Four major auctions went head to head this week in Hong Kong, landing millions for Asian contemporary artists.

Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Poly Auction and China Guardian all had major auction sales from 4 to 9 October 2014. Despite Hong Kong’s Occupy protests immobilising the city’s main arteries, attendance and bidding momentum did not seem to be disrupted as new world records were set for Asian contemporary artists. 

Liu Xiadong, 'Disobeying the Rules', 1996, oil on canvas, 180 x 230 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Liu Xiadong, ‘Disobeying the Rules’, 1996, oil on canvas, 180 x 230 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Hong Kong’s protests did cause some concern in the art market. A Hong Kong-based art advisor told Artnet that although “the protest definitely kept people away, it didn’t keep people from bidding.” Indeed, each auction house showed strong attendance from international collectors and buyers, with active bidding leading to successful sales.

This “art marathon” weekend, as it was described by Meg Maggio (Director of Pékin Fine Arts), led to nine world records for Modern and Contemporary Asian artists, with each auction category selling within or exceeding their pre-estimate targets. Art Radar looks at the most significant sales.

Fang Lijun, 'Series 2 N°4', 1992, oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Fang Lijun, ‘Series 2 N°4’, 1992, oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s (4-7 October 2014)

Modern and Contemporary Asian Art evening sale – 5 October 2014

The sale showcased a selection of works from the Guy and Myriam Ullens de Schooten collection, encompassing contemporary Chinese masterpieces from the 1990s as well as younger emerging artists. The evening sale totalled HKD615.46 million (USD78.91 million) and set nine world records for contemporary Asian artists, seven of which Chinese. (PDF download)

Liu Xiadong’s Disobeying the Rules (1996) was the star of the sale, achieving HKD66.2 million (USD8.49 million), bringing the evening’s highest price and breaking the artist’s previous world record of HKD61,927,500 (USD7.83 million) for Battlefield Realism: The Eighteen Arhats (sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2008).

Fang Lijun also broke his world record with Series 3 N°4 (1992), which sold for HKD59.48 million (USD7.63 million), doubling its lower estimate of HKD25 million.

The late modern Chinese pioneer Zao Wou-Ki was extremely popular, garnering bidding wars between room and phone bids for Début d’Octobre (Beginning of October) (1955) and 14.12.62 (1962). The works raised HKD59.48 million (USD7,667,567) and HKD34.84 (USD4,491,224) million respectively, doubling their lower estimates.

Chinese artist Liu Wei also broke his world record that night, realising HKD23.64 million (USD3,047,432) for You Like Pork? (1995).

Younger artists performed particularly well, exceeding their estimates while also breaking their world records. Evelyn Lin, Head of the Contemporary Asian Art Department at Sotheby’s, declared that “there remains an enormous hunger in the market for works of the younger generation.” (PDF download) Young artist Jia Aili accumulated large bids for his oil on canvas work Wasteland Series N°1 (2009), which sold for HKD11.8 million (USD1,521,138 million), exceeding its higher estimate of HKD4 million. Wang Guangle sparked interest for Terrazzo 2004.1 1 – 2004. 2. 5 (2004), which went under the hammer for HKD5.44 million (USD701,270), tripling its estimate.

Contemporary Asian Art – 6 October 2014

The Contemporary Asian Art day sale commanded HKD120,877,500 (USD15,590,780). Coupled with the evening auction, both sales generated HKD736,337,500 (USD94,500,780), exceeding their estimate of HKD300 million (USD38 million).

Zhang Xiaogang’s Amnesia and Memory Series: 2001 N°1 (2001) achieving the highest amount of HKD7,240 million (USD933,526) after a bidding tug-of-war between a phone and room bidder. Zhou Chunya achieved the second highest selling price of the day with Peach Blossom Diptych (2011), which went under the hammer for HKD6.04 million (USD778,798).

Renowned contemporary artist Zeng Fanzhi still remains popular, selling within his estimates, around the HKD5 million margin. Two of Liu Wei’s works ended up in the highest selling pieces of the day, exceeding their estimates: Dad (1991) and Rock (2007) both sold for HKD5.44 million (USD701,434).

