In the face of a challenging macro-environment in 2023, the art and luxury market in the Asia Pacific region exhibited remarkable resilience, with collectors contributing a significant 28 percent to leading auction house Christie’s global auction sales, surpassing the previous year’s figure of 26 percent.
A remarkable trend is the emergence of new and younger buyers, with mainland China positioning itself as a leading source of spending among the demographic.
Retail in Asia speaks with Francis Belin, president, Christie’s Asia Pacific, to discuss the dynamics that drive this burgeoning collector base in Asia Pacific.
RiA: Please can you take us through the latest at Christie’s Asia Pacific, and some significant achievements for the auction house in 2023?
Francis Belin: Despite a challenging macro-environment in 2023, buying from collectors in Asia Pacific was robust and sustained – they contributed 28 percent to Christie’s global auction sales, up from 26 percent in 2022, powered significantly by Greater China.
Christie’s salerooms in Hong Kong and Shanghai achieved a solid annual total of USD805 million, a testament to the expertise of our specialist teams to curate truly exciting, quality sales that really attracted the market.
Amongst the highlights from 2023 in Asia, we were honoured to present a rare and historically important masterpiece by Sanyu – Femme nue sur un tapis (Nude on Tapestry), during our Hong Kong Autumn Auctions. After fierce bidding in the packed saleroom, the painting achieved USD24.7 million, exceeding even its high estimate. We also embarked on a trailblazing collaboration with megastar and collector Jay Chou for our Post-Millennium Evening Sale, which spotlighted works by younger and emerging artistic talents and enticed both new and millennial collectors.
Looking at our Asian Art categories, a key highlight was undoubtedly the sale of The Tianminlou Collection – one of the world’s most renowned private collections of Chinese porcelain, which realised a total of USD33 million. It was a true privilege to steward this collection and the results demonstrated the quality, importance, and unwavering desirability of these works of art.
RiA: Can you share your observations on luxury consumption in Asia?
Belin: There is a tremendous and ever-growing demand for luxury in Asia Pacific. Across our luxury categories – jewellery, watches, handbags, and wine – buyers in Asia Pacific contributed their highest ever global spend at Christie’s of USD398 million, accounting for 40 percent of our global luxury sales.
The Jewellery category in particular saw a significant increase in spend from Asian collectors of more than 60 percent versus 2022, and our jewellery sales in Asia Pacific were led by The Pink Supreme – a 15.48-carat Fancy Intense Pink Internally Flawless Type Ila Diamond which realised USD10.8 million, continuing the penchant in the market for exquisite coloured diamonds.
Watches and Handbags both achieved their highest ever annual auction totals in Christie’s Asia salerooms, and Wine saw sustained demand from collectors, particularly for quality single-owner collections.
The luxury categories are also the key gateways for Asia’s new and younger buyers to start their collecting journeys at Christie’s.
RiA: What are your observations on the growth or evolution of the fine art and luxury market in Asia?
Belin: We continue to see growth from both new and younger buyers in the region. Asia Pacific – and in particular mainland China – is the leading source of spending amongst new and millennial buyers at Christie’s globally.
This reflects a growing, younger collector base who are upholding the region’s long tradition of collecting. This growth is closely connected with the digital evolution of the art and luxury market. Our pioneering digital investments have been key to cultivating the activity of tech savvy new and younger collectors – making participating in our auctions possible online through Christie’s Live and WeChat mini program, as well as connecting with the community and telling the stories of our objects across our social media platforms.
Our team of talents at Christie’s also includes a significant number of younger specialists across our categories – their forward-thinking perspectives resonate with collectors of a similar generation, and we continue to explore creative ways to empower younger collectors through our auction curations – [for example] our collaboration with Jay Chou last autumn.
RiA: Christie’s is soon relocating its Asia headquarters to The Henderson. Can you tell us about this move, and the decision to retain your headquarters in Hong Kong?
Belin: 2024 is a landmark year for Christie’s in the region as we will be relocating our Asia Pacific headquarters to The Henderson, a new world-class building designed by the renowned Zaha Hadid Architects. Our space will have a state-of-the-art gallery, year-round saleroom, and offices, all housed across four floors, as well as an abundance of environmentally sustainable benefits.
The move will further enhance our services, as well as enable us to provide extraordinary art and luxury experiences for collectors and enthusiasts in the region and beyond.
This unprecedented initiative demonstrates our long-term commitment to Hong Kong, Asia’s key art hub. Hong Kong has a vibrant and growing cultural ecosystem of collectors, artists, museums, art fairs, and local and international galleries, and this is bolstered by its powerful position as a bridge between East and West and a gateway to mainland China, as well as its numerous business benefits, including its free trade policy and its strong talent pool.
RiA: How are you approaching Christie’s expansion in Asia? Can you share some key moves in the region?
Belin: While headquartered in Hong Kong, Christie’s physical footprint across Asia Pacific extends to nine representative offices, as well as our saleroom in Shanghai. Our approach is to empower the region’s collectors to participate in our auctions internationally through quality local initiatives, and this has proved extremely effective, leading to vibrant regional activity in our sales around the world. Initiatives include tours of major auction highlights, educational events, and museum-quality exhibitions, complimented by on-the-ground support for collectors provided by our highly experienced regional teams.
Last year, for example, we hosted a dynamic exhibition of masterpieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol during Frieze Week in Seoul. We are always exploring new opportunities to showcase exceptional art and luxury across the region.
RiA: What else do you look forward to in 2024?
Belin: We are looking ahead to Hong Kong Art Week in March, and we are honoured to be collaborating with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair for their debut initiative in Asia, which will see a curated exhibition of outstanding art by African and African diaspora artists showcased at our gallery at Alexandra House. Christie’s has been collaborating with the fair internationally for the last five years, and we are thrilled to once again use our global platform to support 1-54 in showcasing exceptional African art – this time for audiences in Asia.
In May, we will host our Hong Kong Spring Auctions, marking a final, spectacular season at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre before we move to The Henderson. In the run up, we will have a series of preview exhibitions in Hong Kong and tour across Asia, showcasing major highlights from across our art and luxury categories.
Of course, our relocation to The Henderson is fast approaching and there is a very exciting programme of events in the pipeline which will be unveiled very soon.