Christie’s got off to a strong start in Shanghai today, with an inaugural auction that commanded high prices across many categories and featured a significant presence of collectors from mainland China.
After three days of celebrations, exhibitions, forums, and private sales, as the first of its kind to be held on the mainland, the auction sold 98 percent of its items by lot and 96 percent by value. The multi-category sale, which featured wine, watches, jewelry, and Western and Chinese art, “illustrated how much demand and appreciation there is for art across categories,” said François Curiel, president of Christie’s Asia.
Chinese contemporary art did extremely well, with many pieces selling at the high end of or above estimates as works remain scarce. Zeng Fanzhi’s Bicycle sold for about $25,000 more than its high estimate of $1.5 million, while Sui Jianguo’s Clothes Veins Study Series went for $1,948,373 with an initial estimate of $1.6 to $2.5 million. Cai Guo-Qiang’s gunpowder drawing that he created the previous day for a charity auction fetched $3.4 million.
Meanwhile, for Western art, the auction marked the first instance of a Picasso painting sold on the mainland. It commanded $1.8 million with an original high estimate of $1 million, and Andy Warhol’s China popularity was demonstrated when his piece Diamond Dust Shoes sold for $784,146 after an original estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.
Strong sales of jewels, wine, and watches also demonstrated a continued Chinese interest in luxury items at auction. Both Western jewels and jadeite pieces were popular, with jadeite dominating these two categories in terms of beating estimates. A carved jadeite laughing Buddha brought in a stunning almost 10 times the high estimate, selling for $1,076,829 after originally being expected to take in $120,000 at most, while a set of jadeite and diamonds sold for almost double their high estimate at $803,658. When it came to Western jewelry, a ruby and diamond “butterfly” necklace by Faidee realized a price of $3,405,284. Red wine also proved popular, with a vintage 2000 Château Latour set of magnums and bottles selling for $59,512, with an initial high estimate of $50,000.
The role of mainland Chinese collectors was vital to the success of the auction. According to Christie’s, more than two thirds of the buyers were based in the mainland, with the rest hailing from other parts of Asia, the United States, and Europe. As more mainland collectors have been entering the market, the demand for education on what to buy has risen steadily, and both Christie’s and Sotheby’s have begun China education programs within the past two years in response.
By entering the mainland China market, Christie’s is now up against major competitors Beijing Poly and Guardian, China’s two main auction powerhouses. Christie’s has an advantage over these two companies when it comes to authenticity assurance, and the company recently stated that Shanghai’s new free-trade zone will allow it to import more works into the country. Christie’s new presence on the mainland may also have an impact on art and auction culture—Cai Guo-Qiang’s participation in a charity initiative was particularly rare for a Chinese artist, but we may now see more frequent philanthropic activities.
As a multi-category auction, the Shanghai event served as a testing ground for the Chinese market, and proved that it remains quite strong across both art- and luxury-related categories due in large part to the rising role of new Chinese collectors. As these collectors continue to develop their knowledge and auction houses have the opportunity to import more goods, there is likely to be a growing diversity in both buyers and items available in the coming years—as well as rising prices.
“We hope to continue to share the vibrant creativity we have experienced in Shanghai with a global audience as we grow our operations in mainland China,” said Christie’s CEO Steven Murphy of the auction.