WITH ONLY FOUR issues of ARTS OF ASIA before the change status of
Hong Kong, I am more and more being asked by overseas correspondents
what effects this is likely to have on ourselves personally and the
art market out here generally. Writing to me on July 13th as part of
an exchange of letters, Mr John Sanderson of New York said, "No
one can fail to understand your courage in deciding to stay, or leave.
The place we call home is a precious part of who we are. It's in our
bones, no doubt. You seem destined to a change of "home",
even if in Hong Kong. The experience of such a change, I imagine will
be mixed with some sadness, as any important change in our lives would
be." I do thank Mr Sanderson most warmly for expressing so aptly
my own feelings.
As speculation on the effects of the change on the Far Eastern art
market becomes more topical, I myself have appeared
on television and radio with various commentators to answer their questions.
I have also, for our readers, interviewed leading members of the main
auction houses as well as several prominent art dealers and collectors
to help with my own assessments. Appropriately you will find in the
Collectors World section a review of part of the coming Autumn '96
China Guardian auctions in Beijing: its subject, the political art
of China in the thirty year period, 1949-1979. That such an auction
can now take place in Beijing, indicates a reassessment of the period,
which is sufficiently distant to be looked at more openly-even in the
First and foremost, Beijing up to now has not issued a firm statement
on the future rules on the import and export of "cultural relics" in
Hong Kong. However, last autumn, when Mr Philip Ng, (1) Regional Managing
Director for Christie's in Asia was in Beijing, he met with a few members
of the Cultural Relics Bureau, including Director Zhang Deqin and Deputy
General-Director Ma Zishu. They were all of the opinion that the laws
of China on cultural relics will not apply to Hong Kong. In which case,
import and export of antiques from Hong Kong would be freely allowed.
Though, they strongly stressed that the clamp down on smuggling between
China and Hon Kong will be intensified.
Philip Ng joined Christie's in 1994 after a twenty-six year career
in IBM which included various management positions in Singapore and
the Asia Pacific Region. He was the Chairman and Managing Director
of IBM Singapore
1990 to 1993. He had a rather optimistic view of Hong Kong when he
talked to me "China wants Hong Kong to work as a financial and
economic centre post-June 1997. It is in China's interest to show that
Hong Kong will continue to grow and succeed. There are quite a few
major issues that China and Hong Kong must overcome to ensure this
success. I believe changing the cultural relics laws Hong Kong will
not be high on their priority. It is unlikely that China will focus
on this issue until a couple of years or more later.
"China officials I have met have encouraged Christie's to continue
to stay and auction in Hong Kong after 1997. Presently, Christie's
Regional Head Office for Asia is in Singapore. However, this is only
a very small office. The larger investments are in Hong Kong and China.
Since 1994, Christie's Hong Kong has expanded the Hong Kong office.
Staff has grown from twenty-three in 1994 to a plan of thirty-three
for 1996. It has recently taken on new and additional space in Alexandra
House for the increased staffs and has invested in more art specialists.
In fact Christie's International Head for Chinese Paintings, Mr K.S.
Wong and the International Head for Jadeite, Mr Edmond Chin, both moved
from New York to Hong Kong in 1995. We have also assigned Ms Ellanor
Notides in Hong Kong to focus on Western Paintings.
"Christie's Shanghai office opened in 1994 and earlier this year
Christie's Beijing office was established. Ben Kong from Christie's
Hong Kong Chinese Paintings department was assigned there full-time
to support clients in Beijing. We are interested to sell in China,
as I am sure other international auction houses are also. There are
many benefits that an established organisation such as ours can bring
both to collectors and trade and to the existing auction market in
China. In fact an international auction house like Christie's can complement
and help the local auction houses to develop and to build a sound strong
and well structured auction market in China. This will benefit China
and Chinese arts."
Julian Thompson, Co-Chairman of Sotheby's Asia, (2) with a twenty-three
year history of conducting auctions in Hong Kong (Sotheby's in association
with Lane Crawford Ltd held their first Oriental Art auction in Hong
Kong on November 16th, 1973, at the Mandarin Hotel) was stimulated
by my interview to prepare a more explicit statement on the Hong Kong
situation, dealing with it as thoroughly as possible in this space,
including a short overview on Southeast Asia.
"The return of Hong Kong to China next year has raised many questions
about the future of the art market in Hong Kong. At Sotheby's we are
fully committed to maintaining our auctions long-term here in Hong
Kong, which is also our corporate headquarters in Asia. We have a staff
of thirty in the office and have recently appointed Mrs Alice Lam,
(3) who retired earlier this year as Managing Director of the Hang
Seng Bank, as Co-Chairman of Sotheby's Asia. She has great experience
of the Hong Kong business world and is a collector of Chinese art herself.
I think her appointment makes it even clearer how strongly we believe
that Hong Kong will maintain its position as the main auction centre
Hong Kong has so many advantages
an international auction centre. It is centrally located in Asia, almost
equidistant between Tokyo and Singapore. For the Taiwanese, who have
become more and more important in the market, it is little more than
an hour away by plane. Looking forward, I have no doubt that mainland
buyers will eventually become the major force in the Chinese art market.
At the moment, they are constrained by exchange controls but it is
likely that there will be some relaxation in the next year or two.
For them, too, Hong Kong will be an excellent centre. It also has the
advantage that no tax is payable on the import of antiques, paintings
and jewellery as the case in Singapore. At present, antiques are freely
exportable from Hong Kong, though this raises the major question as
to whether regulations will change under the new government.
Hong Kong has so many advantages as an international auction centre.
It is centrally located in Asia, almost equidistant between Tokyo and
Singapore. For the Taiwanese, who have become more and more important
in the market, it is little more than an hour away by plane. Looking
forward, I have no doubt that mainland buyers will eventually become
the major force in the Chinese art market. At the moment, they are
constrained by exchange controls but it is likely that there will be
some relaxation in the next year or two. For them, too, Hong Kong will
be an excellent centre. It also has the advantage that no tax is payable
on the import of antiques, paintings and jewellery as the case in Singapore.
At present, antiques are freely exportable from Hong Kong, though this
raises the major question as to whether regulations will change under
the new government.