HONG KONG — In a major development for the Chinese market scene, mainland China’s oldest auction house, China Guardian, has announced that it will be conducting auctions in Hong Kong from this fall. This is a significant step for Guardian, which pioneered fine art auctioneering on the mainland and is now rated the fourth biggest house in the world.
The house has made no secret of its international aspirations — just last year it opened an office on New York’s Park Avenue — but up until now its efforts have been directed to attracting international clients and consignments to their auction rooms in Beijing. The Hong Kong decision is a tacit admission that Beijing, despite its dynamism, is not proving to be a magnet for players beyond China. Doubts over the mainland market abound, with non-payment being just one issue among many, while Hong Kong’s credibility as a market hub has grown exponentially. Its status as a free port, its transport, storage, and other facilities, and its transparent legal system are all plusses for the Harbor City, which is now the third largest auction venue in the world after New York and London.
Guardian’s first foray on the Hong Kong scene is set for early October when Sotheby’s Hong Kong traditionally holds its fall season. Both houses are strong in Chinese traditional modern painting, so a fascinating head-to-head contest looms in that quarter. Much interest will also focus on whether Guardian can offer serious competition in Chinese porcelain and works of art, where Sotheby’s and Christie’s have few rivals. The great private collections in these sectors remain outside China, and Guardian’s ability to tap them will be a measure of the success of their Hong Kong venture in the long run.