World’s oldest auction house Sotheby’s to open new mainland headquarters in Shanghai

Sotheby’s, one of the world’s largest brokers of fine and decorative art and luxury goods, is deepening its presence in the lucrative market with its new headquarters in China, which is set to land in the metropolis of Shanghai in early 2023, according to the company’s official announcement on WeChat on 16 November.

Adjacent to the Suzhou River, the new Shanghai headquarters comprises both office and exhibition space. Named Shanghai Sotheby’s Space, the showcase area is projected to be “a base camp for collector communities and art enthusiasts, with diverse offline experiences and cultural services”.

The announcement arrived after the conclusion of the fifth China International Import Expo on 10 November. Having returned for a second year, Sotheby’s occupied a floor space five times larger than the year before. A total of 20 objects were on display, ranging from Impressionist masterpieces to modern art and pioneering contemporary works of art. The exhibit also saw the debut of Sotheby’s online marketspace Buy Now, where 15 vintage collectible handbags were listed amongst other items ranging from jewellery and watches to rare wines and spirits.

The move shows Sotheby’s confidence in the art and luxury markets on the mainland despite business uncertainties posed by its harsh zero-COVID policy. China was reported to have risen to the second-largest art market in 2021, with 20% global market share, following the US which held 43%, as per The Art Market 2022, produced by Art Economics.

The country’s luxury sector is also believed to have a strong foothold. Having recorded double-digital growth again in 2021, the mainland is “on track to becoming the world’s largest luxury goods market by 2025 – regardless of future international travel patterns”, said Bruno Lannes, partner at Bain & Company and co-author of the latest report, The Luxury market in China.

Sotheby’s set their sights on the mainland early on, installing representative offices in Shanghai and Beijing in the years of 1994 and 2007 respectively. It then became the first international fine art auction house in China in 2012 following a joint venture with the Chinese state-owned enterprise Beijing Ge Hua Art Company.

The Greater China region has reassured Sotheby’s with the market contributing to 40% (equivalent to approximately $1 billion) of the global contemporary art auction turnover between the period of 2020 and 2021. And millennials from the region have shown a particularly great appetite for international artwork and collectibles, according to the 2021 Contemporary Art Market Report published by the world leading art market information platform Artprice.

With the market prospects and consumer interest laying the foundations, the opening of a Shanghai headquarters marks Sotheby’s further expansion ambition in China and demonstrates its “commitment to the future growth of Greater China,” as commented by Nathan Drahi, managing director at Sotheby’s Asia. 


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