Meet Xin Li, Christie’s Secret Weapon for China Sales

Xin Li, Christie's deputy chairman of Christie's Asia.

“I’m never in one place for more than 10 days,” Christie’s deputy chairman of Asia and powerhouse saleswoman told Wall Street Journal art reporter Kelly Crow in an in-depth profile. The report calls Xin the “secret weapon in selling masterpieces to Asian billionaires,” describing how she escorts billionaire collectors on tours of the Louvre in Paris or wines and dines tech millionaires at the Christie’s showroom in Hong Kong.

A former basketball player and fashion model who is nearly six-feet tall, Xi, 38, has become a familiar face at the high profile Impressionist and contemporary sales each season, often juggling multiple phone lines as she bids for clients on seven and eight figure works. She was on the phone with Chinese restauranteur Zhang Lan this past May when the collector spent nearly $30 million in a single evening on a Martin Kippenberger Self Portrait and an Andy Warhol Little Electric Chair.

According to the story, Xin focuses most of her attention on about five major Asian collectors who can each spend $100 million a single season on art. Most are women working as entrepreneurs or self-made technology and banking billionaires. Xin reportedly has a knack for “teasing out aesthetic similarities between artists, East and West,” such as Abstract Expressionist paintings by Franz Kline and vigorous Chinese calligraphy brushstrokes.

It wasn’t until after college, when Xin had majored in sports management, that she started modeling and subsequently began to pay attention to art in Paris museums. Later, while living and modeling in New York, she discovered Chelsea galleries. When she confided in friend Diana Widmaier Picasso, the granddaughter of the artist, that she wanted to switch careers, Picasso hooked her up with a job at Sotheby’s. And the rest, as they say, is history, especially a few years later when Christie’s snapped her up amid a hiring spree in a concerted effort to grow its business in Asia by taking advantage of the growing ranks of newly wealthy buyers.

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