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Christie's on How Asians Shape Auctions

Charmie Hamami, Deputy Chairman of Christie's Southeast Asia, on why the auction scene in Asia remains dynamic amid of economic gloom

Charmie Hamami, Deputy Chairman of Christie's Southeast Asia
Charmie Hamami, Deputy Chairman of Christie's Southeast Asia

As Christie’s, which has conducted many of the art world’s greatest and most celebrated sales since it was founded in 1766, points out on its attractive and user-friendly website, “mention of an art auction conjures images of fast-talking auctioneers, adrenalin-fueled bidding and 11th-hour drama. And while we think that’s the fun part, it can also feel intimidating to a first-time collector. In reality, bidding has never been easier or more accessible, whether you want to attend a live auction, or simply do it from home online. And buying fine art and objects isn’t the sole purview of millionaires: price points run the gamut, particularly in online sales, where you might pick up an original de Kooning or Warhol for just a few thousand dollars.”

The idea of finding the art you need in your life, and at a price that makes sense for you, is something no serious collector can overlook. And he or she has no shortage of opportunities. Christie’s alone hosts 450 auctions annually, in more than 80 categories, in salesrooms in London, New York, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Amsterdam, Dubai, Zurich, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Mumbai. One of the British-based international auction house’s most senior figures in this part of the world is Charmie Hamami. The Regional Representative of Christie’s Indonesia was recently given the additional role of Deputy Chairman of Christie’s Southeast Asia.

Of her promotion, Charmie says: “I will expand my responsibilities from Indonesia to Singapore and Malaysia, building on strong connections there to augment our market share in Southeast Asia. I am now able to undertake business development responsibilities on a wider scale and to cultivate more client relationships in Southeast Asian countries that are increasingly influential in the fine art and luxury industry. Being responsible for the Southeast Asian region umbrella, I am able to promote and expose Christie’s collectively, efficiently and effectively.”

Hendra Gunawan - Fish Vendor, Bali

How does Charmie see the prospects for Southeast Asian art? Is it still underrated and neglected by international collectors? “Comparatively speaking, Southeast Asian art has had a shorter institutional and collecting legacy compared to Western art,” agrees Charmie. “But this presents an exciting opportunity for the category, as more collectors gain knowledge and exposure.

“Southeast Asian art has been enjoying robust demand in recent years, as collectors continue to bid on works of top quality from important artists from the region. Due to the growing global demand over recent years, Christie’s has been progressively auctioning more Indonesian contemporary artists, such as Besta Bestrizal and M. Irfan, just to name a couple. As the category gains more recognition internationally, we can only hope that the appreciation for such works continues to rise. In fact for new collectors, the price points for them to collect great quality Southeast Asian art are still very attractive.”

Charmie adds that Christie’s has “started to see a growing interest in the (Southeast Asian Art) category. There are more collectors from outside the region looking at this particular category. We have seen increased demand from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland Chinese collectors, as well as interest from the West. They want to come to the auctions to learn and to see more, and many are pleasantly surprised with the quality of Southeast Asian art. We have started to see more artists being featured in international art fairs, biennales and museum exhibitions. And the opening of the National Gallery Singapore with its collection of Southeast Asian art, along with the openings of private museums, has also helped in featuring the best of the art from the region.”

Christie’s new regional Deputy Chairman declares that international collectors are taking Asian art more seriously than ever. “Asian art continues to gain global recognition, as works from these artists increasingly appear at international auctions, art fairs and museums,” she states. “Asian artists are benefiting from globalisation. The art ecology in Asia is developing rapidly, and the greater interaction between collectors and artists furthers the rise of the wider market.

“Meanwhile,the auction scene in Asia is very dynamic, and the buyers are younger than the traditional collectors in Europe and America. Collectors in Asia are avid fans of art from their native countries, and we increasingly see a very strong appetite for Western art purchases at global auctions. During our last few seasons of Western art sales in London and New York, we have witnessed very strong Asian buying with almost 54 percent by value purchased by buyers in the Impressionist and Modern London sale earlier this year.”

Shiny rose scheherazade porosus crocodile diamond Birkin 30 with 18k white gold & diamond hardware

Economic gloom in the West has not hurt Christie’s fortunes. “The auction market is not always correlated with the wider economic market, as demonstrated in 2009 when the Christie’s sale of Yves Saint Laurent became the highest grossing private collection at auction of all time,” Charmie points out. “Christie’s has recorded strong sales so far in 2017, with our Asian Art Week sale in New York achieving its highest ever results since the series was launched, as well as very strong results for its Impressionist and Modern sale in London.” In May, Charmie goes on, Christie’s achieved another strong result for its Impressionist and Modern art sale in New York, with the sale total being the highest in seven years. “So far in 2017, all our major international sales have recorded very strong Asian buying,” she notes.

For its Spring 2017 Sales Preview in Jakarta, Christie’s brought in a few Chinese paintings. Why? “Our clients in the region have diverse tastes, and we want to source and present the best pieces from numerous luxury and art categories,” explains Charmie of this move. “Classical Chinese paintings remain a core component of Asian art, and we find clients in Asia hold these works in high regard, particularly from markets such as Taiwan, China and Hong Kong. We brought these works to Jakarta because we wanted to expand our offerings to this market, and reflect the rising interest in this category.”

Aside from fine art, how is the jewellery market holding up? “Asian buyers have always been a dominant force in the global high-end jewellery auction market, as demonstrated by the numerous record breaking diamonds and jewellery pieces bought by Asia collectors,” says Charmie. “Our Hong Kong jewellery department is the leading auction force in Asia and cultivates a very strong and enthusiastic buyer base. Indonesia continues to be a very important market for fine jewellery, with collectors having very sophisticated taste and knowledge.”

Christie’s new regional Deputy Chairman is also bullish about the prospects for rare luxury handbags. “Collectors from Indonesia are quite discerning and are increasingly gaining confidence in buying at auction,” she notes. “They have a good eye for our luxury offerings and are quite experienced buyers in this field who appreciate the level of craftsmanship and design of the pieces we offer at auction. They actively participate at our auctions of handbags and accessories, and we expect to see strong participation again this season.” (Update: this year's Christie's Hong Kong Spring Sales rakes in a total of $316 million)

A unique multi-gem necklace by Carnet

An exceptional coloured diamond ring by Moussaieff

What are her tips for new collectors? “Do your research,” Charmie counsels. “Read as much as you can about the item you are passionate about. Speak to specialists and experts to understand better the potential purchase, and familiarise yourself with the auction process. Always buy what you are passionate about and that resonates with you on a personal level. Buy the best quality piece you can for your budget. If you are interested in art, attend as many art fairs and museums as possible to fully immerse yourself in the art world, to cultivate a critical and cultivated eye as you continue to develop as a collector.”

In spite of her many years in the art business, Charmie continues to enjoy her travels as much as ever. There is always something to learn from an overseas trip, she observes. “For instance, during my visit to Hong Kong Art Basel earlier this year, I came across a canvas piece by (notable contemporary Indonesian artist) Christine Ay Tjoe. It came from a foreign gallery. This just shows that there are emerging foreign collectors that are interested in Indonesian artists’ works - and how much they are sought after.”