Christie’s first Shanghai sale: an interview with Jinqing Caroline Cai, Managing Director of Christie’s China

   |  18 September 2013  |  AMA  |  Tweet  |  LinkedIn

Shanghai, 18 September 2013, Art Media Agency (AMA).

On 26th September, Christie’s first auction in mainland China is to take place at Shanghai’s Jing An Shangri-La Hotel. Featuring 42 works with a total estimated value of RMB 100 million / USD 16 million, the sale is to be the first hosted by a foreign auction house in mainland China. As the Managing Director of Christie’s China, Jinqing Caroline Cai oversees the company’s activities in the region, supporting the company’s participation in programmes across Asia, and directing the auction house’s educational and cultural activities. Art Media Agency spoke to Cai to discuss Christie’s expansion, and find out what new, Shanghai-based auctions, mean for the Chinese market.

Why is now the right time to launch the first auction at Christie’s Shanghai?
China is one of the most exciting art markets in the world, both in terms of creative output from Chinese artists and the growing global influence of Chinese collectors. And, in the meantime, we are seeing Chinese buyers becoming more and more sophisticated in seeking the best works globally.
We have made long-term investments and commitments to the Chinese market and have been having conversations for the last few years.  A combination of the right timing, having the right people on the ground and operating in the right conditions saw us secure approval.
We are very pleased to see the openness and support of Chinese government to grant Christie’s wholly owned auction license. Shanghai’s municipal government has been very supportive and shares a vision of developing art and culture.

 How will sales at Christie’s Shanghai differ from sales at Christie’s other bases? How will the character of this office be different?
Actually, Christie’s auction company in Shanghai will allow Chinese buyers direct access to our global network and expertise; buyers can expect the same Christie’s experience in Shanghai as in our key auction centers in London, New York, Hong Kong, Paris and Geneva. In the meantime, the Shanghai auction company will open new channels for us to source and promote Chinese art directly, and present it at auction in China. This presents great opportunities for local collectors and the artistic community to access Christie’s specialists directly.

Can you offer any details about the first sale in Shanghai? Jonathan Stone (Christie’s International Business Director) has said it’s not going to be a ’big value sale’, and is more about ’creating a presence’ in a new market. How do you hope to create this presence? 
For its first auction in Shanghai on 26 September 2013, Christie’s is to offer fine art and rare collectibles, and will also hold Online Only auctions for Hong Kong Jewels and Warhol, Masterpiece exhibitions, art forums, educational programs, private sales and other exciting events.

Will Christie’s Shanghai actively seek to specialise in a particular genre? For example, will traditional Chinese Fine Art be especially prominent in auctions? And how do you reach decisions regarding your program?
Christie’s Shanghai will be our base and is to offer popular collecting categories, including international works of art, jewellery, watches and wine in mainland China, as well as exhibitions, art advisory, art import and export and other services. We are innovators in the art industry through our leading private sales, online auction capabilities and digital presence with Christie’s apps. Our online presence in China will be of particular importance given the digitally advanced nature of Chinese consumers and collectors.

What is the expected client base for Christie’s Shanghai? The number of clients from mainland China bidding at Christie’s global auctions has doubled since 2008 – is this growth something you believe will be reflected in you clientele?
From what we see, the Chinese art market has experienced phenomenal growth in recent years which we believe can and will continue into the future. China is now one of the most exciting art markets in the world, both in terms of creative output from Chinese artists and the growing global influence of Chinese collectors.
We have been on the ground in China for 20 years and have developed a keen understanding of Chinese buyers’ needs. The unrivalled access we provide to global networks continues to be attractive to Chinese buyers.
We will continue to consolidate our China presence to promote art and share our best standards of practice with our clients and the industry.

Does the number of Chinese collectors in the country continue to rise?
Christie’s has cultivated long term relationships with the art community in China since becoming the first international auction house to open a representative office in Shanghai in 1994, during which time China has become one of the largest and fastest-growing art markets in the world. The number of clients from mainland China bidding at Christie’s global auctions has doubled since 2008, as you mentioned before. This growing client base participates increasingly in Christie’s auction centers in London, New York, Hong Kong and Paris.

Christie’s has been operating in Beijing as Forever Christie’s- why did the auction house choose to establish itself in Shanghai as opposed to Beijing?
We have been in Shanghai since 1994 as the first auction house set up a rep office. Over the years we developed long term relationship with the art community. It is a natural progression to enhance our presence here. We also have a great presence in Beijing. We hope to develop business and clients all over china through auction, private sale and online. Apart from offering a wide range of categories, we will host exhibitions and events which help nurture our existing and new clients, provide advisory services, art import and export and continuously drive innovation to meet the increasing demand for art in China.

How does Shanghai’s newly acquired status as a free port affect operations at Christie’s? Did it influence the auction house’s decision to be based there?
The Shanghai free-trade zone is a tangible example of the continuing drive for openness and progression from the Shanghai government. Shanghai’s municipal government has been very supportive and shares a vision of developing art and culture.
Given the high demand for art in mainland China, we believe the creation of an art hub in Shanghai will benefit the global art market as it will expose more people to art and further stimulate collecting and the development of art.

Does this growth simply represent an improvement in the Chinese economy, or does it result from an increase in the number of collectors in China, or an increased interest in art?
For the first six months of 2013, we have witnessed significant growth in the activity of both new and established Asian clients, including a 15% growth of registered bidders from the region. And there was increased participation of collectors from Greater China at global sale sites, including a 32% increase in Hong Kong and a 21% increase at London sales.

Will sales be accompanied by exhibitions?
Yes. We will have a series of special programs which are to be tailor made for Christie’s guests. These will take place over three-day period, and will include some exciting non-sale masterpiece exhibitions.

Will the Shanghai auction house incorporate educational programmes?
Yes. Christie’s Education will bring a series of daily educational lectures during Shanghai auction. These lectures aim at providing a tool kit and building knowledge on art collection in the 21st century. Topics covered will be Chagall and the School of Paris, Pablo Picasso, Two Modern American Masters: Andy Warhol and Alexander Calder, to name a few. We hope participants will discover the power of art collectors and understand how to value contemporary art.

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