Asian modern and contemporary art continues to gain ground among collectors.

Christie’s Hong Kong’s spring auctions dedicated to modern and contemporary Asian art closed on Monday 1 June 2015 demonstrating renewed interest in Korean and Japanese artists, with many new world auction records set.

Sanyu, 'Chrysanthemums in a Glass Vase', 1950s, oil on masonite, 75 x 92 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Sanyu, ‘Chrysanthemums in a Glass Vase’, 1950s, oil on masonite, 75 x 92 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

On 30 and 31 May 2015, Christie’s Hong Kong held its Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening and Day Sales, while on 1 June a whole auction was dedicated solely to the category of Chinese Contemporary Ink.

The Evening Sale achieved a total of HKD594,676,250 (USD77,070,042), while the two Day Sales made a combined total of HKD216,943,500 (USD28,115,878) [20th Century: HKD64,957,500 (USD8,418,492); Contemporary: HKD151,986,000 (USD19,697,386)].

Yoshitomo Nara, 'Yr. Childhood', 1995, acrylic on cotton canvas, 120 x 110 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Yoshitomo Nara, ‘Yr. Childhood’, 1995, acrylic on cotton canvas, 120 x 110 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

Chinese modern masters on top

The Evening Sale sold 74 of its 94 lots, of which the top ten selling lots were all Chinese modern masters, with two exceptions: Zeng Fanzhi’s oil on canvas from his Mask Series, sold to an Asian private collector for HKD20.84 million (USD2,700,864), the fifth most expensive; Yoshitomo Nara’s 1995 painting Yr. Childhood came in seventh at HKD19.72 million (USD2,555,712), almost HKD4 million above its higher estimate and setting a new world auction record for the artist.

The top selling lot of the evening was by the ever-popular Sanyu. His Chrysanthemums in a Glass Vase sold for HKD81.88 million (USD10,611,648) to an Asian private collector, becoming now the second highest price for the artist at auction, surpassing the HKD80.76 million (USD10.4 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2014 for Potted Chrysanthemums.

Other 20th century favourites fared well, making the top ten most expensive works sold that evening. Second on the list was Zao Wou-Ki’s 12.04.60 sold to an Asian private collector for HKD35.96 million (USD4,660,416). Third was another work by Sanyu, which sold within estimate for HKD24.76 million (USD3,208,896) and fourth was Chu Teh-Chun’s Montée Invernale (Winter Surge) (1985) for HKD22.52 million (USD2,918,592). The other top ten positions were taken by Chu Teh-Chun, Zao Wou-Ki and Wu Guangzhong, with the two aforementioned contemporary exceptions.

Liu Wei, 'N5-1', 2010, oil on canvas, 221 x 221 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Liu Wei, ‘N5-1’, 2010, oil on canvas, 221 x 221 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

The rise of Korea and Japan

As Bloomberg pointed out, the Evening Sale veered away from the usual heavy focus on Chinese artists, presenting a great number of Korean, Japanese and Singaporeans. The ever-present Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun were absent, while only five of the ten contemporary Chinese lots were sold.

Among the unsold were works by Liu Ye, Zhou Chunya and Liu Wei, although a 2010 oil on canvas by the latter, entitled N5-1, went for HKD4.36 (USD565,056), almost double its highest estimate and achieving a new world auction record for the artist.

Hong Kong-based dealer Pascal de Sarthe told Bloomberg at the end of the sale:

There’s a real reshuffling in the market.

Kim Whan-Ki, 'Montagne Bleue (Blue Mountain)', 1956, oil on canvas, 99.8 x 64.6 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Kim Whan-Ki, ‘Montagne Bleue (Blue Mountain)’, 1956, oil on canvas, 99.8 x 64.6 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

All Korean artworks in the sale found buyers, as testimony of the recent surge in interest in Korean art and movements like Dansaekhwa, also demonstrated at Sotheby’s Hong Kong spring sales and a number of exhibitions held around the world.

Montagne Bleue (Blue Mountain) (1956) by 20th century artist Kim Whan-Ki went under the hammer for HKD13.84 million (USD1,793,664), more than five times its higher estimate of HKD2.5 million, setting a new world record for the artist at auction. Yun Hyong-Keun’s Umber-Blue (1975) achieved a total of HKD2.08 million (USD269,568), also setting a new world auction record for the artist.

Japanese art, which has also garnered much appreciation in recent years, also fared extremely well, with Gutai artists coming out on top. The movement’s Kazuo Shiraga, known for creating works by painting with his feet while suspended from a rope, was exceptionally successful, with all his four lots sold.

Yuichi Inoue, 'Flower', 1967, India ink with adhesive on paper, 152 x 244 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Yuichi Inoue, ‘Flower’, 1967, India ink with adhesive on paper, 152 x 244 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

Six of the 11 world auction records set during the evening were Japanese modern masters, alongside the contemporary Yoshitomo Nara, and included as the most expensive, Takesada Matsutani’s Work 65-W
acrylic at HKD1.48 million (USD191,808), Yuko Nasaka’s Work at HKD812,500 (USD105,300) and Yuichi Inoue’s Flower at HKD750,000 (USD97,200).

Quoted in the press release, Eric Chang, International Director of Christie’s Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art Department, said:

[…] notable was the passion for Asian abstract art. Korean modern and contemporary art works presented in the auction were 100% sold while art of the Japanese Gutai movement also attracted bidders from across Asia.

