Christie’s autumn pan-Asian art sales in Hong Kong show renewed strength in the market.
Auctions of Asian art at Christie’s Hong Kong the past weekend broke new records for both the auction house and some artists. The auctions also demonstrated that Asian collectors are increasingly active in the Asian art market, sweeping up top lots by influential artists.
From 22 to 24 November 2014, Christie’s Hong Kong held its round of autumn auctions for Asian contemporary art. The sales featured over the weekend saw an increasing participation from Asian collectors and set new records for the auction house and for artists. Lots fetching the top ten prices included artworks by contemporary artists like Zeng Fanzhi, Kazuo Shigara, Yayoi Kusama, Yoshimoto Nara, Cai Guoqiang, Zhang Enli and I Nyoman Masriadi among others.
Second highest total for an evening sale in Asia
The Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 22 November 2014 achieved a total of HKD635,495,000 (USD82,296,603), which was Christie’s second highest total for an evening sale in Asia. The sale sold 72 of the 81 lots on offer and also set eleven new world auction records for artists, including four from Japan, four from Southeast Asia and two from China.
Eric Chang, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s Asia and International Director of Christie’s Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art Department, said:
To date, the sale was one of the strongest showings we have had for Asian art across geographies, from Southeast to North Asia. Japanese Gutai works from Asian’s first avant-garde movement and Korean artists had exceptional results. In addition, since its inclusion in this category three years ago, Southeast Asian works have also grown from strength to strength and have truly expanded beyond their geographic boundaries to gain acceptance from a wider audience.
Record-breaking Southeast Asian art
The auction saw healthy bidding from the beginning, with both the floor and overseas collectors competing for Southeast Asian modern and contemporary artworks.
One of the first lots, Making Up (1951), a depiction of a Chinese opera artist by Cheong Soo Pieng (1917-1983), went under the hammer for HKD5.92 million (USD766,964), almost tripling its higher estimate of HKD2 million (USD260,000).
The momentum continued with Victorio Edades’s American Football Player (1926), which sold for HKD1.6 million (USD207,288), setting a new record for the artist but selling below its lower estimate of HKD1.8 million (USD280,000).
Vietnamese modernist Nguyen Phan Chanh’s La vendeuse de betel (The Betel Nut Seller) (1931) went for HKD3.16 million (USD409,393), surpassing its higher estimate by USD20,000. But the star of the Vietnamese art on sale that evening was Le Pho (1907-2001), whose View from the Hilltop (1937) set a new world record for both the artist and any work of Vietnamese 20th century and contemporary art at auction, realising HKD6.52 million (USD844,697) (estimate upon request).
Chinese art market: cooler but still strong
Although the market for Chinese art seems to have cooled down as China’s anti-corruption campaign weighs on demand for expensive items, with some contemporary lots failing to meet expectations, Eric Chang commented: “20th century Chinese masters like Sanyu continue to be highly sought after.”
The sale also saw the participation of younger collectors, a new generation that has recently made a strong, lasting appearance in the art market in Asia, as previously seen at Christie’s Hong Kong Spring auctions in 2014 and elsewhere in Asia.
Eric Chang also acknowledged the importance of influential Asian artists and young collectors:
It is encouraging to see that great Asian art continues to resonate with art lovers everywhere, with interest growing among a younger generation of collectors.
The top seller of the evening sale was indeed the Chinese master: Sanyu’s Pot de Pivoines (Potted Peonies) (1940s-1950s) went under the hammer for HKD56.12 million (USD7,270,610) to a Taiwanese couple. The lot broke the artist’s previous auction record at a Christie’s auction of HKD53.3 million (USD6.9 million) for Potted Chrysanthemum in a Blue and White Jardiniere (1950s).
Another one of Sanyu’s Potted Chrysanthemums achieved HKD80.76 million (USD10.4 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2014, which marks the second highest price for the artist at auction. Sanyu’s work Roses in a white vase (1931), was the second highest selling lot of the evening sale, at HKD47.16 million (USD6,109,800).
The third and fourth highest selling lots were also Chinese masters, with Zao Wou-ki’s 25.05.62 going under the hammer for HKD46,040,000 (USD5,964,698) and Chu Teh-Chun’s No. 404 (1970-71) at HKD33.16 million (USD4,296,034), both surpassing their higher estimates by about HKD1 million.
Zao Wou-ki’s 09.06.67 and Zeng Fanzhi’s 1998 painting from the “Mask Series” both sold to Asian private collectors at HKD25.88 million (USD3,352,876), but while the first greatly surpassed its higher estimate of HKD20 million (USD2.6 million), Zeng’s work sold within its estimate of HKD22 – HKD28 million (USD2.9 – USD3.6 million).
One of the top ten lots, a 2001 painting from Zeng Fanzhi’s “Mask Series”, sold to an American private collector for HKD18.04 million (USD2,336,180), the only one in the top tens to go to a non-Asian collector.
In April 2014 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family Series No. 3 broke the artist’s auction record at USD12.1 million, at a time when the thirst for Chinese art was in full swing. The Christie’s sales revealed a lukewarm market for Chinese contemporary art, as prices did not reach the soaring heights achieved in the 2013 autumn and 2014 spring auctions. Many of the Chinese contemporary artworks offered sold just above their lower estimates.
