T.O.P.’s enormous following created a level of buzz for the Hong Kong sale greater than that preceding Sotheby’s prior Contemporary Curated sales in New York and London. Sotheby’s preview of #TTTOP even saw many school girls entering an auction house for the first time just to pose for photos with the artworks that their idol had previously been photographed with. But according to Evelyn Lin, head of contemporary Asian art at Sotheby’s, that buzz extended beyond teens, successfully luring in new customers and translating into actual sales.
“Hong Kong still remains a very exciting market as we see more young and new faces coming to us,” Lin said. She noted that compared to America and Europe, which are dominated by mature collectors, Asia’s buying public increasingly trends younger. “The market is slower than before, but we have these young collectors who collect everything that they like and can afford. T.O.P. represents this generation of collectors,” Lin said, suggesting that these new collectors are less susceptible to market sways. Indeed, the #TTTOP sale attracted buyers from more than 20 countries—and more than half of them were aged 40 or younger. According to Lin, twenty percent of the bidders were new clients with the auction house. The move to appeal to younger buyers proved to be an appropriate one in the current market.
But excluding the #TTTOP sale, results from Sotheby’s autumn auctions of modern and contemporary Asian art in Hong Kong (which includes three categories: modern Asian art, contemporary Asian art and modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art) were down yet again, bringing in HK$698 million ($89.5 million). The slump follows a slight contraction that occurred this past spring, when the same auctions brought in HK$793.4 million ($101.7 million), a decrease from the fall 2015’s total of HK$819.2 million ($105 million). “There is no doubt that the art market has seen better days. Art that used to fly off the walls now falls off, slowly,” said art advisor Jehan Chu. “Auction houses face reluctant sellers, choosy buyers, stiff competition from both other auction houses and large galleries, and are urgently experimenting with ways to stay relevant.” Chu added that while “combining celebrity and art is not a new formula, finding someone with T.O.P.’s star power was a coup for Sotheby’s.”