Chinese art buyers help Christie's to record sales year

Auction house takes in US$7.1b for 2013, cites landmark Shanghai auction as a highlight

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 January, 2014, 4:30pm

Chinese buyers drove up Christie's sales by 14 per cent to US$7.13 billion last year, a record high not just for the British auction house but for any company ever in the art market.

In 2013, Chinese buyers accounted for 22 per cent of the total sales of Christie's, which saw a 63 per cent increase in the money spent by Chinese buyers, according to data released by Christie's yesterday.

"Our Shanghai auction [in 2013] demonstrated that there is a strong demand for international art among our Chinese clients and 2014 will see us bringing more art [to China]," Christie's chief executive Steven Murphy said.

"We are delighted to build on this momentum with two auctions in Shanghai this year in April and October," said Murphy from his office in London, adding the firm this year will also open a gallery in Beijing to host exclusive exhibitions only for top-end Christie's clients in China.

Christie's became the first auction house to win special permission from the central government to launch its wholly owned subsidiary on the mainland last April.

In September, it held an auction in Shanghai, the first to be run independently by a foreign firm on the mainland.

Last year Christie's tapped into cyberspace to reach out to mainland customers. The Shanghai auction alone received 30,000 visits online, with new buyers accounting for half the total, the firm said. It also launched a Chinese-language website.

Asked if Christie's is worried about Beijing's anti-corruption crackdown that has dented sales of global luxury brands in China, Murphy said: "We devote considerable resources to ensuring we comply with all local and international laws and regulations. Increasing public awareness of the importance and responsibilities of art dealers and buyers will help create a healthy market to promote art [in China]."

Besides China, Christie's last year saw significant sales growth in India, up 16 per cent year on year, and in Russia, up 17 per cent. In the Middle East, sales jumped 39 per cent, according to company data.

The growing importance of Shanghai as a new auction hub for Christie's in Asia, on top of Hong Kong, which has served as a leading art hub for auction firms for decades, came after the launch of the mainland's first free-trade zone in the city. Christie's has been working with local partners to take advantage of the zone's new tax-free policy to attract more local bidders.

For the first Christie's auction in Shanghai in September, the firm arranged for the artworks, which were stored in the new free-trade zone, to be moved temporarily to the sale venue in the city. Buyers with an investment focus were given the option to have their purchases returned to the zone for storage, enabling them to avoid taxes.