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I arrived here in January 2010, and the market had buzzed since 2008. When at that time sales for Christie’s in Hong Kong were 3% of group sales, in 2010 they were 12% of group sales, and just last year in 2012 they were 20% of group sales. So, what I’ve seen is an enormous amount of new customers mostly from China; new collectors from this part of the world buying Asian contemporary art, Chinese works of art, wine, jewellery and watches.
How did the first Christie’s sale in Shanghai in September 2013 go?
Well, the first sale in Shanghai was a bit of a bet, because we came in there as the first international auction house allowed to organise a sale in China, and we did it with our normal buyer’s premium which is 25% up to US$ 100,000 and 20% afterwards, where the Chinese auction houses only charge 15%. There also were import taxes for certain objects that came from abroad, so the taxes are between 20% and 50%, and we didn’t know how customers would react in China. We know how they react in Hong Kong, in Geneva, in Paris or London, but in China it was new. But it was a great success. We brought 40 lots, 39 were sold; we were expecting 16 million dollars, 25 million dollars were sold. There were 900 people in the sale room, bidding like crazy for many items, and particularly Cai Guoqiang at the end, which we thought might bring a million dollars, brought 2.5 million dollars after a fierce battle of about ten different Chinese customers.
Can you tell us more about your strategy and expected growth in China?
In terms of growth, this is the market which can grow the most in the future 10 to 15 years. America is still number one, Europe is still number two, and despite what is written in papers, China is the third largest market in the world. But it’s growing faster than all others, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in 20 years the center of the art market or the auction art market would be in this part of the world rather than in Europe or in America.
Will China become the largest auction market in the future?
Yes, it will become a large market, whether it will become the largest market or not, I don’t know. But the interesting thing is, how long will it take? At the moment the barriers to developing this market in China are made by taxes, and as long as there are very high taxes to bring works of art into China, the market can develop up to a point. Now, of course there is the internal market, and we can take from Chinese customers to sell to other Chinese customers, but again, I think it will take some time, so, growing market - yes, number one in the worl
Is the Chinese market still very local? I think the market is becoming international.
It is true that at the moment 60% or 65% of what the Chinese collectors buy is Chinese works of art. But they also buy Western jewellery, they also buy wine, they also buy watches, and they begin to buy European and American contemporary and post-war. We recently sold a picture by Rembrandt to a Chinese collector, we recently sold a picture by Morandi to a Chinese collector, and we have sold many Picasso, so it’s coming slowly but surely, and we see in every auction more and more Chinese customers interested in non-Chinese works of art.
What have been the biggest challenges for Christie’s in Asia so far?
I suppose, it is to bring to China and to Asia the system and the rigour with which we work all around the world. No staff member can bid on an object in an auction; the reserve has to be lower than the low estimate, or at least not as high. It can be as high as the low estimate, but not higher; the experts do not get a commission from the person who put the item in the auction, and the systems in China are a bit different. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, this is the same as France, it’s completely different from the Christie’s system, where experts are dealers, well, at Christie’s it’s simply impossible. So, I suppose it’s adapting our system to the way the Chinese do business without compromising our ethics, our transparency and the way we do business all around the world.
How important are online sales for Christie’s?
It’s very much a part of our strategy. In our Three-Year plan we decided to develop of course the auction business which has been in our DNA since 1766, but also private sales which are now 20% sales at Christie’s, a very important new development, and online sales. Why online? Well, you just have to open a paper and see that there are so many online sites at the moment selling works of art, selling jewellery, and we found that some of our new customers didn’t want to come to an auction, didn’t want to speak to the specialists, but just wanted to deal online. So we tried a few sales last year, they were a great success, and we are doing more and more now.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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