“Timing is everything when selling art.” This is what Geraldine Lenain said to me when I visited her in Shanghai, China while speaking at a conference there. Lenain was then international head of Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art for Christie’s Auction House in Shanghai and now is with their Paris office.
For me, at no time could her words be more potent. The recent sale of The Sowell Collection II of Chinese export art at Christie’s in New York City on Wednesday could be described as painful. Only 44% of the auction’s offerings sold. This was roughly half of what the Sowell Collection I sold for back in January at the same auction house in the identical city. Then, 74% of the Chinese export porcelains offered sold. The items in the two sales were from the same collector and not substantially different. What did change, I believe, was the willingness of the Chinese to buy back their heritage. I wrote about this phenomenon back in March, in a column entitled, “The Chinese are Buying and Americans Receive the Benefit.”
Today, there appears to be a shift and indicators point to the Chinese economics as the cause. The Chinese economy has virtually gone from boom to bust. This situation, of course, could influence any Chinese buyer and make her shy of spending her money on possessions she may want but really doesn’t need. That era may be over, at least temporally, for most Chinese. Though there are still bidders from China (I heard the auctioneer refer to them on the phone while listening in on this week’s sale), there likely are fewer that want to spend big sums of money.