You gotta have art

Link­ing art lovers from the four cor­ners of the Earth

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHENG XIN zhengxin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Jussi Pylkka­nen thinks him­self more of an afi­cionado and part of the cul­tural land­scape — that con­nects mu­se­ums, foun­da­tions and art deal­ers from the four cor­ners of the earth — than the pres­i­dent of Christie’s, one of the two big­gest in­ter­na­tional auction houses.

A fan of Chi­nese porce­lain and Eng­land glass art works, the 53-year-old Pylkka­nen, auc­tion­eer at the cen­ter of the art world’s big­gest sales, be­lieves China plays a piv­otal role for the global mar­ket, as the Chi­nese con­tinue to show ever-grow­ing in­ter­est in art works and the fine art auction sales in China con­tinue their in­ex­orable rise of re­cent years.

Un­der his lead­er­ship, Christie’s re­cently opened its new cen­tral Bei­jing flag­ship cen­ter, amid a con­tin­ued expansion in China. It is Christie’s sec­ond venue on the Chi­nese main­land af­ter its Shang­hai branch, which opened in 2014.

Ac­cord­ing to Pylkka­nen, the auction house is con­tin­u­ing to grow and in­vest in here and the new Bei­jing space not only marks an im­por­tant mile­stone dur­ing Christie’s 250 year mis­sion to connect art and col­lec­tors, but also il­lus­trates the auction house’s res­o­lu­tion to con­tinue expansion in the coun­try.

Pylkka­nen re­cently spoke with China Daily about his China strat­egy, lead­er­ship and per­sonal life. The fol­low­ing are edited ex­cerpts of the in­ter­view. Art col­lect­ing has been ac­tive and auc­tions have done well in China over the past few years as Chi­nese moguls have splashed out on mas­ter­works. How do you de­scribe Christie’s busi­ness in China in re­cent years?

China is an ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal part of the in­ter­na­tional art mar­ket to­day. Over the last three years since our Shang­hai of­fice opened we have wit­nessed a huge growth in in­ter­est from Chi­nese col­lec­tors, in all ar­eas of the in­ter­na­tional art mar­ket in Hong Kong, New York, London, Geneva and else­where.

There is no ques­tion in years to come that the num­ber of Chi­nese buy­ers — and also the in­ter­est shown by West­ern buy­ers in buy­ing Chi­nese art— will grow very rapidly.

We have wit­nessed this be­fore when we opened our busi­ness in North Amer­ica in 1977. Quickly the US be­came a crit­i­cal part of the mar­ket for us. For a London-based com­pany we are also a mul­ti­cul­tural com­pany with very sig­nif­i­cant op­er­a­tions across the world. How has Christie’s expansion in China been go­ing so far? What strate­gies will you adopt to ex­pand your busi­ness in China?

We al­ready have three ex­hi­bi­tion bases in China, which I am very proud of: the one in Hong Kong which we have con­tin­u­ously de­vel­oped over

30 years, a very his­tor­i­cal location in Shang­hai and the new space in Bei­jing.

We have ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces that no other busi­ness other than the lo­cal Chi­nese ones have. We are pleased to be the first West­ern com­pany to have a broad, struc­tured foot­print in China and we will con­tin­u­ously grow. Is there a lead­er­ship style that is par­tic­u­larly ef­fec­tive in China? And what is the pro­por­tion of Chi­nese and ex­pats in your man­age­ment team in China?

We are try­ing to make Chi­nese col­lec­tors com­fort­able to work with our busi­ness. We have opened many re­la­tion­ships over the past 250 years. We have strong re­sources and love to get very close to mu­se­ums, col­lec­tors and young artists. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of the clas­si­cal and the new here in China.

And Christie’s gives col­lec­tors an in­ter­na­tional plat­form, which is very im­por­tant.

The man­age­ment team in China is 100 per­cent Chi­nese. We have a staff in China of al­most fifty peo­ple. They are all from the Chi­nese main­land. We want to build a busi­ness, which is all about be­ing in China and run by Chi­nese. How hot is the com­pe­ti­tion that Christie’s faces in China? What do you do and what have you done to dis­tin­guish Christie’s from other com­peti­tors? We don’t see any­body work­ing in the art mar­ket as be­ing a com­peti­tor. We see them as part of the art land­scape, that in­cludes the mu­se­ums, the foun­da­tions and the art deal­ers.