Moreover, works sold in sets of two to eight seemed to be popular among Asian buyers, such as those by artist Gu Dexin whose works were sold in two sets of eight and nine. Both of these lots sold beyond their estimates.

Finally, Yoshitomo Nara continues to be a favourite at auction with all of his lots selling within or above their pre-estimate price, close to the HKD1 million margin.

Anita Magsaysay-Ho, 'Paghuhuli Ng Mga Manok (Catching Chickens)', 1962, oil on canvas, 102 x 132 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Anita Magsaysay-Ho, ‘Paghuhuli Ng Mga Manok (Catching Chickens)’, 1962, oil on canvas, 102 x 132 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings – 6 October 2014

The sale of Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings at the Modern and Contemporary Asian Art evening sale and the day sale totalled HKD153,415,00 (USD19,668,590), exceeding an estimate of HKD88 million (USD11,3 million). The evening sale showed a “remarkable energy” that continued during the day sale, according to MOK Kim Chuan, Sotheby’s Head of Southeast Asian Paintings Department.

Filipino artist Anita Magsaysay-Ho broke her world record at the evening sale: Paghuhuli Ng Mga Manok (Catching Chickens) (1962) sold for HKD9.64 million (USD1,242,692 million). Lee Man Fong’s oil on canvas masterpiece Bali Life (1974) (estimate upon request) did particularly well, with a bidding start of HKD20 million. It went under the hammer for HKD33.72 million. Mok Kim Chuan said in the press release:

In this increasingly sophisticated market, collectors are willing to push past pre-sale estimates to get their coveted pieces of art, especially the ones with impeccable provenance and are fresh-to-the-market.

20th Century Chinese Art – 6 October 2014

Out of the 212 lots offered, only 42 were left unsold and the sale garnered a total of HKD126,416,250 (USD16,305,168). Vinci Chang, Head of the 20th Century Chinese art Department, announced that the overall sale “achieved solid results for desirable works” with “steady bidding”.

The top three highest selling pieces were Zao Wou-Ki’s 27.01.83 (1983), which sold for HKD10,600 million (USD1,366,764), alongside two of Lin Fengmian’s works, Chinese Opera Series – Madame Snake White and Chinese Opera Series – Farewell my Concubine (1959-1969), which both raised HKD9,04 million (USD1,165,618).

Vinci Chang added that “Sotheby’s now holds eight of the top ten prices for the artist [Zao Wou-ki] at auction.”


Christie’s Asia+/ First Open – 5 October 2014

Christie’s Asia+/First Open realised a total of HKD22,392,500 (USD2,899,829), with 48 sold works out of 74 lots. It was the first time that Christie’s Hong Kong paired their Asian art offerings with their “First Open” sale of Western Modern and Contemporary offerings. However, according to Artnet, the “reception was lukewarm, with only 65 percent of lots sold by volume.

The highest selling lot was Liu Ye’s Yuan Yuan (2005), which achieved nearly double its pre-sale estimate with HKD3,160,000 (USD409,371) and was sold to a private Asian buyer. In second place was Wu Guanzhong’s A Sleepless City (1999), raising HKD1,960,000 (USD253,914), well above its estimate of HKD1.2 – 1.8 million. In third place, Hong Ling’s Autumn Lake (1991) went under the hammer for HKD1,720,000 (USD222,822).

Additionally, works by Japanese and Korean artists achieved multiples of their estimates, such as Nam-June Paik‘s Buddha King and Kazuo Shiraga’s Goshoku Zanmai.

Zeng Fanzhi, 'Portrait of Andy Warhol', 2004, oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy Poly Auction.

Zeng Fanzhi, ‘Portrait of Andy Warhol’, 2004, oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy Poly Auction.

