Christie’s Is Adding a Twist to Its Traditional London Sale: A Shanghai Event Aimed at Keeping Young Chinese Buyers Engaged

Asian buying and bidding account for 40 percent of the London sales.

Christie's new office and gallery spaces at Bund One in Shanghai. Courtesy of Christie's.

Christie’s is bringing its traditional spring London evening sale beyond London. The auction house will add an installment in Shanghai on the same night in an effort to keep an increasingly important audience—young Chinese buyers—engaged.

Called “20/21 Shanghai to London,” the March 1 sale will be yet another marathon relay of the sort Christie’s engineered at the height of the pandemic. It will comprise three different events: a 20th/21st century Shanghai evening sale, a 20th/21st century London evening sale, and the Art of the Surreal evening sale.

“We believe in Asia and these two art hubs London and Shanghai,” said Giovanna Bertazzoni, vice-chair of Christie’s 20th/21st century department. Asian buying and bidding already account for 40 percent of the London sales, she noted.

Christie’s has been selling in Shanghai since 2013, but the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions have cooled things down. “20/21 Shanghai to London” will be Christie’s first physical sale in mainland China’s art capital since the pandemic. It also marks the launch of its new office and gallery spaces at Bund One on East Zhongshan Road. As has become the norm in this remote moment, the sale series will be livestreamed to salesrooms in Hong Kong and New York.

In July 2020, Christie’s first-ever relay sale, “20th/21st Century: London to Paris,” delivered $421 million across four hours and four cities.

The upcoming event will kick off in Shanghai as an evening sale and at 1 p.m. London time. The auction house is still finalizing the consignments, but the focus will be on blue-chip Western artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Pablo Picasso, with some Asian contemporary names in the mix.

Bertazzoni, who played an instrumental role in establishing Christie’s presence in Shanghai, said buyers in mainland China have, over the years, moved very quickly from one category to another. After establishing collections of traditional Chinese art, they moved onto Impressionist blue-chip names, followed by postwar masterpieces.

Now, the ultra-contemporary category is vital to the mainland market, especially among second- or third-generation collectors who are fashion and tech savvy. African, African American, young German and eastern European artists have proven especially desirable. The reason? Millennials want stories.

“They like figurative works that have narratives,” Bertazzoni said. “This is the Netflix generation. During the pandemic, they had more time to watch series online. Images, moving image, big epic stories… they want art that speak to them.”

While giving Shanghai a starring role in this relay, Christie’s is not counting out Hong Kong. The house is moving to new regional headquarters in the city in 2023. “Hong Kong is still our biggest hub in Asia,” Bertazzoni said.

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