Auctions Market China

Christie’s first auction in mainland China nets $27.5m

Sale comes ahead of talk of launching a free trade zone in Shanghai

Works by Chinese contemporary artists did well, including Zeng Fanzhi’s Bicycle, which made $1.5m ($960,000-$1.45m)

Christie’s last night held its first auction in mainland China. Sales totaled RMB 168.9m ($27.5m) with buyers’ premiums, but excluding fees and taxes. The auction was relatively small by London and New York standards, but surpassed its pre-sale estimate of $16m. Over two-thirds of buyers were based in mainland China, says Christie’s, with the rest from elsewhere in Asia, as well as Europe and the US.

Christie’s was granted state permission to open a mainland subsidiary in April. “Not being in China would make no sense,” said Steven Murphy, Christie’s chief executive, at a press conference on Tuesday.

The 43 lots offered included wine, jewellery and design objects, as well as Western and Asian art. Picasso’s Homme Assis went for $1.9m, almost double its highest estimate ($700,000-$1m). Despite a spate of recent Andy Warhol shows in Shanghai, his Diamond Dust Shoes sold within its estimate for $784,146. Christie’s continues an online-only auction of Warhol in China through next week.

Contemporary Asian art performed well. The late Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng’s painting By the River II, 1982, fetched $667,073 (est $97,000-$130,000), a world record for the artist. Nyoman Masriadi’s Fatman set a world record for a work of its size by the Indonesian artist, selling for $745,121 (est $220,000-$260,000). The Chinese art star Cai Guo-Qiang created a special gunpowder painting for the auction, Homeland, and the $3.4m it sold for will go towards opening a contemporary art museum in the artist’s hometown Quanzhou. Works by Chinese contemporary artists also did well, including Zeng Fanzhi’s Bicycle, which made $1.5m ($960,000-$1.45m).

The auction coincides with the launch of the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone in the city’s Pudong financial district. Details will be announced this Sunday, but the big question is whether China’s steep art taxes will be relaxed within the trade zone. According to Murphy, “Our experience around the world, from France to Brazil and India, is that the more open to art movement a country is, the better it is for local culture. We respect the rules, but it is better to be open. A free trade zone [in Shanghai] just makes common sense.”

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