Sotheby’s in­vestor could chal­lenge Christie’s

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By AMY HE in New York amyhe@chi­nadai­

Sotheby’s new ma­jor Chi­nese share­holder may help boost its mar­ket share in China, where in re­cent years the auc­tion house’s ri­val Christie’s has dom­i­nated, art ad­vis­ers said.

Taikang Life In­sur­ance Co’s tak­ing of a 13.5 per­cent stake in the Bri­tish auc­tion house was ma­jor news in the art world at a time when many Chi­nese in­vestors are di­ver­si­fy­ing into art and have made head­lines for brand-name art pur­chases.

The owner of Taikang, ty­coon Chen Dong­sheng, is a prom­i­nent art col­lec­tor and also the founder of China Guardian Auc­tions, the coun­try’s first auc­tion houses spe­cial­iz­ing in Chi­nese art­work, which many in the art world see as a boon to Sotheby’s am­bi­tions in the coun­try.

“It cer­tainly gives Sotheby’s a strate­gic ad­van­tage in main­land China to have its largest share­holder in the coun­try, also con­sid­er­ing that Taikang has re­quested a seat on the board, [it in­di­cates] that Taikang will be ac­tively in­volved in strate­gic de­ci­sions that Sotheby’s will make both in China and in­ter­na­tion­ally,” said An­nelien Bru­ins, COO and se­nior art ad­viser at Tang Art Ad­vi­sory in New York.

“So that is a threat to Christie’s for sure, and they may lose mar­ket share in China as a re­sult,” she added.

Christie’s was the first in­ter­na­tional auc­tion house to en­ter China and was also the first one to be granted a li­cense to op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently in China, which al­lowed it to hold auc­tions any­where in China.

It is, like other for­eign auc­tion houses, barred from sell­ing Chi­nese cul­tural relics in­side the coun­try, which means art­work from be­fore 1949.

Grace Li, an in­de­pen­dent art ad­viser, said that as a re­sult of ded­i­cated in­vest­ments in the coun­try, Christie’s has had a com­pet­i­tive edge in China over Sotheby’s. But it might be eroded with a big-name Chi­nese stake­holder build­ing the lat­ter’s brand aware­ness in China, she said.

“Mr Chen Dong­sheng is a very in­tel­li­gent busi­ness­man with vi­sion and dreams. I tend to be­lieve he has big­ger pic­tures in in­te­grat­ing China and West art busi­ness to­gether, which can em­power both Guardian and Sotheby’s,” she said.

Sim­i­lar to Christie’s, Sotheby’s can sell art made only af­ter 1949, which blocks the auc­tion house from “where the real money is in”, which is Chi­nese an­tiq­ui­ties, ink paint­ings and fur­ni­ture, Li said.

But with Taikang as a ma­jor share­holder with a po­ten­tial seat on the board, Sotheby’s will have ac­cess to buy­ers, she said.

“Guardian will be in­ter­ested to get more con­sign­ments of Chi­nese works from West­ern clients through Sotheby’s,” she said.


Sotheby’s store­front in Lon­don.

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