Traditional Yet Contemporary sale at Bonhams

Bonhams Sale
L to R: Bang Chul-Ju a Vase Height 27.5cm | Kim Sang-Man a ‘Buncheong’ style rectangular Vase Height 25cm | Lee Young-Ho a squared Bottle Vase Height 34.5cm

The sale of contemporary Japanese and Korean ceramics at Bonhams on 7 November was the first time that a London auction had a focus on Korean work. As such, there was a lot of admiration from buyers as to the quality of the work, but when it came to putting hands in pockets buyers were more cautious. With limited past sale history to go on, the punters were unwilling to speculate.

I’m always disappointed when I go into a gallery and the nice young lady behind the counter starts talking about how well a particular artist has done at auction, and what a great investment this artist is going to be. Naively, I would like to think that people buy works of art because they like them. But I suppose that’s because I don’t have the surplus cash to think of art as an investment. If I buy something it’s on the basis of pleasure per pound rather than potential for profit. Which means that I rarely spend, and never spend much. I just window-shop.

Looking at the results of the sale, it seems that those who bought were mainly like me. It was mainly the less expensive (sub-£1,000) pieces which sold — and not all of those went either. The moon jar, estimated at £30,000-£40,000, was unfortunately unsold. However, I understand that the actual day of the sale is not the end of the matter: if you’re still interested in any of the pieces you can still approach Bonhams to see if a private sale is possible.

I wasn’t able to go along to the sale myself, which was probably a good thing. I’ve never been to an auction before and don’t know whether I would end up bidding too much, paying for the pleasure of winning rather than just the pleasure of the piece itself. I was rather attracted to one of Park Byung-ho’s vases (pictured above). I asked a friend to put in a lowish bid for me, but the vase ended up selling for 20% more than the top end of the estimate. In fact Park’s pots were the only ones to sell at greater than estimate. None of the buncheong pieces sold.

Full details of the sale are on the Bonhams website. For the items which sold, the details of the estimated sale price are no longer on their site, so I provide them below1.

Lot # Artist Work Estimate Actual hammer price
104 Yoo Kwang-yul Five miniature celadon pots £800-£1,200 £750
105 Yoo Kwang-yul Cylindrical celadon vase with Crane £400-£600 £380
107 Park Byung-ho Tall celedon vase £300-£400 £420
108 Park Byung-ho Celadon vase £300-£400 £480
109 Park Byung-ho Celadon vase £400-£600 £450
110 Park Young-sook White porcelain bowl £1,000-£1,500 £1,100
111 Park Young-sook White porcelain tea set £1,000-£1,500 £1,500
113 Chung Youn-taeg White porcelain lidded cylindrical box £300-£400 £270
114 Chung Youn-taeg Four white porcelain bowls £200-£300 £180
116 Lee Young-ho White porcelain lidded box £300-£400 £280
117 Lee Young-ho White speckled porcelain vase £300-£400 £280
118 Lee Young-ho Squared bottle vase £500-£700 £450
136 Lee In-jin Brown stoneware vase £500-£700 £450

A couple of days before the London sale, Yonhap reported a somewhat bigger price tag on a sale of a modern celadon pot:

A modern pot-shaped celadon piece was sold to a local businessman for 100 million won (US$106,500), a price which has only been offered to antique Goryeo celadons, officials said Sunday.

The celadon, produced by prominent ceramic artisan Yun Do-hyun, is 100cm high and 320cm round and has been praised to have striking colors and beautiful curves.

  1. Apologies for the poor formatting. One day I’ll work out how to do decent tables in WordPress []

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