Lui Shou Kwan (Lü Shoukun, 1919-1975), 'Sketch of Hong Kong - Aberdeen', 1963, horizontal scroll, ink and colour on paper, 58.5 x 358.5 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Lui Shou Kwan (Lü Shoukun, 1919-1975), ‘Sketch of Hong Kong – Aberdeen’, 1963, horizontal scroll, ink and colour on paper, 58.5 x 358.5 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

The popularity of ink

Testifying to the continuing popularity of ink art, Christie’s Hong Kong held its second day sale dedicated solely to the medium in Chinese art. The sale totalled HKD26.775 million (USD3,470,040), with 43 lots sold out of 50. Among the highest fetching, top selling lots were Lui Shou Kwan’s horizontal scroll Sketch of Hong Kong – Aberdeen (1963) sold at ten times its estimate for HKD3.4 million (USD440,698) and achieving a new artist record, Li Huayi’s Snow-covered Mountains at HKD2.44 million (USD316,266) and Liu Guosong’s scrolls Heaven at Your Fingertips (1967) and The Composition of Distance C (1970) both sold for HKD1.96 million (USD254,050).

The sale set five new world records for artists at auction. Carmen Shek Cerne, Head of Christie’s Chinese Contemporary Ink Sale, was quoted in the press release as saying:

The sale demonstrates collectors’ enthusiasm for modernism synthesized with traditional ink and the exciting blend of the new and the old.

Alfredo Esquillo Jr., 'The Coming of the Plagues', 2010, oil on EVA panel, triptych, each: 240 x 120 cm, overall: 240 x 360 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Alfredo Esquillo Jr., ‘The Coming of the Plagues’, 2010, oil on EVA panel, triptych, each: 240 x 120 cm, overall: 240 x 360 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

New records for Southeast Asia

A grand total of 40 world auction records were achieved during the two-day sales of Asian modern and contemporary art. During the Evening Sale, apart from the Korean and Japanese topping the list, two Filipino artists set new world records: modern master Arturo Luz’s (b. 1926) Los Borrachos (1952-1954) at HKD4.6 million (USD596,160) and contemporary artist Alfredo Esquillo Jr’s (b. 1972) The Coming of the Plagues (2013) at HKD750,000 (USD97,200).

Jirapat Tatsanasomboon, 'Take Me, Please!', 2012, acrylic on canvas, 129 x 129 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Jirapat Tatsanasomboon, ‘Take Me, Please!’, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 129 x 129 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

The Day Sales testified to the ongoing increase in interest in Southeast Asian art, both modern and contemporary. The contemporary day sale registered 25 new world auction records, with a list led by seven Japanese, seven Chinese and six Koreans. The remaining five records were by Southeast Asian artists, including Singaporean artists Jane Lee’s Fetish P8 (2009), sold at three times its higher estimate for HKD750,000 (USD97,200), and Hong Sek Chern’s Untitled #11: Aerial 
Landscape In Naples Orange (2011) at HKD56,250 (USD7,290).

Another record was set for Malaysian Wong Perng Fey’s Untitled #014 (2014) at HKD81,250 (USD10,530), while Thai artist Jirapat Tatsanasomboon achieved his world record at HKD106,250 (USD13,770) for his 2012 painting Take Me, Please!

Tran Trong Vu, 'The Censored Men', 2008, oil and acrylic on panel, diptych, each: 53 x 40.5 cm, overall: 53 x 81 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Tran Trong Vu, ‘The Censored Men’, 2008, oil and acrylic on panel, diptych, each: 53 x 40.5 cm, overall: 53 x 81 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

At both day sales, four Vietnamese artists set new records. While a contemporary work by Tran Trong Vu, The Censored Men (2008), sold at HKD68,750 (USD8,910) below the USD10,000 mark, the high prices were commanded by his modern era predecessors. Nguyen Van Thinh’s (b. 1906) Femme Portant Une Jarre d’Eau (Woman Carrying a Water Jar) and Tran Binh Loc (1914-1941) Crépuscule Dans le Port de Hanoi (Sunset at the Port of Hanoi) both painted in 1933, respectively achieved HKD350,000 (USD45,360) and HKD475,000 (USD61,560). The latter price also set the record for Le Thi Luu (1911-1988).

During the 20th Century Art day sale, 15 new records were set, 11 of which were Southeast Asian modern masters and the remaining four Chinese.

Jane Lee, 'Fetish P8', 2009, acrylic paint and heavy gel on canvas, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy Christie's.

Jane Lee, ‘Fetish P8’, 2009, acrylic paint and heavy gel on canvas, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy Christie’s.

Old is the new ‘new’

As Hong Kong-based art advisor Jehan Chu, who runs Vermillion Art Collections, told Bloomberg,

Old is the new new. Safe money is seeking value.

Modern artists dominated both evening and day sales, commanding the highest prices compared to their contemporary counterparts. Contemporary Asian artists are of course still highly sought after, but it seems like Asian collectors – who dominate auctions in Hong Kong – are more willingly spending increasing amounts of money on top-notch modern masters, mainly from Korea, Japan and around Southeast Asia, as well as on the more conservative abstract art and Chinese ink painting.

Eric Chang of Christie’s was quoted in the press release as concluding:

The two-day sales reflect the growing global prominence of Asian artists, as international collectors showed their affirmation of Asian art with a modern interpretation. Christie’s brought the theme of Asian abstract art into a broader global context and achieved enormous success as strong prices were seen for both modern and contemporary artists.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

746

The exchange rated HKD/USD used by Christie’s corresponds to HKD1 = USD0.1296 / £0.0852 / €0.1186.

Estimates do not include buyer’s premium. Sales totals are hammer price plus buyer’s premium and do not reflect costs, financing fees or application of buyer’s or seller’s credits.

Related Topics: auctions, business of art, collectors, Chinese artists, Korean artists, Japanese artists, Southeast Asian artists, events in Hong Kong

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Brittney

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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