Auction House China Guardian Makes High-Stakes Bet Against Sotheby’s & Christie’s

China Guardian Will Hold Hong Kong Auctions At Same Time As Sotheby’s In October

China Guardian held an additional sourcing event in the US last month (Image: Forbes)

China’s oldest auction house, China Guardian, may only have a history stretching back to 1993, but in a little less than two decades the company has grown to become the fourth largest house in the world. With eyes now set on expansion outside of its mainland China home base, China Guardian is set to take on centuries-old international players like Sotheby’s and Christie’s at the upcoming autumn auction season in Hong Kong.

Having opened an office on Park Avenue in New York last year with the intention of attracting overseas clients and sourcing art long held by American collectors, China Guardian is making Hong Kong its new home away from home. As Artinfo noted in July, “its status as a free port, its transport, storage, and other facilities, and its transparent legal system are all plusses for the Harbor City, which is now the third largest auction venue in the world after New York and London.”

Apparently, China Guardian sees Hong Kong not only as a potentially lucrative market, but one that can enhance its credibility and reputation. But what auction market watchers really have their eyes on with China Guardian’s foray into the Hong Kong market is how well it can compete with Sotheby’s and Christie’s, both of which loom large in Hong Kong and have traditionally proven formidable in segments like Chinese traditional modern painting and antiques. One of the key factors for success in Hong Kong will be whether China Guardian’s overseas sourcing efforts have given them the “ammo” to attract China’s increasingly discriminating collector in an auction season that many expect to be better than the last couple yet less frenzied than in spring 2011.

From the looks of it, China Guardian’s first auctions in Hong Kong — taking place on October 7 — are stocked with a pretty impressive roster of artists and artworks. The auction house is expected to put most of its effort into the aforementioned Chinese traditional modern painting segment, which is extremely popular with local and mainland Chinese buyers, with the auction house offering pieces by superstars like Qi Baishi, Xu Beihong, and Li Keran (whose “Wan Shan Hong Bian” sold for a record-setting 293.25 million yuan (US$46 million) at the Beijing Poly spring auctions).

China Guardian sold "A Long Life, a Peaceful World" by Qi Baishi for US$65 million in spring 2011

As China Guardian president and director, Yannan Wang, told CNN this week, though the auction house plans to hold its first Hong Kong auction in Mandarin Chinese, future auctions will be held in both Mandarin and English in an effort to attract more overseas buyers. Said Wang, “We have a very strong base of Chinese collectors and some loyal Western buyers…Hong Kong is an international city,  [so] we expect to see an increase of international collectors.”

Wang pointed out this summer that China Guardian also sees its expansion efforts as a way to “gain some advanced international experience and insight into new operating styles that will enable us to make bigger profits and provide convenient and thoughtful service to collectors worldwide.”

Despite China Guardian’s optimism, it’ll likely be years before it can match Sotheby’s and Christie’s in Hong Kong, nor will the global heavyweights go down without a fight. Currently, Sotheby’s relies on the city for more than a quarter of its total yearly revenue, and while China Guardian can challenge its British rivals in segments like traditional Chinese painting and antiques, it doesn’t pose anything close to a threat in other lucrative sectors — among them Chinese contemporary art, Chinese ceramics, jewelry, wine and rare watches. Nonetheless, we can be sure that Beijing Poly (which Artinfo recently noted has reportedly “done all the necessary ‘paper work’ to conduct auctions in the harbor city but is yet to announce its plans”) will be closely watching how its competitor fares this fall.

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