Kevin Ching Talks About Strategies to Lead Sotheby’s Asia in Market Downturns

Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby’s Asia, has been leading the auction house for more than a decade since he joined the company in 2006. The Value has invited him to share his thoughts about the auction market, as well as his strategies to continue the momentum during the market downturns.

Q: The 2018 Hong Kong autumn season fell short of expectation, in particular, the Chinese work of art category. What’s your plan?

Kevin: Maybe the market is not as bad as we think. After all, we have only seen the performance of one season. If the downturn was due to the US-China trade war, things may get better once both sides reach a trade agreement. Maybe the market will return to normal like it once was.

Kevin: We are very cautious about our consignments. Our approach is ‘quality over quantity’. During market downturns, mediocre artworks are mostly affected. High quality, rare and new-to-market artworks with reasonable prices are still highly sought after by collectors.

Kevin: I don’t want to spoil the suspense. But we have some surprises for everyone this spring season. We have secured two pieces of world-class artworks. They will their make market debut this spring. It’s going to make headline.

Kevin: I don’t want to talk too much about it. I know your platform has many followers so I can’t disclose details at the moment. But I’m sure everyone will be shocked when they know about our consignments. These works are going to contribute a large sum of revenue for our upcoming season.

Zao Wou-Ki’s Untitled (1958)

The auction house has recently announced that a 1958 masterpiece by Zao Wou-Ki will be offered at the upcoming spring sale. The painting comes directly from the collection of the Guggenheim Museum and is expected to fetch between HK$60m and 80m. It could be one of the two world-class artworks that Kevin mentioned in the interview.

Q: Any other strategies to stand out from other auction houses?

Kevin: The Curiosity series is an interesting breakthrough in our auction history. Nicolas Chow (Chairman of Sotheby's Asia) and I are good friends. We often have many fun and creative ideas.

Kevin: I like plants and fossils. Nicolas likes stone carvings from the Medieval and Ancient Egyptian times. We came up with the idea to put them together. Nicolas is an expert in this regard. He puts seemingly unrelated things together and comes up with a theme to make the whole idea appealing to others.

A fine and rare elephant bird egg, 17th century or earlier, was sold for HK$350,000 at Curiosity IV

Nicolas Chow (left) and Kevin Ching (middle) are good friends

Q: How did you get the consignments for the Curiosity series?

Kevin: Nicolas has always been interested in this category. He grew up in Europe and knows many people in the field. He had a lot fun while soliciting consignments for Curiosity. I got his phone calls every day telling me about the beautiful treasures he saw and asking me whether I like those pieces or not. Things that he brought back are all successfully sold at our auctions. It’s good to have a sale like this. That we can make money while having fun at the saleroom. I think it’s worth doing.

A carved wood memeto mori skull, Germany, 16th century, was sold for HK$150,000 at Curiosity IV

The Curiosity series offers a wide range of interesting and rare treasures

A black lacquered-iron Zunari Ushirodate Kabuto, mid-edo period, 17th-18th century, was sold for HK$100,000 at Curiosity IV

A natural fossil of a sea lily, Holzmaden, German, Lias (180 million years old), was sold for HK$350,000 at Curiosity IV

Q: Can you tell us about a few pieces from your collection?

Kevin: I bought this during the 80s when I was travelling. It’s a fossil of mammoth tusk. I was attracted by this piece. It looks like a brush rest so I made a base to match it. It looks like an original brush rest that no one recognises it’s a fossil of mammoth tusk.

Q: What’s new for the upcoming season?

Kevin: We have introduced more scholar objects, some minerals, fossils of ancient animals, as well as some Medieval artworks from the west. We will also start selling maotai at auctions. We are going to present a diverse range of artworks at Curiosity sale in spring 2019.

Please stay tune for the part two of our interview with Kevin Ching. He is going to share with us about his most unforgetting moment over the course of his career and reveal the secret of running a successful business.