The rise of Asian 20th century and contemporary art: Christie’s Hong Kong autumn auctions – round-up

With a strong auction season behind it, Asian 20th century and contemporary art looks set to rise in value in the upcoming year ahead.

Zao Wou-Ki’s 29.01.64 sets a new world record for oil painting by any Asian artist at the last season of Christie’s Hong Kong Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art sales on 25-26 November 2017.

Zao Wou-ki, '29.01.64', 1964, 260 x 200 cm. Image courtesy Christie's Hong Kong

Zao Wou-ki, ‘29.01.64’, 1964, oil on canvas 260 x 200 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s Hong Kong

With the conclusion of Christie’s Hong Kong Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, Asian Contemporary Art Day Sale and Asian 20th Century Art Day Sale, demand is noticeably stronger for art from the region.

Zao Wou-Ki, Natsuyuki Nakanishi, Tomio Miki, and Yoshitomo Nara are now some of the most sought after names when it comes to Asian post-war and contemporary art. Works by all four artists made headlines in at the most recent Christie’s Hong Kong Autumn Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art Auction series, which concluded at the end of November. Zao Wou-Ki’s 29.01.64 (1964) broke previous auction records, establishing a new world auction record price for an oil painting done by Asian artists. Achieving USD26,063,431, the figure pointed to strong and robust demand for art from the region. As Christie’s Deputy Chairman and International Director of Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art, Eric Chang, noted:

Strong results were achieved for pan-Asian artists across all periods and genres, as both newer and established collectors bid vigorously by phone, online, and in our salesroom.

Past auction results for the artist’s work include 29.09.64, which realised USD19,578,308. in Christie’s Hong Kong evening sale for Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art in May this year.

Japanese artists Natsuyuki Nakanishi, Tomio Miki and Yoshitomo Nara are also hot sellers at this past auction season for Christie’s Hong Kong. Known for his unnerving and almost disturbing images of children brandishing small weapons, Yoshitomo Nara’s works performed well at both day and evening sales at Christie’s, selling 14 works in total over the two sessions.

Top-selling works by Nara included Our Thai House Mini (2007), a sculpture depicting a wooden house with images of his characteristic children scattered within and without the miniature building, which realised a price of USD1,186,104. Other works that sold by Nara in the Hong Kong sale included Midnight Vampire (2010), a mid-sized painting depicting an almost-angelic girl with her eyes closed against a black background. Another mixed media sculpture, Sleepless Night (Sitting) (2007), also sold for a price above it’s high estimate.

Yoshitomo Nara, 'Our Thai House Mini', 2007, 88 x 54 x 62.5. Image courtesy Christie's Hong Kong

Yoshitomo Nara, ‘Our Thai House Mini’, 2007, mixed media sculpture, 88 x 54 x 62.5 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s Hong Kong

Many of the lots across the Asian 20th Century Contemporary Art Auction series sold above their higher estimate, with a recorded 36% of all sales at the three sessions selling above their high estimate. These included L ℓ R -87 – I (1987) by Japanese-born artist Natsuyuki Nakanishi, which realised USD738,421. A work, entitled Blossom Series, by contemporary Chinese artist Zhou Chunya also realised USD1,247,854. Zhou is primarily known for his series of Green Dog paintings, and for his strong and aggressive style of painting. Chang also noted that the sales saw “intense bidding from across the region, as collectors pursued masterpieces from modern and contemporary Asian artists.”

Natsuyuki Nakanishi, 'L.ℓ.R. II', 1986, oil on canvas. 227.3 x 181.8 cm. Image courtesy of Christie's Hong Kong.

Natsuyuki Nakanishi, ‘L.ℓ.R. II’, 1986, oil on canvas. 227.3 x 181.8 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s Hong Kong.

The works of abstract Chinese painters appear to be some of the top performers across the board for people who demand Asian 20th century art. Aside from the top performance of Zao Wou-Ki’s work, the work of Chu Teh-Chun was also a stand-out at the auction. 2.12.87 (1987) achieved USD 692,108, becoming one of the top lots for the Asian 20th Century Art Day Sale. Chu Teh-Chun was also a French-Chinese artists, and a contemporary of Zao Wou-Ki and Wu Guanzhong. His works similarly strive to integrate both Chinese painting techniques with Western visual languages of abstraction. Chu was, in fact, one of the first ethnic Chinese members attending the Académie des Beaux-Arts of France. Past auction records for Chu included the groundbreaking sale of his Genesis (1993), which sold for USD 1.16M at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Modern and Contemporary Asian Art Evening sale in 2014.

Chu Teh-Chun, '2.12.87', 1987, oil on canvas, 162 x 130 cm. Image courtesy Christie's Hong Kong.

Chu Teh-Chun, ‘2.12.87’, 1987, oil on canvas, 162 x 130 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s Hong Kong.

The top-selling work by Zao Wou-ki, 29.01.64 (1964), was also noted as a work that used the language of abstraction whilst incorporating the outlines of natural scenery. Zao moved to France in 1948, and counted artists such as Matisse and Picasso as great influences alongside more traditional calligraphic techniques from the Song and Yuan dynasties. The calligraphic series Zao executed in 1964 brought the artist “beyond landscape painting”, as Eric Chang remarked. 29.01.64 (1964) reflected a bridging of the two different cultures that Zao oscillated between, appearing almost as a calligraphic piece, but revealing ‘a landscape, forest, pond or wave in the tiny details.’

With good sales performances across the board in the past season, Asian 20th century and contemporary art looks set for a strong performance in the upcoming year. With demand for Asian art, particularly those tagged with strong cross-cultural narratives, Asian 20th century art leads the way in higher valuations this season. Drawing 2017 to a close on this note, the next auction seasons in 2018 look to be an exciting time ahead for collectors, dealers and Asian art professionals alike.

Junni Chen

1990

Related topics: business of art, auctions, paintinground up, events in Hong Kong

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