Asian Collectors Seek Warhol’s Mao, Hirst Butterflies

July 24 (Bloomberg) -- Seoul Auction Co. said it plans to offer more pop and contemporary artworks by Western painters such as Roy Lichtenstein at its Hong Kong sales to meet growing demand for such pieces by Asian clients.

A stock-market rebound in cities such as Hong Kong and China, fueled by economic recovery, is reviving interest in art purchases among wealthy Asians, said Misung Shim, managing director of Seoul Auction’s Hong Kong office. A prevailing economic slump in Europe and the U.S. has made Western art more affordable in recent months and helped spur Asian buying.

Auction prices for Western contemporary artists have slid between 30 percent and 50 percent because of the credit crisis, said dealers. Sales of Impressionist and contemporary works at the June London auctions fell 70 percent to 165.9 million pounds ($274 million), according to figures compiled from Sotheby’s, Christie’s International and Phillips de Pury & Co.

“Many Asian collectors have always understood and loved Western art,” said Shim, 41, in a telephone interview. “This happens to be a good time to buy.” Chinese, Japanese and residents of Hong Kong are among Asia’s biggest buyers of Western art, she said.

South Korea’s largest art-auction house, which held its first sale in Hong Kong on Oct. 7, said vividly colored works by established artists like Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein and Damien Hirst are especially popular.

Hirst Butterflies
At Seoul Auction’s May 15 sale in Hong Kong, Hirst’s “Tranquility,” from the artist’s Butterfly Series, fetched HK$13.4 million ($1.7 million), his most-expensive work at an Asian sale. The buyer was an Asian collector, the company said, declining to give details. In November 2006, Hong Kong real-estate magnate Joseph Lau paid $17.4 million for a Mao portrait by Warhol, a record at that time.

Most purchases of Western art are by European and American collectors, said Shim. If the economic slump persists in Europe and the U.S., more works may flow to auctions in Asia.
Works by Asian contemporary artists, including Anish Kapoor, are also gaining global acclaim and are increasingly sought after by buyers in the region, Shim said. Seoul Auction opened a Hong Kong office this month to expand in the city.

The company, which has about 60 percent of South Korea’s market, competes with rivals like Christie’s and Sotheby’s outside the country, partly by offering lower commissions. Seoul Auction charges buyers staggered rates of 10 percent and 15 percent; Christie’s and Sotheby’s charge between 12 percent and 25 percent. The company asks sellers for about 10 percent in commission, though that’s subject to negotiation, Shim said.

To contact the writer on the story: Le-Min Lim in Hong Kong at
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