Sotheby’s shareholders voted this week to approve the auction house’s sale to French-Israeli telecom billionaire Patrick Drahi, but just because the business will soon be privately owned doesn’t mean it’s immune to the turmoil that’s been dictating the global arts community of late.
Due to the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, deep uncertainty has permeated the Chinese art market, sending collectors into tizzies over escalating tariffs and their ramifications. Furthermore, passionate protests have existentially stalled Hong Kong’s art conversation, which has led some folks to project that this fall won’t be a profitable one. One person who apparently isn’t worried is Kevin Ching, the chief executive of Sotheby’s Asia.
“Every season there are different policies and factors that might affect buying sentiments and decisions, including the macroeconomic environment, economic growth and market expectation, among others,” Ching told The South China Morning Post on Thursday. “Many of them have been in place for some time, yet we haven’t seen any major impact on our business.”
The CEO has every reason not to express too much concern. Sotheby’s Asia has a full roster of auctions taking place in Hong Kong this fall, and the auction house is looking to drum up a great deal of interest for everything from burgundy collections to modern art to Qing Imperial porcelain. This, fundamentally, includes not spooking people.
And even if potential collectors are unwilling to travel to Hong Kong for auctions amidst the civil unrest, Ching has a solution. He conveyed to The South China Morning Post that in order to cater to remote buyers, additional phone lines will be installed in Sotheby’s Hong Kong show rooms. While this is a practical gesture that sort of acknowledges the gravity of the situation at hand, you have to wonder how effective it will really be when it comes to drawing customers. It’s one thing to buy Chinese art at a New York auction, and quite another to ignore political chaos in order to clean up at a sale in Hong Kong. But then again, America is pretty screwed up at the moment too.