Jonathan Macey knows how an art collector feels. “It’s almost like an addiction,” he says. The founder of the Hong Kong-based boutique auction house Macey & Sons is developing new ways to feed that need.
Macey wants to provide an answer in part to the fixed sales seasons, each spring and autumn, of traditional auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which have been operating in Hong Kong since1986 and 1973, respectively, as they tap into Asia’s ever-expanding art market.
Macey recognised a demand in this burgeoning market to buy and sell art on a more regular basis – and to do so in a smart and comfortable setting.
The company’s Lot 88 is an invitation-only art gallery that opened in September. The gallery features Bang & Olufsen speakers, aromatherapy diffusers, a leather sofa and a kitchenette that includes a wine cabinet and an espresso machine.
Its large windows overlook the heritage site of Victoria Prison on Hong Kong’s historic Hollywood Road, currently being converted into a cultural complex and set to open in 2017. The paintings on the walls, which vary in size and style, represent Macey & Sons’ inventory, with each work acquired directly from the artist to avoid problems of provenance.
The company’s model seems also to appeal to a fresh demographic of buyers. A remarkable 65% of their business is conducted via Whatsapp and WeChat – thanks to a surge of young investors in Hong Kong.
Though Macey himself is a classic auctioneer, “where you’ve got to love it, feel it, smell it, touch it,” he estimates that only 20% of his clients buy art for adornment. The other 80% buy for investment, and may sit on a painting for five to 10 years without ever hanging it up. As is often the case in Hong Kong, this is partially a question of space. It’s only the city’s very wealthy, he observes, who have large enough homes to display many works of art.
In response, Macey & Sons can hold private exhibitions for collectors to come in, have a glass of wine and view their paintings. He advises, however, that buying art is not a get-rich-quick scheme: “The longer you leave it, the better it is.”
Macey leads a team of nine brokers who deal, for the most part, in private sales of paintings for first-time investors who are interested in purchasing an alternative asset that will give them an income and a yield. “People look for a flight to safety nowadays,” he explains. “Do they trust the banks or do they not? The local culture has always been about saving, saving, saving.”
The company guarantees to buy back most of these paintings at their original price – which ranges from HK$100,000 to HK$3 million – after a holding period of three years.They can also tour the artworks to regular shows in London, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and around Asia, where they are able to gather new business while providing a fixed income to their clients off the assets’ value.
“Most of the people who come to us are high-net-worth individuals, but some only have HK$100,000 to spare, and I treat them exactly the same as the big guys,” says Macey. “I want to be the go-to place to buy art, for everyone.” His brokers also deal in antiques and other luxury collectibles, from watches and jewellery to sports cars like the Aston Martin DB5 they recently sold in Hong Kong.
Macey & Sons started in 2012, at what was no doubt the boom time for Hong Kong’s contemporary art market. Major international galleries were landing in the city one after the other, lured by Chinese spending power, the city’s free port and its business and transport efficiency, as well as a growing appetite for culture.
In addition ArtHK, the commercial fair started in 2008 by the same team who are now behind Art Central, would become Art Basel in Hong Kong by 2013– an acquisition that cemented the city’s reputation as Asia’s capital for contemporary art.
Macey says his clients are encouraged to build balanced portfolios, and to learn about the art works and collectibles as well. “You have to be responsible and educate yourself. You don’t have to fall in love with the painting, but you have to get it,” he says.