Francis Belin is the president of Christie’s Asia Pacific. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

HONG KONG – The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area “is exciting, ambitious and necessary,” according to the president of auction house Christie’s Asia Pacific. 

“It’s just incredible to see what has been achieved in such a short period of time in that region, which everybody knows,” Francis Belin told China Daily in an interview on Wednesday. “And I think it’s just beginning of the journey. There’s a very strong agenda actually makes it happen. And I have no doubt that will happen.” 

Belin said that the Greater Bay Area has what it takes to nourish a vibrant art and auction market. 

“You have very successful entrepreneurs across many cities (in the Greater Bay Area). You have an incredible talent pool. It’s a region that is going to continue to have very strong activity for mainland Chinese talents. Therefore, I think the boom and the growth that we see in the region will continue to support what we do when it comes to art, culture, and the auction business,” he said. 

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While Hong Kong will stay at the heart of art and auction of Asia, backed by the free flow of capital, merchandise and people, as well as the rule of law, other mainland cities within the area could facilitate and embrace wonderful opportunities, Belin added. 

2020 was a difficult year, especially the first half, while 2021 was a record year for us. It was a record year in Asia.

Francis Belin, President, Christie’s Asia Pacific 

“I think we are looking forward to seeing how this is going to apply to the Greater Bay Area as well,” he said, adding that tremendous opportunity exists for the whole region and for Hong Kong to play an important role in art and culture. “We’re very excited about it,” he said. 

Belin said that the auction house’s strategy for the bay area is built on two very important parts — the strategy that it has for the mainland, and the one for Hong Kong. “We have a very active pool of collectors across the Greater Bay Area. We have been present through various types of initiatives throughout the years, holding events in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, etc.” 

Despite the disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Belin said the art market within the area continues to be strong and sustained. 

“2020 was a difficult year, especially the first half, while 2021 was a record year for us. It was a record year in Asia,” Belin said, adding that last year’s auctions saw the highest percentage of Asian collectors, who have been active across all the categories. 

Asian buyers contributed 31 percent to Christie’s global auctions in 2021, and 56 percent of them were based in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland as a whole. From the mainland, buyers from Hong Kong and other cities within the GBA accounted for about two-thirds of the total, Belin said. 

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Collectors in the Greater Bay Area are much younger on average than those in other markets such as Europe and US, he added. “We see collectors in their 30s … at very serious level of collecting, extremely knowledgeable of art and extremely enthusiastic.” 

Belin also commented on the art-buying trend in the bay area, which has seen collectors embrace categories outside the more-traditional Asian arts. “Interestingly, we see (a shift from) the very strong appeal to classic Chinese arts, Chinese paintings and Chinese works of art to modern and contemporary Chinese art. We also see that collecting pattern evolving toward Western arts and luxury goods such as jewelry, watches, handbags and wine,” he said. 

A silver lining of the pandemic, in Belin’s opinion, is the acceleration of digital innovation in presenting and transacting art in auctions. “An important example is the livestreaming that we have developed at the tremendous pace. … We had more than 12 million viewers for our auction last year.” 

Highlights of the auction house’ digital experiments include the launch of a mini-program on WeChat, the omnipresent social media platform on the mainland. “The level of activity is phenomenal. The level of engagement is phenomenal as you can imagine,” Belin said. 

“You can pretty much do everything you wish to do with Christie’s. You can open an account, you can register for sale, you have access to the whole catalog of sales that are presented around the world whether they are online sales or live auction, you can browse through the sale, … you can also now place bids in online sales.” 

In addition to WeChat, Christie’s has also launched initiatives on Chinese social e-commerce app Xiaohongshu. “We have over 100,000 followers and we have partnered with a lot of luxury brands already in a very short period of time,” he said. 

In the future, Belin said, the auction house is looking forward to a closer engagement with collectors within the bay area. “The first auction that we held this year has been confirming that the market is very vibrant and solid.” 

The France-born Belin has had over a decade of experience working in Asia. “I’ve been in Asia since 2005. I spent most of my career in Asia, and a very big portion of it was in China. It’s fascinating to see the speed at which everything has developed and changed and all the opportunities that we have.” 

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