he catalogued. “I need to be responsible, though. I have a business to run. I would rather have sold the scroll for 8 million or 10 million euros to someone with money in the bank, rather than for a crazy price to someone I don’t know.”
The Financial Times spoke to a Hong Kong dealer who confirmed that everyone has problems with getting paid:
“All auction houses, whether mainland Chinese or international ones, have been experiencing delayed payments, Obviously, the problem is now large enough so steps are being taken,” said Anthony Lin, an art dealer in Hong Kong.
Chinese Art Market Skyrockets–But Do Buyers Pay Up? (Financial Times)