Interview with Sotheby’s Patti Wong and Jonathan Wong on Western Art in Asian Market

Sotheby’s has been actively developing the market for Western Art in Asia. For this season alone, Sotheby’s Hong Kong has already presented two selling exhibitions, Face-Off: Picasso/Condo, and Panorama: A New Perspective, offering a diverse range of Western masterpieces by foremost artists. Regarding buyer’s behaviours and market trends in the region, the Value talked to two important leaders who take the helm of introducing Western art to Asia for the auction house.

Sotheby’s recent exhibition Face-Off: Picasso/Condo has received positive feedbacks

Panorama: A New Perspective, Sotheby’s latest selling exhibition, is presented alongside Sotheby’s Hong Kong 2018 spring sales

We first talk to Patti Wong, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia. With her tremendous support and robust connection with Asian clients, Patti has facilitated many successful sales of Western masterpieces, whether in Hong Kong, New York or London.  

Q: How popular is Western art in the Asian market?

Patti: Over the past two decades, Sotheby’s has worked hard in bringing Western art to Hong Kong while developing business in Asia. We started with tour exhibitions for London and New York sales, then we also introduced selling exhibitions and private sales to Hong Kong. In recent years, we have seen more Asian clients bidding on Western art at auctions. They were mostly high-end buyers at first. But we are seeing more buyers with growing purchasing power, buying more and more.

Works for selling exhibition Panorama are displayed in the hall

Pablo Picasso's Homme À La Pipe Assis Et Amour.

A closeup shot of Pablo Picasso's Homme À La Pipe Assis Et Amour

Q: What's the reason for the trend?

Patti: Asian collectors have growing purchasing power. Meanwhile, Asian works are also increasing in value. The price difference between Asian art and Western art is narrowing down and many Asian collectors have developed an interest in Western art after visiting museums in the West. Their interests in Western art are further boosted by major art events in Hong Kong like M+ Museum and Art Basel etc.

Art Basel 2018 in Hong Kong

Q: Any challenges in promoting Western art in the Asian market?

Patti: It is mostly about artwork consignments. Clients in Asia are mostly buyers, so we need to seek consignments from seasoned collectors overseas. Having seen active biddings from Asian collectors at auctions, collectors in West are showing interest in the Asian market.

Gerhard Richter's Karmin

A closeup shot of Gerhard Richter's Karmin

Patti (continues): We have added Western art to our evening sales last year and they sold very well. Like Andy Warhol’s masterpiece Mao, it set the auction record for Western contemporary art sold in Asia. And we achieved 100% sold by lot for Western art at our last autumn sale. All these factors made it easier for us to get consignments and organize selling exhibitions like this.

Andy Warhol’s Mao set an auction record for Western contemporary art sold in Asia when it sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong last year

After talking to Patti, we speak to the Jonathan Wong, who was appointed as Gallery Director in 2017 for originating and presenting selling exhibitions for Sotheby’s S|2 Gallery in Hong Kong. Early this month, he presented the Face-off exhibition which stages a dialogue between Picasso and Condo. The exhibition has caused a sensation in town, attracting both seasoned and young collectors to visit the show during the Art Month in Hong Kong.

Q: Which Western art genre do Asian collectors favour?

Jonathan: We present a great work created by Willem de Kooning at his peak in 1977 because we have seen Asian collectors’ passion for abstract art.

Willem de Kooning's Untitled

A closeup shot of Willem de Kooning's Untitled

Willem de Kooning, a master of abstract expressionism

Jonathan (continues): I think such passion is possibly evolved from interest for Chinese landscape paintings. Like Zao Wou-ki, he incorporated Western abstract art with oriental landscape paintings. So when you look at it from a ‘Chinese’ perspective, abstract art is also about artistic mood.

Chinese abstract artist Zao Wou-ki

Q: Any Western artists rising in the Asian market recently?

Jonathan: A good example is George Condo, whose works are highly sought-after in Asia. He has risen to popularity over the years since his works combine pop art, street art and elements like KAWs together. Compared with other artists in the 80s, frenzy for Condo’s work has just begun in the art market. His playful works appeal to young collectors in particular.

Works by George Condo at Face-off exhibition

Q: Why does Sotheby’s organize a selling exhibition for private sales, instead of an auction?

Jonathan: The bidding atmosphere is very tense at auctions while in private sales, collectors are comfortable and at ease, especially new clients. They can have direct conversations with us, sharing their thoughts and ideas.

Joan Miro. Poeme.

Rudolf Stingel. Untitled.

A closeup shot at Rudolf Stingel's Untitled

Jonathan (continues): Through this way, we understand individual requirements of different clients, like their preference for colours of works. Then we can immediately look for works that match and we don’t have to wait untill the next auction,


Panorama: A New Perspective

Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Venue: Hall 5, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Date: 2018/3/29 - 4/3
Enquiries: +852 2886 7887