Triptych by Francis Bacon | Credit: Christie's

Christie’s is beginning an auction that spans 150 years of art-making all from the 20th and 21st centuries with many pieces being made available for the first time ever. Works range from the Impressionists, modernists, and contemporary masterworks.

The season will open on March 1 and will travel from Shanghai to London. In Shanghai, pieces from prominent artists like Basquiat will be made available. In London, you can find Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, and Franz Marc. The tour will all end during the Art of the Surreal event which will house works from the likes of Salvador Dali.

The reason for starting in Shanghai is due to Christie’s desire to keep the young Chinese audience engaged. As Giovanni Bertazzoni, vice-chair of Christie’s 20th/21st century department, said, “We believe in Asia and these two art hubs London and Shanghai.”

While Christie’s has been selling in Shanghai since 2013, the pandemic has really put a damper on things. So this will mark the first physical sale by Christie’s on mainland China since the pandemic started.

The numbers are expected to be big. In July 2020, the “20th/21st Century: London to Paris,” sold $421 million worth of art in four hours across four cities.

The Shanghai sale will focus mostly on Jean-Michel Basquiat and Pablo Picasso with some contemporary Asian artists too. These include Huang Yuxing, Ye Linghan, Amoako Boafo, and Emmanuel Taku. Their works cover social and historical controversies, personal confrontations, psychological confrontations, and reflections on tradition and pop culture. Some of these works are being offered in China for the first time ever.

Rebecca Yang, Christie’s chairman in China, said, “The relaunch of auctions in Shanghai in March marks a monumental chapter in our company’s history, underscoring our continued commitment and innovation in mainland China with our heritage of nearly 260 years. The ‘20th/21st Century: Shanghai Evening Sale’ brings our footprint here to the next level. It demonstrates our dedication to the China market and support to the new policies by the local authorities, which now enable us to sell works by foregin artists who deceased after 1949, that were consigned overseas.”

Bertazzoni, who was a driving force in the establishment of Christie’s in Shanghai, said that buyers in mainland China have over time moved from one category of art to another. Originally, they had established collections of traditional Chinese art, but since then they have moved on to Impressionist pieces, and then post-war masterpieces.

So what are they after now? The ultra-contemporary. This is especially true for second or third generation collections who love fashion and tech. Why is this? Millennials want stories apparently.

As Bertazzoni stated, “They like figurative works that have narratives. This is the Netflix generation. During the pandemic, they had more time to watch series online. Images, moving image, big epic stories… they want art that speak to them.”

Check out the auction over on Christie’s website. 

For more art related goodness, check out the Matisse: Life & Spirit exhibition held at the Art Gallery of NSW> 

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