Christie’s to Enter Mainland China Market: Art Buzz

Christie’s International will hold a sale in Shanghai in the autumn of 2013, making it the first international auction house to hold its own branded events in mainland China.

The London-based company, which has maintained an office in Shanghai since 1994, has been granted a license to operate independently in China, it said today in an e-mail. Details of the inaugural auction will be announced later date, it said.

“The art market continues to grow at a tremendous rate due to the burgeoning interest, in art particularly in Asia and China,” Steven P. Murphy, chief executive officer of Christie’s, said in the release.

Sales of art and antiques in China raised 10.6 billion euros ($13.7 billion) in 2012, making it the world’s second-biggest market, according to a report published last month by the European Fine Art Foundation. The country’s regulatory framework has previously hindered foreign companies from holding events in China, leaving Hong Kong as the center for international auctions.

Hong Kong was Christie’s third-biggest auction center in 2012, contributing 440.9 million pounds ($673 million) of sales. The number of clients from mainland China bidding at its international auctions has doubled since 2008, the company said.

The main motivation behind securing the license is to sell locally-sourced objects to mainland Chinese clients.

Chinese Sellers

“The idea is to source locally like we do in London or Paris or Geneva,” Francois Curiel, Christie’s president of Asia operations, said in a phone interview. “Right now most Chinese are buyers. But in a few years they might be sellers too.”

The 30-year license allows Christie’s to hold auctions anywhere in China, though it is barred from selling cultural relics inside the country, which can mean anything created before 1949.

The company plans to sell wine, jewelry, watches and contemporary Chinese paintings, as well as modern paintings from abroad. To avoid a thicket of taxes, it may hold some of its sales in duty free zones.

A relationship with Forever Christies, a Beijing-based auction house which licensed the Christie’s name, would end after its final auction in May, he said.

Sotheby’s Sale

Sotheby’s has just ended a six-day auction in Hong Kong with a total sale of HK$2.18 billion ($281 million), led by wines from El Bulli’s cellar and a jeweled Patek Philippe clock that set an auction record for a clock by the Swiss maker.

The publicly traded, New York-based auction house, said in September last year that it had signed an equity joint venture agreement with China’s Beijing GeHua Cultural Development Group, a state-owned media conglomerate. An inaugural sale, comprising a single work by the Chinese contemporary artist, Wang Huaiqing, was held in Beijing on Sept. 27 and raised 1.7 million yuan ($267,307).

Last month, Tefaf, the world’s biggest art and antiques fair, said that it was in talks with Sotheby’s to plan a collaborative event in China.

A group of U.K. auctioneers is holding a sale of art and antiques valued at 8 million pounds in mainland China later this month.

The recently formed Association of Accredited Auctioneers (Triple-A), comprising 21 independent firms from around the U.K., will sell about 400 lots at the Xiamen Free Port in Fujian province on April 21.

Online Bidding

The event will be conducted by the Chinese company Huachen Auctions Co. Ltd. and will be promoted by EpaiLive Auction Co. Ltd., the country’s only online live bidding portal, Triple-A said.

“This event will establish levels of demand and create more of an understanding of how auctions work in the U.K.,” Chris Ewbank, the consortium’s chairman, said in an interview. “There have been problems with non-payment. Some buyers from China do expect to negotiate auction prices.”

The sale will test China’s appetite for the European taste in a wide variety of collecting areas. An Andy Warhol “Mickey Mouse” silkscreen, from an edition of 200 published in 1981, is estimated at 80,000 pounds to 120,000 pounds. An experimental sheet of “Penny Red” stamps from 1840 is valued at 200,000 pounds and a 5th-century B.C. Syracuse coin is priced at 40,000 pounds to 60,000 pounds.

Fangio Mercedes

A Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 racer that Juan Manuel Fangio drove to two Grand Prix victories may sell for as much as $15 million in July.

The silver Mercedes W196 will be auctioned by Bonhams and has yet to have a formal valuation. Dealers with knowledge of the matter estimate it will make 6 million pounds ($9 million) to 10 million pounds. They have identified the seller as the Emir of Qatar, who acquired it from the German industrialist Friedhelm Loh about eight years ago. A spokesman in the Emir’s office said he would not comment on personal matters.

The market for historic autos continues to grow, boosted by wealthy individuals’ appetite for alternative investments. The HAGI index of exceptional classic-car prices advanced 16.1 percent in 2012, said the London-based, using data from auction, dealer and private transactions. Prices for investment-grade Ferraris from the 1950s and 1960s surged in 2012.

Winning Expectations

“There is a smaller group of people who want to buy cars like this Mercedes,” Dietrich Hatlapa, founder and managing director of HAGI, said in an interview. “They have complicated engines and are expensive to run. And if you race them, you are always expected to win.”

Bonhams’s 180 MPH Mercedes is in its 20th-anniversary “Festival of Speed” auction at Goodwood, southern England, on July 12.

The straight-eight, 2½-liter car is a variant of the streamlined aluminum-bodied “Stromlinienwagen” in which Fangio won the 1954 French Grand Prix.

The Argentinian-born driver used this more maneuverable open-wheeled version to win that year’s subsequent German and Swiss Grands Prix, securing the second of five Drivers’ World Championship titles. Mercedes-Benz produced 15 examples of the W196 for the 1954 and 1955 Grand Prix seasons, several of which have been retained by the company.

“This is a fabulous car,” the Geneva-based adviser Simon Kidston said in an interview. “I’ve been contacted by various serious collectors who barely know what it is. The collecting world will be watching.”

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on arts, James Russell on architecture and Scott Reyburn on the art market.

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