While China’s largest auction house has been drawing strong demand from investors for its initial public offering in Hong Kong, another rather more venerable auction house has just unveiled its own offering in the same locale.
Christie’s opened its first gallery space in Asia friday February, 28, hoping to capitalize on the emergence of new buyers in mainland China and throughout the region. In 2013 the company reported sales of $7.13 billion, up 14% from the previous year. They cited Chinese buyers as a driving factor as they accounted for 22% of overall sales. Last year was a banner year for the auction house especially in Hong Kong, with sales increasing 30% to nearly $1 billion.
The wares in the private sales opening collection include pieces from Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Andy Warhol. Prominently on display is an untitled piece by contemporary Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi, who holds the record for the most expensive Asian contemporary art at auction. The Beijing-based artist’s work broke records at Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale last October with The Last Supper selling for $23.3 million. Christie’s sold his Hospital Triptych No. 3 for $14.6 million, with his Bicycle selling at the inaugural Christie’s auction in the mainland for $1.5 million.
Christie’s chairman and international head of Asian art, Jonathan Stone, said the opening signifies the auction house’s permanent presence in the region, and a place where counterparts in London and New York can bring their touring exhibitions.
In Asia, he said, “People are thinking about acquiring works of art, whether they want to buy them purely as indulgence and something they want to enjoy, or they think of it as part of a balanced asset portfolio.”
According to Christie’s, 72% of its auction sales come from mainland buyers.
Stone said Christie’s plans on opening similar spaces in Shanghai and Beijing in the second half of this year. In China, Christie’s is the first international auction house to operate without partnering with a local company. However, they are still limited to selling wine, jewelry, international artwork and Chinese artwork from after 1949.
“In Asia, in particular, rather like the silos between collecting categories break down, then the silos between different aspects of the art market are breaking down as well. It’s more fluid,” Stone said.
Last year, a dozen bottles of 1978 Romanée-Conti Grand Cru sold for $476,280, making it one of the most expensive case of wines ever sold at auction. Settlement rates of sales in Hong Kong overall measure at about 80 percent, but according to Christie’s, theirs is around 95 percent.
E-commerce in Hong Kong has also surpassed expectations, Stone said, with 50% of their online buyers new to Christie’s. In September of last year, the company held its first online-only sale of Hong Kong jewelry.
Christie’s will continue to hold auctions at their traditional space in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and host educational forums and private sales at the gallery. Unlike last year, Christie’s spring auctions will not coincide with the second edition of Art Basel Hong Kong in May.