Christie’s base of art buyers in Singapore grew by 14% last year

Ms Rebecca Wei, president of Christie’s Asia.
Ms Rebecca Wei, president of Christie’s Asia. PHOTO: CHRISTIE'S

Number of buyers in Singapore and region also increased, reports auction house

Global sales for auction house Christie's, which came in at £4.8 billion (S$9.8 billion) last year, were 5 per cent shy of its record £5.1 billion in 2014.

Yet it saw growth in the sale of Asian art, as well as buying within Asia, pointing to the potential of the market in the region.

In a recent announcement of its results last year, Christie's reported that its sales of Asian art increased by 9 per cent to £478.6 million while sales in Asia rose 2 per cent to £525.6 million.

Christie's president of Asia, Ms Rebecca Wei, 45, who was in town recently for Singapore Art Week, says the 250-year-old art business, which began in London, has come a long way in establishing itself in the region.

Its office in Hong Kong, which serves as a regional hub for the auction house, will mark its 30th anniversary in May.

Singapore, on the other hand, had a special sale last year dedicated to works by its artists to commemorate the country's Golden Jubilee.

The landmark sale, held in Hong Kong last November, set auction records for nine artists including pioneer artist Cheong Soo Pieng, whose painting Balinese Dance (1953) sold for HK$7.72 million (S$1.4 million), and young artist Ruben Pang, whose work, Light The Caretaker (2015), sold for HK$187,500.

Ms Wei says art from South-east Asia has the potential to "surprise the world" at the auction market because of "the creativity of its artists" and "the richness of its cultures".

She adds: "The focus has so far been on paintings and a small number of artists. There is so much more to be explored and introduced to collectors."

In Christie's push to grow the market for South-east Asian art and widen its base of collectors in the region, Singapore plays an important role.

Ms Wei says: "Many of our clients from the region tend to live here and artists from South-east Asia do come to Singapore to introduce themselves at events such as Art Stage."

Christie's Singapore office, with a 10-strong staff, is therefore its biggest in South-east Asia. It also has offices in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Noting how far Christie's has come here, Ms Wei says: "When we first set up in Singapore in 1990, it was one person, one telephone and at the person's house."

Its collector base here has likewise grown. Last year, the number of buyers in Singapore increased by 14 per cent.

Overall, the number of Asian buyers at Christie's grew by 7 per cent last year to make up 18 per cent of its global buyers and their spending increased by 15 per cent last year, contributing to 30 per cent of its global sales.

Of its collectors in Singapore, she says: "You do see big collectors who go to the international art fairs regularly. But we also have collectors who are wealthy, if not super rich, who appreciate art and have good taste.

"And we have younger collectors, white-collar professionals, who come to buy art for a few thousand dollars."

For her, this means its work of nurturing collectors here is bearing fruit.

She says: "I believe that all people have an interest in art and a passion for beauty. And when people collect art, they are collecting culture and history.

"The process begins with seeing the art, then understanding it, liking it, loving it, and finally purchasing it and it is the job of the auction house to present the work, its story and lead collectors to explore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2016, with the headline 'Christie's: Sales of Asian art on the rise'. Print Edition | Subscribe