Auc­tion house paints China’s rise

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS HK - Con­tact the writer at tingduan@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

The evo­lu­tion of the art auc­tion busi­ness in the past two decades has been noth­ing short of re­mark­able, says Chair­man of Asian Art at in­ter­na­tional auc­tion house Christie’s, Jonathan Stone.

But, he says the rapid rise of the Asian mar­ket — China in par­tic­u­lar — pro­vides the most ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity for the in­dus­try.

Stone told China Daily that when he first joined Christie’s in 1999 work­ing on the front counter in Lon­don, it was an in­dus­try dom­i­nated by the Bri­tish, North Euro­pean, North Amer­i­can and the Ja­panese.

“(It was) some­what an English ‘clubby’ world of peo­ple who grew up with old mas­ter paint­ings on the walls.”

But, this has quickly changed “be­yond recog­ni­tion”, says Stone, who has more than 20 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in the auc­tion busi­ness.

“With the growth of the re­gions in Asia, in par­tic­u­lar, China, and also South­east Asia, as well as other re­gions such as Latin Amer­ica and the Mid­dle East, it be­comes a re­ally global and di­ver­si­fied busi­ness.”

He adds that the com­plex­ity and scale of the busi­ness con­tin­ues to grow enor­mously, and that “Asian art has grown to be the sec­ond- or third-most rev­enue gen­er­at­ing depart­ment that Christie’s has”.

Chi­nese emer­gence

Re­fer­ring to the Chi­nese auc­tion mar­ket, Stone says the most sig­nif­i­cant point about the emer­gence of Chi­nese buy­ers is how quickly they have estab­lished the knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing about the dy­nam­ics of the auc­tion busi­ness — in par­tic­u­lar what art­works are good to buy.

“The speed of the ed­u­cated process is re­mark­able.”

As for the changes in the ap­petite of Chi­nese buy­ers, Stone says when they first en­tered the mar­ket, they rarely stepped out­side of their com­fort zone of mod­ern and clas­si­cal Chi­nese paint­ings. But soon, their in­ter­ests spread into Chi­nese fur­ni­ture and jade. Chi­nese buy­ers’ taste in fine paint­ings has ex­panded to in­clude a real ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Western and in­ter­na­tional art, in­clud­ing post-war art and Im­pres­sion­ism works.

Stone says the op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented in China are end­less, and its enor­mous re­sources mean it will lead the art mar­ket in the 21st cen­tury.

The cur­rent strategy in Asia for the auc­tion house is fo­cused on con­tin­u­ing to de­velop its buy­ers, by be­ing the bridge be­tween Chi­nese peo­ple and those from other parts of Asia, who wish to ac­quire great art from the West. Ac­cord­ing to Stone, “our role is to fa­cil­i­tate those trans­ac­tions”.

Pa r t o f i t s s t r a t e g y a l s o means sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in China, which in­cluded open­ing a new of­fice in Shang­hai a cou­ple of years ago. Christie’s is also plan­ning to open a new build­ing and gallery space in Bei­jing.

“We re­ally want the strategy to al­low peo­ple to cre­ate and en­joy art, and be­come part of the global art mar­ket.”

Stone also em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of e-com­merce and e-com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vel­op­ment of the com­pany, and hopes to fa­cil­i­tate clients on­line.

De­spite the po­ten­tial in the Chi­nese mar­ket, Stone still rec­og­nizes the chal­lenges that Christie’s faces. As a for­eignowned auc­tion house, the com­pany can­not en­gage in trans­ac­tions of cul­ture relics in China, so one of its hur­dles is to bring clients from the Chi­nese main­land to par­tic­i­pate in sales out­side of the re­gion.

Mark­ing a mile­stone

The cel­e­bra­tion of the 250 th an­niver­sary of Christie’s is be­ing com­mem­o­rated with a se­ries of ex­hi­bi­tions and events at salesrooms across the globe this year.

In Asia, Stone says they will cel­e­brate “the meet­ing of the East and West” in Hong Kong. In­cluded in this was the sale event called “The Pioneers” on Nov 26 that in­cluded art­works by Asian artists in the 20 th cen­tury who lived and stud­ied abroad in Europe.

Avant-garde artists, in­clud- ing Sanyu, Zhang Daqian, Zao Wou-ki and Wu Guanzhong, ex­pe­ri­enced Euro­pean cul­ture, tech­nics, medium of art, and pushed the bound­aries of Asian art.

“For us, that in­ter­na­tional per­spec­tive, the meet­ing of cul­tures of the East and West, is some­thing we are re­ally keen to cel­e­brate in the 250th an­niver­sary, rec­og­niz­ing the her­itage and his­tory that the com­pany has,” Stone says.

“The Pioneers” sale to­taled H K $ 3 7 7. 4 7 m i l l i o n , w i t h Sanyu’s Chrysan­the­mums in a Glass Vase fetch­ing a whop­ping HK$103.6 mil­lion.

W i t h C h r i s t i e’s h o s t i n g two sea­sonal sales each year, Stone says the prepa­ra­tion be­gins by com­pil­ing lists of some of the great art­works

CAP­I­TAL IDEAS: PETER LIANG

held by col­lec­tors.

“It’s not so com­pli­cated in the way we would ap­proach col­lec­tors,” he ex­plains, adding that they would firstly ask col­lec­tors if they want to show­case their art­works. Then, Christie’s ne­go­ti­ates with col­lec­tors about how the piece will be mar­keted and cat­a­loged be­fore strik­ing a deal.

“It’s very much about be­ing able to work with the col­lec­tors and bring great works of art to the mar­ket.”

On the other side, Stone says they need to be aware of buy­ers who are look­ing for par­tic­u­larly great pieces of art, or in­ter­ested in adding to their col­lec­tion of a par­tic­u­lar pe­riod or artists.

“The im­por­tant thing in the busi­ness is that work­ing with

We are deal­ing with the most won­der­ful ob­jects. Ev­ery year, thou­sands of ob­jects pass through Christie’s’ hands, so we have the priv­i­lege to be able to see, touch and feel the ob­jects. It’s like liv­ing in a mu­seum, but be­ing closer to the ob­jects.” Jonathan Stone, Christie’s chair­man of Asian art

the col­lec­tors and buy­ers is not just sea­son by sea­son, but is to main­tain very long term re­la­tion­ships.”

He says the great­est sat­is­fac­tion from the job comes when a great piece of art has changed own­er­ship and “you have a happy seller and buyer”.

PARKER ZHENG / CHINA DAILY

Jonathan Stone, Christie’s chair­man of Asian art, says in­ter­est and sales in Asian art have surged since he joined the in­ter­na­tional auc­tion house in 1999. Hong Kong has now be­come a global sales hub, with Asian art among the three most pop­u­lar cat­e­gories. While it’s a lu­cra­tive busi­ness, he says it’s a priv­i­lege to in­ter­act with great art­works ev­ery day.

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