Art Radar reports from the auction room of Sotheby’s evening sale of Contemporary Asian Art on October 3, 2011, presided by Henry Howard-Sneyd. The 176-lot sale featured two ‘premium’ works, and revealed lagging enthusiasm in the contemporary Asian art market as 27% of Asian contemporary works failed to sell due to cautious bidding.

Yue Minjun, 'Untitled': did not sell with a bid of HKD1.5 million

Buyers on the auction telephone lines largely dominated over bidders present in the room, suggesting competition with faraway Western collectors. Including the Sotheby’s ‘buyer’s premium’, which can add up to 20% onto the hammer price, the auction yielded over HKD227.8 million / USD29.2 million. The sale’s high yield distinguishes it as the highest-total various-owner sale in the category at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

The sale was heavy in pieces by Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun, with eight artworks up for sale by each of the prolific Chinese painters. Seven of the eight Fanzhi works sold, although Lot 1001 by the artist, Portrait, passed with a bid of HKD4.5 million, with pre-sale estimates of HKD5.5-6.5 million. Two Yue Minjun works failed to sell; Lot 916, Untitled, attracted a bid of HKD1.5 million but did not meet the reserve (valued at HKD2-2.5 million), and Lot 917, 99 Idol Series No. 32 and No. 35 (two works auctioned together) passed on a bid of HDD500K, with estimates at HKD700-800K.

Zhou Chunya, 'Bulldog': achieved the artist's highest hammer price of the evening at HKD2 million

Wang Guangyi and Zhou Chunya were both well represented with six artworks, and notably were the only auctioned artists with six or more works to all result in sales. As anticipated, Guangyi fetched hammer prices of HKD1.3 million each for two works in the Great Criticism Series, and Zhou Chunya achieved a high bid of HKD2 million for Lot 903, Bulldog.

Zhang Xiaogang, 'Bloodline: Big Family No.1': Premium lot, sold at a hammer price of HKD58 million over the phone


Prices were relatively strong for prominent artists, and managed to maintain the low-end of pre-sale hammer price estimates for premium works. Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No.1 sold to a telephone bidder for a winning bid of HKD58 million, achieving the low end of its HKD58-65 million dollar estimate. With the additional ‘buyer’s premium’, or the seller’s fee levied by the auction house, this notable acquisition totaled over HKD65.6 million / USD8.4 million.

Zeng Fanzhi, 'Mask Series 1998 No. 5': Premium lot, sold at a hammer price of HKD27 million


The sale’s other premium work, Zeng Fanzhi’s Mask Series 1998 No. 5, was estimated to yield HKD27-35 million and also sold for a low-end bid of HKD27 million. Including Sotheby’s seller fees, which are the highest in the auction world, this sale totaled HKD30.9 million / USD3.96 million.

Zeng Fanzhi's 'Portrait': did not sell to a bid of HKD4.5 million, hoped to bring HKD5.5-6.5 million

The eight featured works by the blue-chip artist Zeng Fanzhi performed erratically throughout the sale. Results for the Fanzhi works are as follows:

  • Lot 911- Mask Series: Hammer price of HKD9 million / USD1.15 million, well above estimates of HKD4-6 million.
  • Lot 912- Portrait 08-4-1: Hammer price HKD4.5 million, above estimates of HKD1.8-2.5 million.
  • Lot 913- Red Road: Hammer price of HKD6.5 million, maintaining the high-end of estimate of HKD4.5-6.5 million
  • Lot 999- Mask Series 1998 No. 1: Hammer price of HKD27 million, maintaining the low-end estimate of HKD27-35 million
  • Lot 1000- Untitled, Landscape: Hammer price of HKD6.5 million to a telephone bidder, maintaining the estimate of HKD5-7 million.
  • Lot 1001- Portrait: “Passed”. Did not sell with a bid of HKD4.5 million, although estimated to bring HKD5.5-6.5 million.
  • Lot 1002- Nude: Hammer price of HKD1 million, maintaining the high-end estimate of HKD800K- HKD1 million.
  • Lot 1039- Mask Series: Hammer price of HKD400K, well above estimates of HKD150-200K. This particular work was highly sought, and inspired an energetic bidding war among buyers eager to pick up a modest work by the blue-chip artist at a comparatively lower price.

Li Shan, 'Rouge Series', Lot 1018: failed to sell at a bid of HKD120 K, estimated at HKD150-200K


Patterns were difficult to discern, as Li Shan’s Lot 1017 Rouge Series sold to a hammer price of HKD240K, double the high-end estimate of HKD80-120K. Immediately thereafter, Li Shan’s Lot 1018 Rouge Series failed to sell at an unsuccessful bid of HKD120K, with a pre-sale estimate of HKD150-200K.

Yu Youhan, '1990-5': incited a telephone bidding war, finally selling for HKD3.4 million. Estimated to sell at HKD800K-HKD1 million.

The surprise success of the evening was Yu Youhan’s colourful abstract acrylic 1990-5, which inspired a fierce telephone bidding war that culminated in a hammer price of HKD3.4 million, yielding over three times its estimate of HKD800K-HKD1 million. However, the next work to take the auction block was Yu Youhan’s Ah! Us Series, and failed to sell at a bid of HKD750, although the work was estimated at HKD1.2-2 million.

Yang Shaobin, 'Untitled No.14': failed to sell with a bid of HKD1.2 million, estimated at HKD1.5-2 million


Notably, three of the five works offered by Yang Shaobin failed to sell; Lot 1032, Untitled No. 14, received a bid of HKD1.2 million and passed, although it neared the work’s estimated value of HKD1.5-2 million. Furthermore, Shaobin’s Lot 1033, Portrait of Hariri, passed due to a paltry bid of HKD400K (its value was estimated at HKD800K- HKD1.2 million), and Lot 1034, Shade, failed to sell with a conservative bid of HKD170K (valued at HKD240-350K.)

Premium Bidding vs. General Bidding

Sotheby’s was the first art auction house to enact the controversial ‘premium lot’ system, and established the practice in 2007 in Hong Kong after encountering difficulty collecting payment in the Asian art market. Sotheby’s has only used the premium lot system for sales in Hong Kong, although Christies has adopted the practice internationally. [FT]

Sotheby's Hong Kong Autumn 2011 Asian Contemporary Art Sale. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.


To register as a premium bidder at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Contemporary Asian Art Sale, buyers must pay a deposit of HKD1 million / USD128,000, and are then given an 8000-number bidding paddle. Online bids are not accepted for premium works. In contrast, registration as a general bidder for Sotheby’s Asian Contemporary Art Sale required a deposit of HKD200,000 / USD25,641, and online bidding was accepted. In the event that a registered bidder does not win an artwork, all deposits are refunded within 14 days.

Click here to browse the Sotheby’s catalogue for more prices and lot details from the Hong Kong Autumn 2011 Asian Contemporary Art Sale


Related Topics: Art auctions, Art in Hong Kong, Asian art

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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