Poly Auction Hong Kong (4–7 October 2014)

Chinese and Asian Modern and Contemporary Art Evening sale – 6 October 2014

The evening sale totalled HKD176,748,660, thirty percent higher than the pre-sale estimate and with 35 works selling over HKD1 million.

The overall auction was predominantly slow, with phones dominating the first part and with works failing to sell, especially at the beginning. However, halfway through the auction, towards higher-priced works, the sale started to heat up with last minute bidders and large bids from many Chinese buyers. This resulted in spectacular sales, including Zeng Fanzhi’s Portrait of Andy Warhol (2004) realising HKD19,470,000 (USD2,509,100) after a tough battle between a phone and a room bidder. The latter won the last bid, rewarded with applause from the auction room.

Sanyu’s Lillies in a White Rose (1929) also received much interest and many bids. Tense silence reigned in the auction room once it reached the HKD10 million mark between two bidders. It was finally sold for HKD14,750,000 (USD1,900,800), doubling its estimate. 13.05.75-18.11.77 by Zao Wou-Ki was the third-highest sold piece at HKD11,800,000 (USD1,520,700), selling within estimate.

Another artist who raised strong competition between Asian bidders was the pioneer of Modern Chinese painting, Liu Guosong. Not only did he receive bids from phones and the room, but also from absentee bidders, increasing competition and relentless bidding. Prices continuously escalated to the HKD1 million margin, resulting in pieces selling for more than twice their estimates. The most popular piece was Composition of Ying and Yang (1973-1991), part of Liu Guosong’s Planet series, which sold for HKD1,652,000 (USD212,900) after two groups of Asian bidders battled it out. The piece more than doubled its estimate.

Chu Teh Chun, 'Aspirations', 2007, oil on canvas, 195 x 130cm. Image courtesy China Guardian Hong Kong.

Chu Teh Chun, ‘Aspirations’, 2007, oil on canvas, 195 x 130cm. Image courtesy China Guardian Hong Kong.

China Guardian Hong Kong (4–7 October 2014)

20th Century and Contemporary Chinese art – 7 October 2014

The sale attendance was predominantly Asian, with bids mainly led by the room. Bids were quick and decisive, with large offers placed by Chinese buyers for important Modern and Contemporary masters such as Zao Wou-ki, Chu Teh-Chun and Liu Guosong, demonstrating competitiveness and popularity for museum-quality works.

The main highlights of the auction were:

  • Zao Wou-Ki’s 5.11.93, achieving HKD10,350,000
  • Chu-Teh-Chun’s Aspirations fetching the high value of HKD8,625,000
  • Wu Dayu’s Colourful Rhyme N°27 – Noon Dream selling for HKD6,555,000
  • Wu Guanzhong’s Ocean Waves, which sold for HKD5,520,000

Overall, all lots sold within or above their estimates, with only four out of thirty lots failing to sell. Ms Hu Yanyan, President of China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co, said:

We are happy to see China Guardian’s highlight categories of Chinese paintings and calligraphy and contemporary art do continuously well, with results exceeding those achieved in the spring auctions. (…) Overall we are pleased with the total results, which were very much in line with our estimates.

Final comment: Museum-quality works, Southeast Asian art

The art market this weekend appeared dynamic and healthy, with high attendance and competitive bidding leading to record-breaking sales for important and emerging artists. Museum-quality works from Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun and Zeng Fanzhi, for instance, seemed to be preferred and sought-after by Asian collectors.

Poly Auction reported that many of their museum-quality works sold beyond their estimates, thus reflecting “an increase of sophisticated buyers who are more concerned with the academic references found within works.” (PDF download) The auction house added that “the Asian art market is now entering an age of multi-discipline development.”

Additionally, Southeast Asian art performed particularly well this week, with many works selling beyond their estimate. Consequently, Southeast Asian art still holds a strong place in the Asian art market owing to continued interest among international collectors.

Editor’s Note: Estimates do not include Buyer’s Premium. Prices achieved include the hammer price plus Buyer’s Premium.

 Claire Bouchara


Related Topics: auctions, Asian art and artists, business of art, events in Hong Kong

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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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