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2012.11.26 Mon, by
Christie’s François Curiel: “Strong Demand Globally for the Best of the Best”
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On the occasion of Christie’s Hong Kong fall sales, Randian interviewed François Curiel, the high-profile president of Christie’s Asia, including on the challenges facing fine art auctions. The sales have already resulted in numerous record-breaking prices, including at the Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale) where a world record was achieved for the artists Chu Teh Chun, with Lot 11 “La forêt blanche II” sold for HK$60,020,000 (Sale 2955). The auction brought total sales of HKD 420,400,000 including buyers’ premiums.

Randian: Beijing Poly and China Guardian have recently moved into the Hong Kong auction market and opened offices in Europe and North America. Is this a threat or an opportunity for the traditional houses?

Francois Curiel: It is a natural progression for Chinese auction houses to branch out of China, and I am most impressed by the amount of work and the level of business they have developed in a short time. History proves that the market grows faster when there are more players involved. We welcome competition in the industry and think it is a positive development for the art and auction market in general. The auction system can be quite complex for newcomers; the Chinese auction houses’ expansion allows mainland buyers to experience the quality of international auction houses.

Randian: Earlier this year Uli Sigg donated his vast collection to the new M+ museum, while major international galleries continue to move to Hong Kong. Yet Hong Kong itself, relative to cities such as New York, Paris and London, is not a major cultural center or even center of art collectors. Does that matter?

FC: Hong Kong has undergone great cultural and artistic development over the past several years and is now the third largest art hub in the world, and the leader in Asia. Collectors from all over the region gather for the major auctions and several leading international galleries have opened here over the last two years. These include Gagosian, Emmanuel Perrotin, Edouard Malingue and White Cube. Others, like Lehmann Maupin and Pace, have announced plans to do the same. This evolution is further reinforced by the development of ART HK, now owned by the Art Basel group. Christie’s also wants to play a role in cultivating a climate for artistic expression and cultural development, and we will offer short introductory courses on art and collectables in Hong Kong and soon in Shanghai.

Randian: Auction houses are moving into primary market sales, most famously exemplified by Damien Hirst’s now-notorious sale in 2008. What do you see as the limitations of this approach, and does it matter if it affects the traditional gallery market and the galleries’ developmental role?

Francois Curiel: On the contrary, the development of Hong Kong’s art scene on an international level has encouraged local galleries to expand and pursue their own initiatives. Christie’s must also be flexible in how we reach our clients. Private sales, online sales, auctions and the traditional gallery all have a different role to play, and all remain key to exhibiting art.

Randian: Is a de facto split market developing, one side more commercial (the world of collectors and auction houses), the other more academic (the world of curators, installations and biennales)?

Francois Curiel: In a buoyant art market, there are many different ways of developing it, be it for commercial or academic purposes. Having many more platforms exposing art to a larger audience is something to be excited about. I would say instead that the lines between the academic and the commercial are blurring.

Randian: What do you anticipate being the biggest challenges you will face in Asia in 2013?

Francois Curiel: Despite the economic climate, Christie’s is seeing encouraging results in both Europe and Asia, and we will continue to invest aggressively in Asia. The success of the spring auctions reflected global collectors’ keen interest in Asian art and luxury collectibles and the growth potential of the market.

A major new group of buyers has emerged from mainland China who are now educating themselves about the international art market. Our strategy is to make these new Chinese collectors feel comfortable dealing with Christie’s, not only in Hong Kong but throughout the rest of our salerooms. To facilitate this, we plan to offer Chinese-speaking staff in international salerooms, and localized content such as online catalogues and video clips. This year, Christie’s Live interface will be presented in Chinese. We are also establishing more off-season sales, tours, and exhibitions year-round, as well as additional opportunities for private sales.

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