The second edition of the Modern Masters series: Corot to Monet, on exhibition at the newly expanded Sotheby’s Hong Kong.


HONG KONG - After three days of hosting parties, responding to press interviews and welcoming visitors to Sotheby’s newly expanded, exquisitely remodeled exhibition spaces, and going twice to the Hong Kong International Art Fair (ArtHK 12), my back muscles were on fire. I considered getting a massage at the hotel spa, but my colleagues insisted that it would be ridiculously overpriced, and I should go to their favorite massage establishment somewhere in the steep and windy streets of Central Hong Kong.

When I finally located it amongst the jam-packed rows of restaurants, curio shops and odd businesses, I was led in to a tiny room with the massage table and an old wooden chair.  The vinyl cover of the table was split and the matting was exposed.  No oils, no dimmed lights, no Enya quietly playing on an iPod. 

A quiet man in white shirt and pants entered and covered the table with towels.  He just started squeezing the length of my muscles, mostly pressing his thumb in over and over again.  It was like he was squeezing a big mango, not quite sure if it was ripe enough and searching for soft spots.  I won’t divulge the name of the establishment, on the improbable but possible chance they have legal representation, but all I could think of was how in the world could my friends insist this was going to be “the best.” At least it was cheap.


The Hong Kong Convention Center is built on reclaimed land in the harbor.  The building is new and gleaming with enormous expanses of windows looking out in all directions.  Sotheby’s and Christie’s hold their bi-annual Asia Week auctions here and for four days in May, ArtHK12 took up two full floors.  Simultaneously, the Asian Funeral Expo was taking place elsewhere in the building. I am not drawing any parallels between the two events, but really, it was just something you couldn’t help noting.  

The art fair was filled with the booths of art galleries from all over the world, with well-known American galleries mostly showing classic modernism, and younger Asian galleries showing younger contemporary art from all over Asia. Those that showed younger artists, particularly Asian ones, alongside the more expensive Western pieces, did well with their more modestly priced works.  

Chambers Fine Art, a gallery belonging to my friend Chris Mao, was exhibiting the works of a single artist Guo Hongwei.  They were beautiful, delicate watercolors.  One showed a progression of peanuts in their shells moving along a vertical sheet like a scroll painting.  The nuts went from small to large then back to small again.  Chris sold the booth out. 

Dealer Chris Mao, owner of Chambers Fine Art (Beijing/New York) and Alberto Arboit at the Hong Kong International Art Fair. (photo courtesy


Back to Sotheby’s offices at 1 Pacific Place:  We curated two special exhibitions of works for sale in the new galleries.  One was dedicated to the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, and the other, Corot to Monet, was dedicated to landscape painting from the Barbizon School (Corot and Courbet) to the Impressionists.  The Kusama show, a mini-retrospective, was nearly sold out by opening night.  We brought the landscape show to Hong Kong as these periods and subjects have proven very popular with our Asian audience.

Hanging Corot to Monet – French Landscape Painting in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, a selling exhibition at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

It is quite often the case that, where there is explosive economic growth and production of wealth, the newly rich individuals first buy the art of their own patrimony and then, a subset of these buyers turn towards classic Western painting. Sotheby’s sales in Asia now make up 20% of our annual revenue.  It wasn’t too many years ago that they accounted for only 5% of our yearly sales.  That impressive growth has been achieved despite holding just two sales in Hong Kong each year. It is time to expand, and our new gallery space, offices and meeting rooms will allow us to hold private selling exhibitions and additional sales in the off seasons. 

Wine, jewelry and watches are particularly good categories as they don’t require a great amount of space and are very popular in this part of the world.  In fact, the Chinese have become the number one buyers of Bordeaux.  In our recent wine sales in Hong Kong, 10,514 consecutive lots have found buyers, an impressive streak in any category.  With this new space and through the hiring of talented new staff, we are making a commitment to growing and serving more clients in this area of the word.  Next time I come back, though, I am getting the over-priced hotel massage.