It’s one big com­mu­nity of art and cul­ture. The more peo­ple deal­ing with art and cul­ture, the bet­ter. We are lead­ing our busi­ness with a team of many cre­ative minds. What’s your com­pet­i­tive edge in this com­mu­nity you de­scribed?

We have very high selling rates. We de­liver what we prom­ise. We like to do things well. Our ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces in Bei­jing brought out the ex­hi­bi­tion on Pablo Pi­casso and other Chi­nese artists and when we opened the space in Shang­hai in 2014 we did the same thing.

Peo­ple know we take our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties se­ri­ously. We make sure the cul­ture of ev­ery na­tion and the art of ev­ery na­tion is well rep­re­sented.

I’m cur­rently on a tour vis­it­ing mu­se­ums, col­lec­tors and foun­da­tions and looking for ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces, and with all of them we want to reach out to the com­mu­nity bet­ter. What are the big­gest achieve­ments, op­por­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges for Christie’s in China?

If we look at the com­mer­cial side, 28 per­cent of our buy­ers last year came from Asia, and 40 to 50 per­cent of those were from China. We sold around 6 or 7 bil­lion dol­lars of art work last year.

It’s a very healthy en­vi­ron­ment and many peo­ple want to cre­ate re­la­tion­ships with us. Some of them are buy­ers, some want to come and learn about the art mar­ket, and some come to the ed­u­ca­tion cour­ses pro­vided by Christie’s. In China we are launch­ing a new ed­u­ca­tion course with Yale Univer­sity, based in Bei­jing. As more Chi­nese moguls buy world fa­mous art­works, do you think there’s now a trend of art col­lec­tions hous­ing a ma­jor por­tion of the wealth in global as­sets?

Peo­ple have been col­lect­ing art works for over two cen­turies. Peo­ple have been col­lect­ing as a sym­bol of their wealth and their po­si­tion for many years, hun­dreds of years, and it con­tin­ues to­day. It’s nor­mal. It’s part of a cul­ture that we are all in. Some com­pare China’s cur­rent art col­lect­ing phe­nom­e­non with that of Ja­pan in the mid ’80s, when wealthy Ja­panese were chas­ing im­pres­sion­ist mas­ter­pieces. What do you think?

Ja­panese col­lec­tors have fan­tas­tic taste. They bought beau­ti­ful things and con­tinue to buy beau­ti­ful pieces. The Chi­nese col­lec­tors are do­ing the same. There are some­times fi­nan­cial ups and downs and I wouldn’t call it a Ja­panese is­sue.

The Ja­panese are con­tin­u­ing to col­lect art pieces and the Chi­nese are now, too. The Chi­nese are just more re­cently in the mar­ket than the Ja­panese. The Ja­panese have had a long time of col­lect­ing. Ja­pan’s econ­omy sub­se­quently went into deep re­ces­sion due to the burst­ing of an as­set bub­ble, and the art mar­ket fol­lowed. Will China ex­pe­ri­ence a sim­i­lar fate and how can it avoid that?

I don’t think so. The Chi­nese econ­omy is very strong. As long as the Chi­nese econ­omy or any econ­omy in the world is strong, there will be in­di­vid­u­als able and want­ing to col­lect works of art. Dur­ing your trips to China, is there a place that par­tic­u­larly im­pressed you?

0f all the places I have ever been to the For­bid­den City is just in­cred­i­ble. I was able to go with our top spe­cial­ist who showed me the won­der­ful pieces and porce­lain in the mu­seum. That was re­ally a high­light for me. They are mag­nif­i­cent. What are your hob­bies? How do you spend your time off duty while in China?

I col­lect con­tem­po­rary art from across the world. But I also col­lect art works like glass from my home coun­try, Eng­land. It’s very close to porce­lain in China. What’s your fa­vorite piece of art­work?

I love col­lect­ing art works and I’m a pas­sion­ate col­lec­tor of Scan­di­na­vian and mod­ern Bri­tish glass.

And one of my fa­vorites is Modigliani’s Nu Couché, Re­clin­ing Nude. In re­cent years we have cre­ated very mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships with col­lec­tors in China and the Long Mu­seum in China bought it last year.

At­te­lage Ru­ral GETTY IMAGES

Jussi Pylkka­nen, global pres­i­dent of Christie’s, takes a bid for a paint­ing by Ge­orges Seu­rat en­ti­tled dur­ing the Im­pres­sion­ist and Mod­ern Even­ing Art Sale in Fe­bru­ary 2015 in London, Eng­land.

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