Auctioneers Christie's notch up record year

Christie's notched up the biggest sales figures in the art auction industry's history last year, the firm announced Thursday, with record global sales of $5 billion.

And Chinese collectors continued to increase their prominence in the auction rooms as the number of buyers from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong accounted for a fifth of the total.

Sales in 2010 were up 53 percent with the firm selling more than half the world's works over $50 million, including the most expensive painting ever to sell at auction: Pablo Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust" for $106.5 million.

The firm also sold notable collections owned by international names such as author Michael Crichton and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

"2010 was a record-breaking year and early signs of 2011 indicate that the art market remains buoyant at all levels," said Steven P. Murphy, CEO of Christie's International.

"Among the many notable results, the pace of growth in auction, the strength of private sales and increase in online transactions in particular indicate a growing appetite for participation in all forms and formats of art sales."

The number of new clients who registered for a sale rose 22.7 percent on 2009 and the number who went on to buy in Christie's sales increased 13 percent, while 28 percent of buyers bid online.

And Chinese collectors are becoming an ever-increasing presence on the global auction stage, says Christie's Asia president Francois Curiel.

Around 20 percent of global sales were to clients from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan - up from 16 percent.

"What we are seeing is that Chinese collectors are scanning the catalogues and the fairs worldwide," he told AFP. "They are buying to bring back to China their treasures and great Chinese works of art.

"It will often be Chinese versus Chinese versus Chinese, with all the European and American collectors being left behind, sometimes not even being able to raise their hand at the auction."

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