Christie’s autumn Shanghai sales, its third installment in the mainland, ended this weekend with sales totalling RMB 70m ($11m). The four auctions held on Saturday, 24 October, included the new +86 sale, a Chinese edition of Christie’s First Open series featuring emerging local artists. Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkänen says that the auction house will launch a First Open sale for the Middle East and India next, with +971 (the international dialing code for the UAE) in the works for spring 2016.
Pylkkänen described the +86 sale as exciting and invigorating, with its selection of works by well-known Chinese artists such as Liu Wei, Qiu Xiaofei, Sun Xun, Ran Huang, Huang Yuxing, Xu Zhen and Zhang Enli, as well as rising stars like Chen Tianzhuo and Zhang Ruyi. “Our interest is in global contemporary art, and China is a hotbed of an inspired artistic group,” says Pylkkänen. That auction made a total of $2.2m, led by a 2009 edition of Liu Wei’s Purple Air, which sold for $577,000.
ZENG FANZHI, Untitled (2001)
The biggest results, however, where still made by the more marketable artists in that evening’s Asian and Western 20th-century and contemporary art sale. “Selling a Picasso is such bigger revenue,” Pylkkänen says. The top lot was of a collection of silver plates designed by Picasso, which went to a Chinese buyer for $1.8m, followed by an untitled portrait by Zeng Fanzhi, which made a little over $1m.
Work by well known British artists Anthony Gormley and Damian Hirst also did well. Gormley’s steel bar sculpture Domain XXXIX fetched $615,109 while two of Hirst’s butterfly and diamond dust screenprints sold: Big Love for $39,736 and Psalm: Usque Quo, Domine? for $27,815. However a 2013 yellow untitled concave sculpture by Anish Kapoor, estimated at $410,000-$600,000—the first time the British-Indian artist’s work had been offered at auction in mainland China—went unsold.
“China could become the most important place in [the art world], in the next three to four years, with the quality of Chinese contemporary art, and the fairs here,” Pylkkänen says, pointing out that Gagosian Gallery is showing in the 021 Art Fair in November. A deciding factor would be the relaxation of restrictions on the trade of work from before 1949, which Pylkkänen believes is a matter of when not if, especially for historically important non-Chinese art.
Most sales to Chinese buyers still happen outside the mainland, with the number rising 47% over the past year, Pylkkänen said. “Our objective is to attract first-time clients,” says Christie’s China president Cai Jinqing, and this weekend’s sales included design and style objects such as handbags and watches, both aimed at new collectors.