Christie's auction in Shanghai tomorrow, the first to be run independently on the mainland by a foreign firm, would not challenge Hong Kong's leading role in the art business in Asia, the British house's chief executive said.
Stephen Murphy conceded it would be easier for many mainland art investors and collectors to take part in the auction in Shanghai than for them to fly to Hong Kong, which requires visiting mainlanders to have a permit.
But Murphy said that did not necessarily mean Hong Kong would lose its importance and attractiveness for Christie's mainland clients, as the law forbids certain ancient Chinese artefacts from being auctioned on the mainland or moved offshore.
Christie's received approval from the central government in April to open a wholly owned subsidiary, in Shanghai, the first foreign auction house to be permitted to do so on the mainland.
"The more open the environment can be, the better for the local art community," Murphy said at the opening ceremony for the auction, which will include works by Picasso. "But every country has its own set of rules."
Murphy, a former book editor, took the top job at Christie's - which first opened its doors in London in 1766 - about three years ago. He said he immediately set about drafting the firm's long-term strategy for China.
For the Shanghai auction, Christie's has arranged for the artworks, which have been stored in the new free-trade zone, to be moved temporarily to the sale venue in the city.
Buyers with an investment focus can have their purchases returned to the zone for storage, enabling them to avoid taxes. The free-trade zone officially opens on Sunday.