Fuelling speculation of a slowdown in the Asian art market, Bonhams has fired eight staff in Hong Kong including its deputy chairman, Asia, Magnus Renfrew.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Renfrew said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the decision, although he indicated there were other opportunities on the horizon. Renfrew joined Bonhams in September 2014, bringing bags of experience and contacts in the region having founded Art HK in 2008, which was later bought by the Art Basel franchise. Renfrew left the Swiss fair to lead Bonhams' expansion in Asia.
Lucinda Bredin, the global director of communications for Bonhams, confirmed that eight people have been let go "due to restructuring of operations in Hong Kong", adding that auctions will continue to be held in their saleroom at One Pacific Place.
Against a backdrop of a slowing economy in China and an unsettled auction market, Bonhams's first Modern and contemporary art sale in Hong Kong last autumn did not bode well. Only 36 out of 88 lots found buyers, giving a miserable buy-in rate of 48%, while the sale total fell woefully short of the low pre-sale estimate.
Auction houses in Hong Kong have been facing stiff competition since China Guardian Auctions and Beijing Poly International Auction arrived from the mainland in 2012. Phillips also opened an outpost in Hong Kong in 2015, with the aim of launching contemporary art sales this year. Christie's and Sotheby's have long had a presence in the city and continue to dominate the auction market there.