Amid increasingly turbulent conditions in Hong Kong around the spread of coronavirus, Sotheby’s has relocated its major April Hong Kong modern and contemporary sales to New York. The announcement coincides with an increase in travel restrictions as the impact of the epidemic continues to grow in severity, reaching the Middle East and Europe. This follows initial concerns around the city’s stability as a trade site after the outbreak was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization in January.
The firm’s modern art evening sale, and contemporary evening and day sales, will be held the week of April 16 at the house’s headquarters on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The venue change in the leading category sales requires a heavy lift for specialists, not only in terms of managing consignors’ expectations, but also in pivoting attention toward the United States base of potential buyers.
Sotheby’s has seen success in Asia in the last four years, and the news comes with an imperative goal of matching last year’s robust regional sales results. In a statement, Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby’s Asia, said the “strategic decision” came “after careful consideration and reflection on nearly 50 years of working with our clients in Asia.” The remaining series of Hong Kong sales, which include offerings in the categories of Chinese works of art, classical and modern Chinese paintings, modern art, Southeast Asian art, jewels, and luxury goods, will be postponed until the first week of July. Sotheby’s top competitor, Christie’s, has scheduled the Hong Kong 20th century and contemporary art evening and day sales for the end of May.
The relocated Hong Kong sales, which come on the heels of the New York contemporary mid-season auctions slated for early March—Sotheby’s contemporary curated, Christie’s Postwar to present, and Phillips’s New Now sales focus on the core market and offer a wide range of works by emerging artists—are not the first coronavirus-related disruptions to the international art market. Earlier this month, the top auction houses confirmed that the regular Spring Asia Week sales in New York would be postponed until June. And Art Basel has canceled its annual Hong Kong edition. Each announcement has been a serious signal to the global art industry of the current trade limitations in the region.
In a release regarding the sale changes, Ching said the arrangements would “make it easy for our clients in Asia to participate,” adding that the “global team stands ready to activate the international market” around the upcoming consignments.
As previously reported, among the highlights in the upcoming April contemporary evening sale revealed during the London auctions earlier this month is David Hockney’s 30 Sunflowers (1996). A large square painting reminiscent of Van Gogh’s still-life work, it is unofficially estimated around $10.3 million. Leading the modern art evening sale will be the highly anticipated modern Chinese master Sanyu’s Quatre nus (1950), a figurative work depicting four female nudes. In November 2019, a similar work titled Five Nudes (1950) by the artist set a new record in the Christie’s Hong Kong modern art evening auction, selling for $38.8 million. The release did not mention any changes to the property tour scheduled throughout the U.S. and Asia until April.