Chinese Collectors Will Keep Driving Sales

William F. Ruprecht
Sotheby's Chief Executive Officer William F. Ruprecht. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

China’s economic slowdown hasn’t diminished the importance of mainland clients to Sotheby’s, chief executive officer William Ruprecht said.

Chinese demand for jewelry, wine, watches and ceramics will continue to drive sales this year even as economic growth slows, according to the New York-based auction house.

Gross domestic product in the world’s second-biggest economy will probably expand 8.2 percent this year, according to the median forecast of 22 economists in a Bloomberg survey conducted May 14-15. That would be the slowest pace since 7.6 percent in 1999, following 9.2 percent in 2011.

“Our business tends to be pretty responsive to areas of wealth creation and China remains incredibly important,” Ruprecht said in a May 18 interview before the opening of Sotheby’s new Hong Kong gallery. “While China may not continue its breakneck 13 percent annualized rate of growth, the wealth creation in China is still an extraordinary and important part of our world.”.

To better tap into this growing pool of potential business, Sotheby’s opened a gallery that will be used for exhibitions, private sales and wine auctions.

The 15,000-square-foot (1,392-square-meter) space also includes a permanent salon for Sotheby’s Diamonds, a partnership between Sotheby’s and the Steinmetz Diamond Group.

All-Year Access

Potential clients in Hong Kong will therefore have access to Sotheby’s works for 300 days a year instead of being limited to two, weeklong auctions per year, Ruprecht said.

The space was opened with works for sale by Yayoi Kusama, the Japanese artist renowned for adorning everything with polka dots, including her pumpkin sculptures.

On May 2, Sotheby’s sold a version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” for $119.9 million, the highest price paid for an artwork at auction.

Last year, China overtook the U.S. to become the world’s largest art and antiques market, said a report published by the Netherlands-based European Fine Art Foundation earlier in March. Auctions in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan raised 9.8 billion euros in 2011, said the report.

The Yayoi Kusama “Hong Kong Blooms in My Mind” and “Modern Masters” (French landscape painting) selling exhibitions run through May 31 at Sotheby’s, 5th floor of One Pacific Place, Hong Kong. Information: or +852 2524 8121.

(Frederik Balfour is a reporter at large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include an interview by Manuela Hoelterhoff, Scott Reyburn on auctions, Robert Heller on music, John Mariani on wine and Farah Nayeri on film from Cannes.

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