When it comes to the selection of Person of the Year in the auction world, The Value team decided to take an approach different from other media — which mostly have picked out prominent collectors as their choice — as we would like to take this opportunity to give recognition to contributors who pulled off great sales in the past year. After a prolonged deliberation, our team unanimously agreed on naming Tina Zonars from Christie's New York as the Person of Year 2017 in the auction world.
Zonars earned a bachelor’s degree at Boston University and a master’s degree in Chinese art and archaeology at Columbia University. Having held multiple senior roles after she joined Christie's in 1983, Zonars has played a key role in many record-breaking sales of historic collections, including the phenomenal sale of The Collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in 2015. Generally speaking, great sales of Chinese Works of Art that held in New York in recent years can be attributed to the effort by Zonars.
Zonars has even made her name in Hong Kong with her discerning eye and impeccable taste in selecting finest works of art. In 2014, an imperial embroidered silk thangka from Yongle period was sold for HK$348m, setting the record for any Chinese works of art sold by an international auction house and re-defining the value of Buddhist works of art on the market.
Therefore, we dubbed Zonars "Christie's Athena" because of the similar qualities in her that resemble those in the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, handicraft and war. Firstly, they are both Greek. Secondly, both offer wisdom, fame and glory in battles.
Back in 2017, the most noteworthy Asian Work of Art sale undoubtedly fell to Important Chinese Art from the Fujita Museum at Christie's New York. The Fujita Art Museum, one of Japan's leading cultural institutions, consigned several great paintings recorded in "Shiqu Baoji", the famous catalogue that records imperial court objects, together with bronze artworks of national treasure grade. The repute of the Fujita Museum and rare works of fine quality offered had made it a sure-fire sale that every auction house would love to get the consignment by all means. Zonars has proven her talent and expertise by securing the sale, which turned out to be the most successful auction of Asian art to date.
Six Dragons, Chen Rong. Southern Song dynasty
The sale achieved an eye-watering total of more than US$262m and most lots were hammered down at high prices against their low estimates, kicking off the year 2017 on a strong note. This sale is considered by many connoisseurs and collectors as the most mind-blowing auction in recent years or even decade.
A Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel (Fangzun) from Late Shang Dynasty
The centrepiece of the sale was Chen Rong's Six Dragons, also the top lot of the sale. With an opening bid of US$1m, the painting recorded in "Shiqu Baoji" was sold for nearly US$49m, 40 times its low estimate. At the same sale, a bronze ritual wine vessel (fangzun) from late Shang dynasty fetched US$37.2m, breaking the record for bronze wine vessel.
Zonars also played an instrumental part in curating two white-glove sales of ceramics at autumn sales in Hong Kong, Imperial Qing Monochromes from The J. M. Hu Collection and Important Chinese Ceramics from The Dr. James D. Thornton Collection.
Two single-owner sales offered 24 lots in total, in which many are great and rare works of art carrying attractive estimates. The illustrious provenance by distinguished collectors like J. M. Hu and Dr. James D. Thornton further boosted collectors' confidence.
Both sales achieved 100% sold by lot and raised around HK$116m in total. More than half of the lots offered were sold higher than estimates.
With her comprehensive and deep knowledge of Chinese works of art and antiques, Zonars has been widely respected among Asian collectors and connoisseurs. In July 2017, Tina Zonars and Jonathan Stone were appointed Co-Chairmen of the Asian Art department in recognition of their outstanding accomplishments at Christie's. We look forward to more extraordinary sales that Zonars will bring in 2018.