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Art Market Watch
July 26, 2011 

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Is the six-year-old Beijing-based auction firm, Poly International Auction, about to go public with an art industry IPO? Skate’s Market Notes thinks so, and predicts that the company would become the world’s second-largest publicly traded art company after Sotheby’s. By the custom measure known as the Skate’s Top 5,000, Poly International Auction has sold 137 artworks totaling almost $712 million compared to Christie’s sale of 2,196 works for a total of $13.5 billion and Sotheby’s sale of 2,332 works totaling $13.8 billion.

Poly International Auction (PIA) has an interesting pedigree, as Skate’s points out. The auction firm was founded in 2005 by the Chinese Poly Group Corporation, which was itself founded in 1983 as a joint venture between the People’s Liberation Army of China and the Chinese International Trade and Investment Company. PIA is part of Poly Culture Group, whose activities extend across theater, movie and music production and other cultural events and festivals.

The name "Poly" means "defending the victory" in Mandarin, and is often used as a first name. According to the Skate’s report, the PIA logo, a stylized letter "P," was designed by artists Lai Weiwu and Wang Xiaochao to resemble a fist demonstrating confidence and power.

PIA’s IPO is in preparation, Skate’s maintains, a move that has already been blessed by its Communist Party Committee overseers. The surge in PIA auction volume -- Skate’s estimates that 2011 sales should exceed $250 million -- reflects not only increased demand for Chinese art but also the intention to float the company on a local stock exchange, possibly Hong Kong or the mainland (or both). Skate’s suggests that Poly’s IPO valuation could exceed $1 billion.

Top lots at Poly include the 14th-century Yuan Dynasty master Wang Meng’s scroll landscape drawing ($62.1 million), 20th-century artist Qi Baishi’s album of 13 paintings of flowers and insects ($13.9 million), and Wu Guanzhong’s 1975 painting of a flowering shrub ($9.8 million).

Skate’s is not entirely sanguine about the Chinese art market, however. "It would be unfortunate, of course, to learn that the major driving force behind recent deals in the $10 million-$60 million price range at Poly International Auction has been purchases by the state or the People’s Liberation Army for their various museums." Skate’s sees no hard evidence of any market manipulation, however, and also notes that one thing is sure: more price records for Chinese art can be expected in the fall.

A rare 7-foot-tall Ming Dynasty stone horse goes on the block at Duke’s Auctioneers in Dorset in England on Thursday, July 29, 2011. The funerary sculpture, which dates from the 14th- or 15th century and once graced a nobleman’s tomb in southern China, is expected to fetch up to £100,000, or about $165,000.

This sculpture comes from the collection of Hans Leu, who received it from the late Hans Langhard, who had imported six such sculptures from China during the 1970s and ’80s with government permission. Carved from hard rock, the horse is garbed in ceremonial tack and is exposing its teeth.

Duke’s has made something of a specialty of rediscovering valuable Chinese works of art. This Ming horse had been languishing in a garden in Switzerland for many years, covered in moss and lichen.

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