Nicolas Chow's Market Analysis: We are back to market of collectors

Antique market changes all the time, if we want to see further, why don’t we stand on the shoulders of giants? This time, we interview Nicolas Chow, the international head and chairman of Chinese works of art for Sotheby's, aka the “Golden Boy” in auction industry, about Chinese market, Hong Kong spring sales, and antique flipping.


Q: How is the Chinese market doing these years?

N: The real peak of the Chinese market was in 2010 and 2011, when a lot of hot money got injected. People not particularly interested in collecting, just buying and investing, speculators. At that time, we saw extraordinary prices, particularly in Qing porcelains, Qing works of art. The market has since shrunk, and what’s happened, is in the last few years, we are back to market of collectors. Real buyers, people are passionate, for the most part.

Q: What kind of antiques do most Chinese buyers like?

N: You can see in the late 90s, when we had the first dramatic entrance of Chinese into the market. They first gratiated the round Qing porcelains, and now slowly can see that trend going more towards early material archeological material, bronzes, archaic jades, Song ceramics…


Q: Last month, Sotheby’s London did very well in contemporary art sales, so did Christie’s New York in spring sales. Now it is only the beginning of 2017, and the market has already taken in a number of high value antiques. Any pressure on Sotheby’s Hong Kong spring sales?

N: Different places, New York, London, Hong Kong, all have different focuses. Here for example, we are putting on the market a very fine grouping of Ming porcelains and Qing porcelains. People are passion about these areas, and have not spent their money yet. I think definitely, the depth of the market is such that we will do well with this material.

Q: Sotheby’s brings Andy Warhol’s “Mao” to Hong Kong for auction, is this the first time in Asia? What is the strategy behind this move?

N: Paintings of that importance, Warhol’s “Mao”, yes, it’s the first time. The market for contemporary art in Asia is really getting mature. We have been selling Chinese contemporary art in Hong Kong for the last 12,13 years, collectors here are now much more mobile. A lot of them travel to Basel, see the fair, see the Art Basel HK Fair, the New York Sale. It’s important to keep them interested, and maybe Asian contemporary art is just a little bit narrow. Keeping them motivated, and showing them artists from all around the world, that’s going to be a very important trend in the future.

Q: A number of people buy antiques for flipping, what is your opinion?

N: I’m against the idea of flipping things. A lot of people think, ok, I buy, today I see the stock going up, and the I drop it. Treat Chinese art like stocks, I think you are on the losing side. When we sell a great object, I like to know it’s going to good hold. It’s not going to someone’s hand that pledges collateral, someone draws money on the piece to build some shopping mall in Beijing. Which I think is a very sad life for a great piece.