Market Trends or Market Myths?

Jonathan Crockett
George Condo, Young Girl with Blue Dress, 2007, signed and dated ‘Condo 07’ on the reverse, oil on canvas, 127 x 106.5 cm. (50 x 41 7/8 in.) Painted in 2007.
George Condo, French Maid Variation, 2005, signed and dated ‘Condo ’05’ upper left; further signed, titled and dated ‘Condo ’05 “French Maid Variation”‘ on the reverse, oil on canvas, in artist’s frame, 132.2 x 115 cm (52 x 45 1/4 in.)
Tomoo Gokita, Club Mature. Sold for $ 807,000. 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session. 14 November 2018.
KAWS, COMPANION (RESTING PLACE). Sold for HK$6,100,000. 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale. 25 November 2018.
KAWS’s exhibition at Yuz Museum in Shanghai.
Jonathan Crockett in action during an auction.
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COBO Challenge

Writing exclusively for CoBo, Jonathan Crockett of leading auction house Phillips dissects the dichotomy of market perceptions and realities, and observes the distinctive rhythms of collecting behaviours in Asia.

TEXT: Jonathan Crockett
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artists and Phillips

Jonathan Crockett

When we launched in Asia three years ago, we were aware of the value of history, but also of the need to act on practical conditions, and to tackle the market on its own terms. We realized from the outset how outward facing and sophisticated the Asian collecting public has become. This is a demographic which is now just as likely to be collecting western art as Asian art. To have clung to preconceptions, that Asian collectors would collect only the ceramics and ink works of the previous generations, or that the rise of Chinese contemporary art had drowned out a broader perspective of the market, would have been a mistake; to emulated our competitors would also have been wrong. This is a market which rewards careful understanding of what today’s clients are looking for, leading us from the get-go to provide a strong selection of high quality artworks by western artists for our Asian collectors.

Not that we ignore history – legacy and heritage are important factors. Asia has arguably the world’s oldest tradition of art collecting. The history of art appreciation here may almost be viewed as a continuum rather than as a sequence of episodes. However, it is worthwhile to consider how it was that Asian collectors began to embrace western art, a noticeable shift within recent years. How have we arrived at a point where the son of a wealthy Shanghainese family, or a self-made collector in Beijing, may be bidding at auction for art by an avant-garde Swiss artist unknown even to most Europeans? Whilst subjectivity plays a role in tastes and perceptions of value, I believe there are three prime drivers behind the emergence of Asian collectors on the world scene. The first of these has been the rise of world class art exhibitions and events in Asia which have exploded into the public consciousness within the last ten years. Within Hong Kong, which is our regional hub (and Asia’s most important market for art sales), Art HK, the fair which later became Art Basel Hong Kong, was a pioneer in terms of diversifying the tastes of collectors by simultaneously exposing visitors to art, and served as a beach head for western galleries to promote their offerings. The momentum created has not slowed down, the opposite, it has actually accelerated; and the eventual opening of M+ will be a further year-round draw. Secondly, the willingness of Asian collectors to adopt technology to research, experience and buy or sell is noticeable in comparison to other regions. Asian collectors are enthusiastic users of our bidding platforms, which places them in immediate proximity to western sales events. Thirdly, Asians, Chinese collectors in particular, travel extremely, and they are actively timing their travel to pursue art in a global setting.

 

George Condo, Young Girl with Blue Dress, 2007, signed and dated ‘Condo 07’ on the reverse, oil on canvas, 127 x 106.5 cm. (50 x 41 7/8 in.) Painted in 2007.

 

Acknowledging that influences are now global rather than domestic is an important step for anyone seeking to understand today’s art market. The logical extension of this is that events in Asia may now have a decisive impact on trends globally, and on sales in New York or London. I believe this has already happened. A recent example comes to mind: George Condo, an artist with a career spanning 30 years, had until recently arguably been underappreciated in terms of current demand. Noticing this through our analysis, one year ago we made a concerted advertising and marketing “push” for a major painting we were to auction in Hong Kong. The painting then sold for a record price in Asia, and from there the momentum gathered pace, to the point that Asian collectors were seeking out opportunities to acquire Condo’s output in Europe, and US and European collectors began responding to the revised perception of his body of work accordingly.

 

George Condo, French Maid Variation, 2005, signed and dated ‘Condo ’05’ upper left; further signed, titled and dated ‘Condo ’05 “French Maid Variation”‘ on the reverse, oil on canvas, in artist’s frame, 132.2 x 115 cm (52 x 45 1/4 in.)

 

Sometimes, landmark shows in global cities combine to form a chain reaction, and a momentum builds which leads to the artist breaking free (northwards) of their previous framework of recognition and price. This is particularly the case for those artists whose work may be described as being “accessible,” by which we might mean instantly recognizable, of immediate appeal, and with links to popular culture. Japanese artist Tomoo Gokita, for whom we set an auction record this year, in New York within the sales of 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale (14 November 2018), and who has since had sell out shows at gallery exhibitions in Los Angeles and in Hong Kong is one example.

