Christie's to operate on the mainland without local partner

Updated: 2013-04-11 07:19

By Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily)

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Christie's International PLC, one of the two largest global auction houses for fine arts, said it will become the first international auction company to operate on the Chinese mainland without a local partner.

The company, which was established 247 years ago, said it won a license to hold auctions in Shanghai starting this fall.

Steven Murphy, the company's chief executive officer, said in a statement that the move makes Christie's the first international auction house able to directly conduct auctions in China under its own brand, and will allow it to offer collectors a more direct access to its global network and expertise.

"The art market continues to grow at a tremendous rate due to the burgeoning interest in art, particularly in Asia and China," said Murphy.

China has become one of the largest and fastest-growing art markets in the world.

The country has now been the leading global market for three years in a row, according to an Artprice annual report.

However, according to the law on the Protection of Cultural Relics, foreign auction houses or joint ventures can't sell cultural relics, which are a major revenue driver in the art market.

The number of clients from the Chinese mainland bidding at Christie's global auctions has doubled since 2008, the company said. The growing Chinese client base participates increasingly in auctions held in Christie's centers in London, New York, Hong Kong and Paris.

The company's decision to operate on the mainland without a local partner shows the confidence and determination of foreign auctioneers to expand their presence and cultivate relationships with local collectors and buyers, said Ji Tao, a researcher with the Central University of Finance and Economics.

The moves by foreign companies to deepen their presence in the Chinese art market are expected to boost the release of new policies and legislation to open up the market to international firms, Ji said.

The researcher added that foreign players are expected to bring international practices to the domestic auction market and stimulate the confidence of dealers and collectors.

Sotheby's - one of Christie's major rivals - has set up a Chinese joint venture with local State-owned firm Beijing GeHua Art Co.

Kevin Ching, chief executive officer of Sotheby's Asia, said that working with a local partner makes it easier to develop its business in China and shows their long-term commitment to the Chinese market.

Customers from the mainland have been present in strong numbers at auctions held in the company's global offices, with a contribution of 30 to 40 percent to its Asian revenue at present. The figure compares with only 4 percent in 2004, Ching said.

Encouraged by the Chinese government policies to support the cultural industry, Ching said he believes that there is an opportunity to open up the market to foreign firms.

He added that he hopes that foreign and domestic auction houses will soon be able to compete under the same framework in the near future.

Since last year, Chinese auction houses, including Poly International Auction Co Ltd and Chinese Guardian Auctions Co Ltd, have reached out for the Asian art market by holding sales in Hong Kong, competing head-to-head with Christie's and Sotheby's.