Hong Kong 20th Century and Contemporary Art: How Phillips adjusted its strategy to play in the Big League

Posted by Audrey Lee on 27th May 2019

The 20th century and Contemporary Art Evening sales in Spring 2019 confirmed the strength of the Hong Kong market. Behind the overall positive results, each auction house adopted differing strategies. Most striking this year was Phillips’ reshuffle of its evening sale and the results it obtained.

1. There was an overall decrease in the number of lots catalogued at the Hong Kong 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening sales:

Across all three 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening sales, the total number of lots offered by Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips all decreased in 2019 versus the year before.

Although relatively new to the playing field, Phillips’ sharp strategic shift for this season did not go unnoticed.

2. Phillips re-positioned its evening sale from an Art & Design Sale to a pure Fine Art sale:

Lots from the design category that were previously included the past two years were no longer being offered in this year’s evening sale but rather in its day sale. 

This shift of sale composition led to a significant decrease in the total number of lots catalogued and made this season’s Phillips’ evening sale much more focused on Fine Art.

3. The focus on Fine Art allowed Phillips to win more high-value lots, which led to a sharp increase in its total Low Estimates ahead of the sale

Even though the number of lots offered by Phillips decreased drastically, the total Low Estimate of the works offered increased significantly.

4. Phillips’ strategic move was backed by a large number of guarantees

Not surprisingly, Phillips used guarantees extensively to support its strategy and attract consignors. This was in contrast to Sotheby’s and Christie’s, who have been relatively conservative with their usage of guarantees in Hong Kong.

Almost half of the lots sold at Phillips this season had a guarantee.

Furthermore, this represented about 70% of the total Hammer Price obtained at the Phillips’ evening sale.

4. While the average price of artworks sold increased, the volatility of the sale also increased despite the large number of guarantees

The increase in total Low Estimates and total Hammer Price resulted in a drastic increase in the average lot price.

This was not ideal for sellers as the number of lots underperforming (with Hammer Prices below the initial Low Estimates) also increased significantly from 11% to 35% compared to last year.

The overall result from the 2019 Hong Kong Spring 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening sales was successful and further demonstrated strength in the Chinese market. Phillips’ latest shift in its sale strategy suggests that the company is still in search of the winning formula to play catch-up with the two leading auction houses. 

For further insights on Phillips' 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale consult Pi-eX's Reports about the Spring Hong Kong Sales or ask Pi-eX research for further analysis.