Sunday, 28 October 2018

Beijing’s Art Auctioneers Aim At Western Duopoly

Chinese art auction giants are aiming at the duopoly of Sotheby’s and Christie’s, but it looks a long shot. State-backed behemoth Poly International and China Guardian, both Beijing-based, now dominate the $7.1 billion global market for Chinese art and antiques. Having crushed smaller local rivals, they are expanding abroad. But their parochial, state-protected nature hobbles them. The Western houses’ offshore share looks safe for now.

The meteoric rise of Chinese auctioneers can be partly attributed to laws restricting foreigners from selling antiquities on the mainland – given a history of Western imperialists sneaking precious artefacts out of the country. That helped China’s Poly Auction, the world’s third largest auction company, rake in sales of $1.6 billion in 2017, according to a report by Art Basel and UBS; Guardian logged over $1 billion.

Dominance at home freed Poly and Guardian to compete abroad. Guardian founder Chen Dongsheng, for example, took a near 14 percent stake in the Sotheby’s two years ago, becoming its largest shareholder. Poly has since set up shop in Sydney, Los Angeles, Tokyo and New York.

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