International Auction Houses in Shanghai

When I say “art market” I mean museums, galleries, public art, architecture, art districts and really anything relating to art. This week though I explored the Shanghai “art market” in it’s most literate sense by visiting an art auction house in Shanghai. Although there wasn’t an actual auction, nor am I rich enough for them to give me a private viewing visiting Christies on the bund was an awesome experience!


There are many art auction houses in Shanghai such as Changcheng Auction, China Guardian’s Auction and Shanghai Auction Company, but only two of the many auction houses in Shanghai are international, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Due to strict laws regarding foreign companies selling Chinese art in China it’s taken a long time for both Sotheby’s and Christies to reach the mainland market, although both have had locations in Hong Kong for many years.

In 2012 Sotheby’s became the first international auction house with a location in mainland China. Sotheby’s accomplished this by signing a contract with the government entity GeHua granting them about 80% of the enterprise and authorizing them to sell on the mainland. In 2013 however, Christie’s became the first international auction house to operate independently of the Chinese government while located in China. Christies signed a contract with the Shanghai government authorizing them to operate throughout China while based out of Shanghai.

This past fall Christies held their first auction on October 24th, which featured Asian and Western 20th Century and Contemporary Art. The auction featured pieces by famous asian artists as well as world renowned artists such as Picasso, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali. Regardless of being independently run Christie’s is not permitted to handle or sell Chinese cultural relics, art created before 1945. This is also the case with Sotheby’s.

“In a country where classical Chinese paintings and examples of imperial porcelain command the highest prices, this regulation puts foreign firms at a definite disadvantage.-Barbara Pollock, Art News

Zeng Fangzi, Untitled, 1964

Zeng Fangzi, Untitled, 1964

By setting regulations such as this the Chinese government, and particularly the Shanghai government, exercise a vast amount of control over the art market. They control the different kinds of art that is sold in Shanghai and the pricing. In their fist auction in Shanghai the piece that sold for the highest amount was a work by Zeng Fanzhi from 1964 for 19,470, 000 (CNY), with the total from the entire auction coming in at 95,400,500 (CNY). Sales in the art market have spiked in the past 10 years in Hong Kong, and so the hope is that by accessing the mainland market art auction prices will continue to grow. Only time will tell but with the introduction of these two major auction house players and the great success of Christies first sale, the development of the Shanghai art market, at least financially looks promising.