Auctioneer Christie’s has signed a 10-year lease on a new Asia Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong that will allow it to hold year-round auctions and private sales from 2024.
The building, called The Henderson, is being developed in the city’s Central district on Hong Kong Island by Henderson Land in the space where the Murray Road multistorey car park used to stand. It is designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the British firm named after and founded by the late British-Iraqi star architect.
Francis Belin, president of Christie’s Asia, said talks for the auction house to move in as an anchor tenant began last year. The move from its current premises in Alexandra House, also in Central, will allow the French-owned auction house to ramp up sales volume to capture the growing demand for art and luxury items in the region, he said.
It would allow Christie’s to hold 20 weeks of sales scheduled around six “marquee” auctions dedicated to different categories, a model more in line with the how the rest of the world works, Belin added. The company will abandon its twice-yearly spring and autumn sales at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai and hold all auctions and private sales in-house.
The Henderson is designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the British firm founded by the late British-Iraqi star architect.
Belin is confident that Hong Kong, despite recent political turmoil, will remain the regional hub for the high-end art trade, even if some commercial galleries have scaled back or left the city amid growing regulatory uncertainty for businesses that show art in public.
“Hong Kong is still Asia’s art centre. Nothing has dented our confidence here. We haven’t seen much change in our business in Hong Kong,” he said.
He professed to be unaware of the recent stricter application of rules for public exhibitions in Hong Kong and brushed aside fears that censorship would affect Christie’s business.
The building is being developed in Central, in the space where the Murray Road multistorey car park used to stand.
Physical art sales resumed in the first half of 2021, having moved online during coronavirus lockdowns, and the global auction market has bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. According to ArtTactic, a market research firm, global sales, including art, at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips reached U$5.9 billion in the first half, compared with US$1.8 billion for the same period in 2020.
Deep-pocketed Asian collectors helped the recovery, Belin said. Asian spending at Christie’s used to account for 20-25 per cent of global sales, but shot up to 34 per cent last year and increased further this year, reaching 39 per cent in the first half.
Belin expects the relative size of the Asian market to continue growing, even as sales in the rest of the world recover.
“There is a lot of liquidity. We have to keep up by having more sales here. Hong Kong is the only major market where Christie’s does not have its own dedicated sales room and we have been restricted by the availability of the Convention Centre.”
Christie’s has a 7,000 sq ft (650 square metre) gallery in its 31,000 sq ft office in Alexandra House, less than half the size of Sotheby’s 15,000 sq ft in One Pacific Place in Admiralty.
Its new home in The Henderson will have 50,000 sq ft spread over four floors, with at least 28,000 sq ft of column-free exhibition space.
“This will allow us to show large artworks and to accommodate 300-400 people during auctions,” Belin said. There will be escalator access to a sixth-floor gallery space directly from the third-floor lobby area.
Based on digital renderings of The Henderson, the building will stand out from the jungle of conventionally shaped skyscrapers in the business district thanks to its playful, curved silhouette – a signature of the late Hadid, the architect behind the Jockey Club Innovation Tower at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Kowloon.
Based on digital renderings of The Henderson, the building will have a curved, playful silhouette that is a signature of Zaha Hadid.
The building will have 36 floors when completed in 2023, and a distinct shape that resembles glasses that have been stacked together.
It will stand on the world’s most expensive commercial land plot, for which Henderson Land, the developer founded by Lee Shau-kee, paid HK$23.3 billion (US$3 billion) in a 2017 government land sale.
The average rent for grade A offices in Hong Kong has fallen as much as 14 per cent since mid-2019, a development which has seen some art galleries return to Central after being priced out of the district for years. Christie’s and Henderson Land have not revealed the terms of their rental agreement.