Sotheby’s Hong Kong April Sales Are Postponed or Relocated as Coronavirus Cases Spike in Asia

The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) continues to spread around the globe with more than 79,000 confirmed cases and over 2,590 fatalities. Several auction houses had made announcements earlier about postponing their coming spring sales in Hong Kong. Sotheby’s Hong Kong has also announced its revised schedule for the April spring sales. All sales will be divided into two occasions: Modern Art Evening Sale and Contemporary Art Evening & Day Sales will proceed in April, but in the New York salesroom, while other art categories will be offered in Hong Kong this July.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Christie’s, Bonhams, Poly Hong Kong and China Guardian (Hong Kong) decided to postpone the Hong Kong spring sales. Sotheby’s originally planned to go ahead with the spring auctions. Nonetheless, there has been a lot of pressure on the auction house as the epidemic continues to spread around the globe with increasing confirmed cases in Asia. Sotheby’s announced a revised schedule yesterday, splitting Hong Kong spring sales into two parts. Modern Art Evening Sale and Contemporary Art Evening & Day Sales will be held in New York on 16 April while other sales including Chinese Works of Art, Classical & Modern Chinese Paintings, Modern Art (Day Sale), Southeast Asian Art, Magnificent Jewels, Important Watches and Wine will be postponed to the week of 6 July.

Four travelling exhibitions will be held in Jakarta (3-5 Mar), Hong Kong (27-28 Mar), Taipei (4-5 Apr) and New York (13-15 Apr) showcasing the offerings from the April auctions in New York. The dates and times of previews for the July auctions are not yet confirmed.  

In regard to the arrangement, Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby’s Asia, said in the official statement:

“We have been closely monitoring the impact of the Covid-19 virus and the resulting travel restrictions. After careful consideration and reflection on nearly 50 years of working with our clients in Asia, we have made the strategic decision to continue to hold our major Modern and Contemporary Art auctions in April but relocate them to New York and to postpone the balance of our spring auctions to early July in Hong Kong.

April in New York represents the best possible venue and timing for our consignors of Modern and Contemporary art. We have scheduled these sales at times that will make it easy for our clients in Asia to participate and our global team stands ready to activate the international market for the great works of art we have assembled. Similarly, given the nature of the property and collectors in our other categories, we have decided to postpone those auctions until early July when we can safely hold a travelling exhibition across Asia and present our sale week in Hong Kong.

Sotheby’s is committed to designing the best possible sale context for our consignors and continuing to deliver the outstanding results that have helped us lead the Asian market for four years running. We look forward to resuming our normal Hong Kong schedule in the fall and are grateful for the patience and support of our clients and employees during this unprecedented time.”

Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby’s Asia

Some people might wonder why Sotheby's moves Modern Art and Contemporary art sales to New York instead of postponing all sales? In fact, the modern & contemporary art segment has remained strong despite the volatility and uncertainty in the art market. Last year, the global art scene was under the impact of the US-China trade war and Brexit at a macro level, while domestically, Hong Kong was facing a wave of demonstrations amid political unrest. Yet, modern & contemporary art sales were still able to achieve solid results against all odds.

Yoshitomo Nara’s Knife Behind Back sold for HK$195m, an auction record for the artist

For example, all three modern and contemporary art sales alone at Sotheby’s 2019 autumn brought in nearly HK$1.3bn with numerous record-setting art pieces selling for whopping prices. Notable lots include Yoshitomo Nara’s Knife Behind Back that sold for HK$195m and Sanyu’s Nu that sold for HK$198m. These encouraging results undoubtedly boost the auction house’s confidence in this segment. It perhaps explains why Sotheby’s decided to continue to hold the sales of modern and contemporary art in New York this April. Maybe that’s what Ching called ‘the best possible venue and timing for our consignors of Modern and Contemporary art’.

Sanyu’s Quatre nus (1950), estimate upon request, is one of the highlights from Sotheby’s Hong Kong 2020 spring sales

David Hockney’s 30 Sunflowers (1996), estimated to fetch in the region of HK$80m (US$10.3m), is one of the highlights from Sotheby’s Hong Kong 2020 spring sales

Yoshitomo Nara’s Keep Your Chin Up (2001), estimate: HK$18m-28m (US$2.3m-3.6m), is one of the highlights from Sotheby’s Hong Kong 2020 spring sales

Then why the rest of the sales are postponed until July? Auction houses hold their major sales in the spring and autumn seasons. The two leading auction houses usually avoid a face-off in the same period by holding their sales in different months. For example, Sotheby’s Hong Kong spring sales usually take place from late March to early April whereas Christie’s Hong Kong spring sales are usually held in May. On the other hand, Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams also postponed sales in New York Asia Week to June. Therefore, early July is the earliest available timeslot as Sotheby’s Hong Kong wants to avoid clashing the schedule of other auction events.