Kevin Ching Hopes to See Chinese Works of Art Rising on International Stage

In the first part of the interview, Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby’s Asia, shared with us his strategies to lead the auction house in market downturns. This time, he talks about his management philosophy which plays a key role to the success of the auction house.

Speaking of his vision of the auction industry, Kevin Ching hopes to see Chinese works of art being appreciated by people around the world and to gain widespread recognition like Western art. Perhaps it explains why the sales of Chinese works of art have always been an important pillar of Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction.

Q: Tell us about Sotheby’s performance in 2018

Kevin: We had a remarkable year in 2018. Our aggregate auction sales reached US$1 billion. We outperformed our competitors in 7 out of 9 categories. I’m thrilled about the results.

Sotheby’s Hong Kong achieved a remarkable performance in 2018 autumn sales

Q: Sotheby’s leads Asia for the third year in a row. What’s your secret to success?

Kevin: Stability is the key. We stay focused despite the tough competition. Keeping high team morale is also important. Constant changes in members of the team is not good for the company. Precision is another key. We offer pieces that meet what our customers want and set the right estimates that appeal to our customers.

Kevin Ching believes stability in management is the key to success

Kevin Ching and his team members on a Bee Gees album cover

Zao Wou-ki’s Juin-Octobre 1985|Sotheby’s Hong Kong 2018|Price realised: HK$510,371,000

Q: The sale of the largest painting by Zao Wou-ki made headlines. What’s the reason for the success?

Kevin: The large-scale painting by Zao Wou-ki was sold for more than HK$500m. There are several factors that attributed to the success. The first one is the strong market demand for Zao Wou-ki. Secondly, Sotheby’s has positioned itself correctly. We don’t just put any Zao Wou-ki work up for auction every season. It doesn’t work that way. We present the best works from Zao’s various periods to collectors.  

Zao Wou-ki’s 23.05.64|Sotheby’s Hong Kong 2018|Price realised: HK$90,383,000

Bidders must pay a deposit in advance to bid for premium lots

Q: What’s your proudest achievement over the past 12 years in the auction industry?

Kevin: Of all strategies that I have carried out over the past decade, I am particularly proud of two. The first one is to position Hong Kong as a main saleroom, where we solicit consignments globally and sell them in Hong Kong. That’s the first one. Another one is the introduction of premium lots, which bidders must pay a deposit to bid for. Some people against the move said I was targeting customers from mainland China and how it could affect the national sentiments of Chinese people.

Kevin: So I explained to them that I was doing it to protect the interest of sellers. As an auction house, we are the representative of sellers. Their interest is of utmost importance. We have sellers from other countries like the UK and the US so I must take our sellers’ interest before the interest of a nation. And this practice is now adopted by other auction houses.

Sotheby’s single-artist sale of Damien Hirst artworks in 2008 was a great success

Q: What’s your most unforgettable moment?

Kevin: It was in 2008 when I was in London. There was an evening sale selling over 200 artworks by Damien Hirst. It was an exceptional sale where all lots were sold and realised more than £100m. Unexpectedly, The Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy the next day. Then came the financial crisis. No one had expected things could change so drastically overnight, from a successful sale to the financial crisis.

Doucai ‘Chicken Cup’, Mark and Period of Chenghua|Sotheby’s Hong Kong 2014|Price realised: HK$281,240,000

Sotheby’s has recorded satisfactory performance in Chinese works of art sales

Q: What’s your vision for the auction industry?

Kevin: Following the Chinese economic reform, I hope that one day, more foreigners will participate in our Chinese works of art evening sales, whether they are bidding on paintings or ceramics. I hope to see chicken cups or paintings by Zhang Daqian being sought after by foreigners. I hope to see Chinese culture to rise as a dominant culture.