Amid increasingly turbulent conditions in Hong Kong around the spread of coronavirus, Sotheby’s has relocated its major April Hong Kong modern and contemporary sales to New York. The announcement coincides with an increase in travel restrictions as the impact of the epidemic continues to grow in severity, reaching the Middle East and Europe. This follows initial concerns around the city’s stability as a trade site after the outbreak was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization in January.
The firm’s modern art evening sale and its contemporary evening and day sales will be held the week of April 16 at the house’s headquarters on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The venue change in the leading category sales requires a heavy lift for specialists, not only in terms of managing consignors’ expectations, but also in pivoting attention towards the U.S. base of potential buyers.
Sotheby’s has seen success in Asia in the last four years and the news comes with an imperative goal of matching last year’s robust regional sale results. In a statement, Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby’s Asia, said the “strategic decision” came “after careful consideration and reflection on nearly 50 years of working with our clients in Asia.” The remaining series of Hong Kong sales, which include offerings in the categories of Chinese works of art, classical and modern Chinese paintings, modern art, Southeast Asian art, jewels, and luxury will be postponed until the first week of July. Sotheby’s top competitor, Christie’s, has scheduled the Hong Kong 20th century and contemporary art evening and day sales for the end of May.
The relocated Hong Kong sales, which come on the heels of the New York contemporary mid-season auctions slated for early March—Sotheby’s contemporary curated, Christie’s Postwar to present, and Phillips’ New Now sales are focused on the core market and offer a wide range of works by emerging artists— are not the first coronavirus-related disruptions to the international art market. Earlier this month, the top auction houses confirmed that the regular Spring Asia Week sales in New York would be postponed until June. And Art Basel has canceled its annual Hong Kong edition. Each announcement has been a serious signal to the global art industry of the current trade limitations in the region.