Asia demand lifts art market

Updated: 2013-07-17 07:06

By Lin Qi (China Daily)

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 Asia demand lifts art market

Asian buyers accounted for nearly one-quarter of all bidders at Christie's salerooms, with a 15 percent growth in sale registration. Provided to China Daily

The surging appeal of art worldwide keeps attracting established and new collectors, helping Christie's achieve record first-half sales of 2.4 billion pounds ($3.68 billion), up 9 percent year-on-year.

During the period, the auction house received bidders from 128 countries, 10 percent of whom were new to auctions. There was strong demand from Asia and China particularly.

Asian buyers accounted for nearly one-quarter of all bidders at the firm's global salerooms, with a 15 percent growth in sale registration. The number of Chinese mainland bidders increased 32 percent in Hong Kong and 21 percent in London.

The figures provide some encouragement for the slowing Chinese art market, which lost its top rank to the United States last year after two years of phenomenal results.

A global art market monitor, the European Fine Art Foundation, said in its 2012 report that the Chinese mainland had a market share of 25 percent, dropping from 30 percent in 2011.

The main reasons for the slowdown in the mainland were decreased demand, a reduction of high-quality and high-priced items on the market and the withdrawal of art funds and other investors.

"Visits in Asia have grown from last year and seem to be returning to the level that it had experienced prior to last year," said Christie's chief executive officer Steven Murphy in an exclusive phone interview with China Daily. Murphy added that he sees a broad opportunity being built in the Asian market overall, and the Chinese mainland market particularly.

Christie's made a breakthrough in enhancing its presence in China in April, when it obtained a license to operate independently on the mainland. Its major rival, Sotheby's, established a joint venture with the State-owned Beijing Gehua Art Co last September.

Christie's announced its debut auction in Shanghai, set for September, though it hasn't revealed any details. It is widely speculated that wine, watches, jewelry and contemporary art will be on offer.

He said: "We will operate Christie's Shanghai as we operate in Hong Kong, London and New York, with all the things we do, from lectures, to auctions, exhibitions and educational programs."

Neither Christie's or Sotheby's sales in the mainland will include cultural relics, which often fetch mind-boggling prices. Murphy said they will operate within whatever laws that the government has laid down, but they also are prepared to do more if rules are changed.

"In the meantime, there is plenty to do serving clients in China with contemporary art, Western art, jewelry, watches and wine. Our goal is to build a long-term relationship with many Chinese clients around China," he added.

The company will host an inaugural auction in Mumbai in December, making it the only international auction house to conduct sales in India.

The expansion of Christie's to Asian markets is not only geographical but also digital. Its online services have been well-received among Chinese collectors. It will hold almost 60 online exclusive auctions this year, including the first two online-only sales of Chinese works of art throughout July.

Also, its real-time online bidding platform attracted a large number of Chinese buyers in the first six months of this year.

"The hallmark of Christie's strategy is to build the capability to serve both new and existing clients wherever they are, from auction to private sales to online," Murphy said.

(China Daily USA 07/17/2013 page16)