Luck for Sothebys at Southeast Asian auction 2009 in Hong Kong

SOUTHEAST ASIAN ART AUCTION

Summary:

  • 138 lots, 106 sold, sell through rate 77%
  • Cheapest lots (under US$15,000) were overlooked in favour of more expensive works by better known artists
  • 95 contemporary, remainder modern
  • Thin attendance
  • Prices slashed by Sothebys – estimates drop more than 50%
  • Sale dominated by Indonesian works
  • Ronald Ventura and I Nyoman Masriadi drew surprisingly frenzied bidding
  • I Nyoman Masriadi achieved the highest prices, albeit much lower than in 2008, 3 of his works appeared in the top 10 for the sale. His not dissimilar sale-topping works (Negotiation 2009 and The Final Round 2008) showed more than 75% drop between Spring 2009 and Autumn 2008.
I Nyoman Masriadi Negosiasi

I Nyoman Masriadi Negosiasi

Empty seats

Half the seats were empty at the start of the thinly attended the 138 lot auction of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art which kick-started the Sotheby’s series of 2009 Spring sales in Hong Kong. As the 18 or so grim-faced Sotheby’s staff at the telephone bank surveyed the 60 or more empty seats, there was a gluey air of tension.

The first 12 lots of the 95 contemporary works on sale, most at estimates of well under US$15,000, saw gentle bidding but thanks to much coaxing by veteran auctioneer Quek Chin Yeow, all but two ( works by Indonesian artists Eko Nugroho and Dikdik Sayahdikumullah) scraped the estimates and sales were achieved.

The room relaxed and bidding picked up for the next 20 or so lots (13-33) with particular interest shown in:

  • Rodel Tapaya (b 1980) Donsadat and the Magic Dog which sold over estimate for HK$90,000 (excl premium) after a tussle between 2 phone bidders and the room
  • M Irfan (b 1972) The Artifact of Magic which attracted 4 bidders and achieved a price of HK$235,000 (excl premium) against a top estimate of HK$180,000.
  • Yunizar (b 1971) Texs III sold at HK$210,000 against its higher estimate of HK$180,000.

In a dramatic twist this was followed by a run of half a dozen passes and barely-made sales. The first lot called My God offered by  heavyweight Agus Suwage (b.1959 Indonesia) almost fell victim to the new twitchiness but just scraped by to achieve its lower estimate of HK$220,000.

Catalogue-featured lots

Lot 40, the first of the 5 catalogue-featured lots, Lost Notes by Rudi Mantofani, a stunning sculpture of two guitars curved to form a circle, more than met expectations by achieving a price one third higher than estimate. In a testament perhaps to the power of deeper catalogue marketing, the other featured works also did well:

  • lot 58 I Nyoman Masriadi‘s (b 1973 Indonesia) painting Negotiation – this acrylic featuring two cowboys facing off,  turned out to be the star lot  and achieved the highest price in the sale when 4 phone and 2 room bidders pushed the price up to  HK$1.4m against a top estimate of $800,000. However this was a mighty fall of over 75% compared with the price achieved for a similar work The Final Round autumn 2008. Negotiation  fetched just HK$1.7m (US$217,000) including premium, less than a quarter of the US$1 million price tag for the Boxers.
  • lot 67 FX Harsono (b 1949) Tracing the Past achieved its estimate at HK$175,000

Handiwirman Saputra, Soap, Aluminium, 20x100cms

Handiwirman Saputra, Soap, Aluminium, 20x100cms

  • lot 75 Handiwirman Supatra‘s pink-painted aluminium sculpture Soap achieved a price (HK$300,000) double its top estimate. Originally conceived as a commissioned group of works for Novotel Hotel in Indonesia this was Supatra’s first large-scale sculpture project. Aside from the artist’s one-off, there are 4 versions of the work each in a unique colour.
  • lot 88 Ronald Ventura‘s (b 1973) Oh Boy painting – this lot saw the most exciting bidding . The fast-paced overlapping bids keeping the ever-ebullient auctioneer Chin Yeow on his toes and prompted a happy quip about there being ‘no recession’ now.
Ronald Ventura Oh Boy

Ronald Ventura Oh Boy

Lucky 88 for Ronald Ventura

8 is a lucky number in China and it was certainly lucky for Sotheby’s because the lot marked a turning point. After a poor 12 lot run (lots 76-87) in which there were 6 passes and the remainder just meeting the lower estimates, Ronald Ventura‘s lot 88 galvanised the room with its spray gun pre-recession-style bidding from more than a dozen bidders. The remainder of the contemporary artworks in the sale – lots 89-95 – all sold well despite having some of the highest prices in the sale (all over HK$100,000). Ahmad Zakii Anwar Silent City 8 (8 again!) sold at estimate despite a previous pass for a work located earlier in the sale. The other 6 lots by heavyweight artists – Geraldine Javier, Handiwirman Saputra, I Nyoman Masriadi and Yunizar with prices considerably higher than most of the works earlier in the sale (estimates in the HK$100,000 to HK$400,000 range) – all sold with comfortable margins over estimates.

No upsets

Other lots which drew notable interest included lot 13 Jumaldi Alfi‘s painting The Falls which saw goood bidding and achieved a price of HK$270,000 against estimate HK$230,000 and  lot 75 M Irfan‘s (b 1972) Maneuver. 3 room bidders pushed up the price to HK$130,000 against its top estimate of HK$90,000.

There were no major upsets but some passes were surprising including lot 19, an untitled work by Handiwirman Saputra, lot 46 Putu Sutawijaya‘s untitled painting and lot 50 Dadang Christanto‘s work Pilgrim Project 2. Agus Suwage had 2 works in the sale, both did sell but only just.

Happy faces

The auctioneers were clearly happy and entertained the room with  jaunty banter. When Kevin Ching, CEO of Asia – known for tongue in cheek bawdiness – placed a bid on Vasan Sitthiket‘s ‘American Wet Dream’, the irrepressible auctioneer Chin Yeow who jokingly refused to refer to the painting by name because it ‘is too rude’, cheekily teased his colleague saying “Not a surprise from Kevin Ching”. “What do you mean?” deadpanned Ching right back.

And happy they deserve to be. Although this sale had one of the lower sell-through rates of the Sothebys 2009 Spring sales due to an excess of cheaper works by lesser known artists, the strategy of presenting predominantly Indonesian works by preferred artists was clearly aimed to please and did please an established clientele: a small number of deep-pocketed Indonesian collectors of Chinese origin and other hard core collectors. And what might the future hold?  Maybe deeper catalogue marketing, fewer works by lesser known artists and perhaps we will see a few more 8s sprinkled amongst the lot numbers next autumn.

Notes:

  • prices exclude buyers’ premium.
  • Exchange rate HK$7.7 = US$1.
  • All artists named are Indonesian except Ronald Ventura and Geraldine Javier from the Philippines

Related links: Bloomberg’s report

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