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Crazy entitled: Rich Asians at arty auctions

By Taipan
25 Oct 2018

I made myself a guest again at the annual autumn sales by the venerable auction houses, which are a regular fixture of the Hong Kong social calendar.

While it was not my usual crowd of front office types, I do occasionally enjoy hobnobbing with the hoi polloi that are private bankers, if only as an excuse to rub shoulders with their well-heeled clientele and their trophy wives.

Which is why I always find my sojourns to Sotheby’s and Christie’s well worth it. There was a lot to see as well — on the auction table this year were such priceless artefacts as a Qing-dynasty poppy bowl and an 18th-century vase designed for the Emperor Qianlong.

It did seem though that the scent of money was more pungent this time, and not just from the endless air-kissing. It was as if the rich were trying their best to flaunt their wealth. Was this a middle finger to Trump’s trade war? Or has the success of Crazy Rich Asians emboldened a new generation of nouveau riche to come out of their shell suits?

Amid all that excess, excessive behaviour was on full display too. I was at the Sotheby’s auction in the Hong Kong Convention Centre when I witnessed some of this firsthand.

One particularly entitled and paunchy man, when asked to remove his myriad Cartier rings before he was allowed to lay hands on a precious Ming vase, refused and shouted expletives at the attendants. They had to call in security to defuse the situation.

I can’t wait for Christie’s November auction when a millennia-old artwork from the Song dynasty is set to break all records for a Chinese painting. Perhaps the Crazy Rich trend will have gone by then. 

By Taipan
25 Oct 2018