The Wall Street Journal quoted Jianping Mei, Professor at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business and Co-founder of the Mei Moses family of fine-art indexes, as saying:
China’s art market has some bubbles. As the money supply slows and wealth gap narrows in China, it’s difficult to repeat past performance.
Nevertheless, as quoted by Artnet News, Eric Chang saw this as a positive sign of collectors sharpening their eye at auction:
These auctions are a demonstration of the maturing appetite of collectors for compelling Asian art.
Korea and Japan
With a more controlled demand for Chinese art, Christie’s has been focusing on a pan-Asian theme in its Asian sales. The Japanese Gutai works from Asia’s first avant-garde movement of the 1950s – introduced as a category by Christie’s for the first time – and Korean artists had “exceptional results”.
Kaien (1999), a dark-blue abstract painting by Kazuo Shiraga, who used his feet to execute the work, was sold for HKD23.64 million (USD3,062,673) to Shanghai Long Museum owner and collector Wang Wei, more than doubling its lower estimate of HKD10 million (USD1.3 million) and surpassing its previous 2013 record at Christie’s Paris of approximately USD2.18 million. Shiraga’s highest price was achieved at Sotheby’s Paris in summer 2014, at USD5.32 million. Shiraga has become very popular recently, as explained in Artnet News, and two galleries based in New York will be holding shows of his work in 2015.
Korean Kim Whan-Ki’s Untitled work (1958) went under the hammer for HKD7,840,000 (USD1,015,709), beating his 2011 HKD6.9 million record at Seoul Auction’s sale in Hong Kong.
As Jing Daily reports, Wang Wei was only one of many prominent mainland Chinese collectors who scooped up top lots and vied for both Chinese and other Asian artworks.
Chinese contemporary artists stand out
The Asian Contemporary Art Day Sale on 23 November 2014 totalled HKD80,912,500 (USD10,478,169) and offered works by influential Asian contemporary artists, selling 183 of 280 lots offered. The top ten lots were all sold to Asian private or corporate collectors.
While the star of the Asian 20th Century Art Day Sale was Filipino abstractionist José T. Joya at HKD5.44 million (USD704,778) breaking his world auction record, the top selling lot of the contemporary day sale was a 1999 “Mask Series” painting by Zeng Fanzhi, which went under the hammer for HKD7.24 million (USD937,976), below its higher estimate of HKD8.5 million (USD1.1 million).
Second came Quiet, Quiet (1999), a sculpture by Yoshimoto Nara, which went for HKD4.84 million (USD627,045), HKD600,000 short of its higher estimate. Southeast Asian artists were also among the top sellers, with Indonesian I Nyoman Masriadi’s Lagi Enggan (2003) selling for HKD3.64 million ((USD471,579). At the evening sale, his more recent work Sangat Tidak Luctu (2011) sold for an even higher price, at HKD3,880,000 (USD502,672).
In the range of HKD2.5 and 3 million were works by:
- Liu Wei (Landscape, HKD2.44 million – USD316,113)
- Li Chen (Floating Heavenly Palace, HKD2.92 million – USD378,300)
- Zeng Fanzhi (Portrait of a Young Man, HKD2.56 million – USD331,660)
Various works achieved around HKD1 to 1.5 million, including Yayoi Kusama, Chinese artists Cai Guoqiang (tenth in the top ten lot list), Peng Wei, Qiu Yacai and young artist Yuan Yuan, whose Copper Door of Savings Society (2009) set a new record for the artist at HKD1.24 million (USD160,648).
The sale also featured other young Chinese artists like Chen Fei (b. 1983) and Chen Ke (b. 1978), who according to Eric Chang “stood out with their charged portrayals of self, youth and existentialism.”
Reviving tradition: Chinese ink
The inaugural Chinese Contemporary Ink Day Sale on 24 November 2014 totalled HKD60.67 million (USD7,862,832) and featured some of the most iconic ink works of the past decades, with artworks by Liu Kuo-sung, Gu Wenda, Liu Dan, Xu Lei and Qiu Zhijie, among others.
The auction is the first of its kind for Christie’s and responds to the increasing demand for ink art, which has experienced a strong revival in the contemporary art world in recent years.
Artnet News also reported Eric Chang as saying that strong interest was shown for art that fuses traditional Asian aesthetics with modern influences during the Asian art evening sale, which justifies the choice for setting up an individual auction that offers many such works.
Liu Kuo-sung’s Scenery of Hong Kong (1987), a scroll depicting the changing Hong Kong scenery from morning to sunset, was the top selling lot, going for HKD16.84 (USD2,181,701), more than doubling its higher estimate of HKD1 million and setting a new world auction record for the artist.
A set of three hanging scrolls by Qiu Zhijie broke the world auction record for the artist and came in second, at more than double its higher estimate of HKD2.8 million (USD360,000), going under the hammer for HKD6,64 (USD860,243).
Gu Wenda’s handscroll Mouth Action (1980) came close after, at HKD6.28 million (USD813,604).
Of the fifty lots on offer, ten failed to sell and were all works by Gao Xinjian and Qiu Zhijie.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
NOTE: Sales totals and prices realised for artworks are inclusive of hammer price plus Buyer’s Premium. Estimates do not include Buyer’s Premium. USD prices are set on daily exchange rates, thus may vary when consulting the results online on different dates.
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