|Christie's holds its first auction on the mainland on Thursday. The company received its license to operate on the mainland in April. (China Daily/Gao Erqiang)|
Christie's announced its official entry to the Chinese mainland with an inaugural auction on Thursday night that earned 153 million yuan ($25 million) without buyer's premiums.
The top lot was a ruby and diamond necklace that sold for 18 million yuan. Picasso's Seated Man, sought by five Chinese bidders, fetched 9.6 million yuan, becoming the first Picasso work ever auctioned on the Chinese mainland.
In an additional charity sale, Cai Guoqiang's gunpowder drawing, Homeland, which he created a day before the auction, sold for 15 million yuan, which will go to support the Quanzhou Museum of Contemporary Art in his hometown in Fujian province.
The room was packed with 112 buyers to witness a historic moment in the Chinese art market, with nearly 80 bidders around the world active on phones and the Christie's online bidding platform.
"Our dreams to bring international art to China and serve Chinese mainland buyers have both come together. It is a very strong sale experience for Christie's entry to the Chinese mainland," Christie's chief executive officer, Steven Murphy, said after the auction.
Christie's received its license to operate independently on the mainland in April. Art market observers see Christie's presence in Shanghai as a strategic move forward and predict no immediate benefits, as foreign-funded companies cannot sell Chinese cultural relics that include porcelains, ancient Chinese paintings and some modern ink works that form a significant segment in the market. It has to adapt to policy restrictions, different collecting habits and a mixed business culture.
"Christie's is still testing the water of the mainland market, how it differentiates from Hong Kong and how local buyers respond to the objects on offer," said Zhao Li, a professor with the Central Academy of Fine Arts.
"Christie's operation here will reflect how leading auction houses react to the structural changes in the global art market, particularly the trend that the center is shifting from the West to the East."
Dong Guoqiang, chairman of Beijing Council International Auction, said he hopes international companies can compete with Chinese auction houses under the same conditions. He said it's difficult to predict Christie's prospects on the mainland, but it is undoubtedly a boost to the contemporary art market if they can get more international buyers.
Leading world art and antique fair, the European Fine Art Fair, announced in March that it seeks to develop a "TEFAF Beijing" fair next year in collaboration with Sotheby's (Beijing) Auction.
Ben Janssens, chairman of TEFAF's executive committee, said in a statement, "TEFAF is committed to contribute to the further growth of the market for European art in China by facilitating a high-end art market platform for Chinese collectors and international art dealers."
A year ago, Sotheby's was licensed to conduct business via a joint venture with State-owned Gehua — Sotheby's (Beijing) Auction Co Ltd. It held a symbolic debut auction, with only one lot, in December. Its upcoming major sale in December will focus on contemporary art, according to Chairman Wen Guihua.
Zhao, the professor, believes the appearance of international rivals will speed up the openness of the Chinese art market. Competition will intensify and Chinese auction houses will need to become more mature.
"The more competitive, the better the market will be," he said.