 

Tomoo Gokita, Club Mature. Sold for $ 807,000. 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session. 14 November 2018.

 

KAWS, with his roots in street art, is another artist for whom popular interest has grown exponentially. It is interesting to reflect on how interest in artists such as these suddenly explodes, and what gives rise to “hype.” Again, technology often plays a role: KAWS is a savvy self-promoter via Instagram and other social media channels. But to confine ourselves to technology is too simple an explanation; as that is not the only way to reach a global audience and create global demand: KAWS’ collaboration with Uniqlo for a range of T-shirts was a canny tactic. Uniqlo might be considered a market influencer of a kind. But there are others. Museum exhibitions remain paramount, and KAWS’ show at Yuz Museum in Shanghai was an important vector for public interest. For some artists, global personalities like Leonardo di Caprio, a keen art collector with a recognizable name, play a role. So too does TV via Netflix, for example, where we all view the idea of wealth through the same filters.

 

KAWS, COMPANION (RESTING PLACE). Sold for HK$6,100,000. 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale. 25 November 2018.
KAWS’s exhibition at Yuz Museum in Shanghai.

 

If we could fully understand and quantify all influences in the art market, part of the mystery and romance of this business would die away. Fortunately, collectors often act out of deeply personal reasons, connecting with individual pieces which reflect significant events in their own lives; sometimes tastes of immediate friends or family will be a key factor, and collecting an artist’s work becomes a focal point for collectors who gain pleasure from a shared passion.

The art market is a growing one, and I am in a fortunate place. At Phillips, we now have representatives in mainland China, in Taiwan, in Korea, in Japan and in Singapore. Selling 100% of our very first offering of southeast Asian art works this autumn confirmed our decision to embrace the full Asia region. The new generation of Asian collectors is not confined to northeast Asia – they are emerging from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. These are collectors who were not served by us before, and we have a lot to show them. To some extent the world is becoming less varied, but the differences remain intriguing and energizing. New Asian collectors do not wait – they act with commitment, boldly building up valuable collections in shorter periods of time than would be the norm in the west. Auction participation is different too from in the west – sometimes at the start of an auction there will be a long pause, with no bids. Then, after one person bids, the momentum can sometimes escalate dramatically and a world record may then be set. I go from fearing a piece will not sell, to enjoying the spectacle, reveling in the rhythms and dynamism of this region.

 

Jonathan Crockett in action during an auction.

Jonathan Crockett is Head of 20th Century and Contemporary Art and Deputy Chairman, Asia, at Phillips Auctioneers, Hong Kong, having joined in May 2016. In his role, he is instrumental in spearheading the company’s art and design initiatives in the region. He works closely with Phillips’ global leadership team, and has helped to build up the company’s brand to become a premier auction house in its categories in Asia.

Jonathan has over 20 years of experience in the fields of Asian and Western art. He studied Chinese language and art history at university in London and Oxford and lived in Beijing from 1997 to 1999. Starting his career at Christie’s in London in 2003 he worked in the field of classical Chinese art at Sotheby’s before turning his attention to the then burgeoning and now dynamic Asian market for international modern and contemporary art. In 2009, he left Sotheby’s to establish his own art advisory business based in Hong Kong which he ran from 2009 to 2013, working with individual collectors, auction houses, and galleries to broker sales of Asian and Western contemporary art. In 2013 he returned to Sotheby’s as a Director and Senior Specialist of Contemporary Asian Art in London during which time he was instrumental in the sale of Zeng Fanzhi’s The Last Supper in October 2013 which sold for HKD180,440,000, a world record for any living Asian artist which still stands today.

Since starting at Phillips in 2016 he has led the company’s Art and Design initiatives across Asia, overseeing the rapid expansion of a pan-Asian team from scratch that is now comprised of over 50 staff across Asia from its regional HQ in St George’s Building, Hong Kong, to Jakarta, Seoul, Singapore, Shanghai, Taipei and Tokyo. Today Phillips is already considered a premier and the most innovative auction house in its categories in Asia. Jonathan is in his sixth auction season at Phillips having already brought to market five highly-successful series of sales in Hong Kong, with each season seeing records broken, including most recently, in May 2018, setting the top price ever paid for a Zao Wou-ki work from the 1970s with the sale of 04.01.79 for HK$69,850,000. Jonathan also contributes significantly to Phillips sales in London and New York, a notable highlight was consigning Peter Doig’s Rosedale, which ended up selling for US$28,810,000, setting a world record for any living British artist. He has just this week concluded another exciting series of sales including overseeing the addition the company’s inaugural day sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art and Design in Hong Kong, which included the largest ever offering of Design works in the region.

In his role at Phillips Jonathan works closely with some of the most important and influential art and design collectors, curators, artists and art dealers in Hong Kong, across Asia and the rest of the world, and constantly travels to maintain these close personal relationships, as well as to attend international art fairs, exhibitions, biennials and auctions. He has an extensive and unrivalled network within the art and design community in Hong Kong, and is a keen supporter of charities and non-profit art programmes.

 

 

 
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