Hong Kong auction results prove art market is still holding strong.

China’s economic slowdown over the summer caused concerns for the art market, but the recent Hong Kong auctions demonstrate its resilience, as new collectors from across Asia take part in the bidding for modern and contemporary Asian art.

Modern and Contemporary Asian Art Evening Sale (5 October 2015), Sotheby's Hong Kong, auction scene during the sale of Yayoi Kusama's 'No. Red B', 1960, oil on canvas. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Modern and Contemporary Asian Art Evening Sale (5 October 2015), Sotheby’s Hong Kong, auction scene during the sale of Yayoi Kusama’s ‘No. Red B’, 1960, oil on canvas. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

The majority of lots at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Modern and Contemporary Asian Art auctions on 4 and 5 October 2015 were sold, with many surpassing their higher estimates and most acquired by Asian collectors, with an average sell-through rate of at least 80%. A similar overall positive trend was observed at auctions at Bonham’s, as well as China Guardian and Poly Auction over the same weekend, although more artworks went unsold than at Sotheby’s.

The round of Hong Kong autumn auctions demonstrates what Dr. Clare McAndrew reports in her recently released Global Chinese Art Auction Market Report 2014. Mainland China’s market has been slowing down since 2011 due a variety of reasons, such as a lack of high quality artworks entering the market.

Another contributing factor is the non-payment for purchased works, an aspect that does not appear to be affecting Hong Kong- and Shanghai-based Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions. However, Dr. McAndrew highlights the fact that Hong Kong evolves in a slightly different direction than the mainland market, and has been growing instead, “rising 5% in value year-on-year, to $1.8 billion (around 80% of the market share outside China)”.

Wu Guanzhong, 'Peach Blossoms', 1973, oil on canvas, 61.1 x 46.3 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Wu Guanzhong, ‘Peach Blossoms’, 1973, oil on canvas, 61.1 x 46.3 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Asian modern masters: a sure investment

At Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Modern Asian Art sold at the Modern and Contemporary Asian Art Evening Sale (4 October) and the Modern Asian Art Day Sale (5 October) totalled HKD288,211,250 (USD36,950,160).

“Embodying The Dao of Martial Arts – Important Sculptures by Ju Ming from the Collection of Johnson Chang Tsong-Zung” offered during the Evening Sale saw more than 40% of the Taiwanese sculptor’s works sold above high estimates, and totalled HKD50,843,750, exceeding a pre-sale estimate of HKD37.79 million.

Modern Asian masters represent a secure investment, as seen with sales such as Wu Guangzhong’s Peach Blossoms (1973) for HKD44.44 million (USD5,697,436) to an Asian private collector – a lot that ranked second in the Evening Sale top ten. The top ten list of the evening also included three Zao Wou-ki works from the 1950s-1960s, which sold between USD1.85 million and USD3.09 million. A selection of Lalan (Xie Jinglan) (1921-1955) works were 100% sold.

The top lot of Bonham’s Hong Kong Modern and Contemporary Art sale on 3 October was also a modern work; Balinese Girl (1939) by Southeast Asia-based Italian artist Romualdo Locatelli (1905-1943) went under the hammer for HKD7.24 million (including premium).

Poly Auction’s auction Chinese and Asian Modern and Contemporary Art on 5 October, which offered lots of a more classical style, saw Sanyu’s Roses in a White Pitcher (1929) sell at the top price for HKD59 million, with Chu Teh-chunh’s Subtilité Hivernale (1985) ranking second at HKD34.22 million.

At China Guardian’s 20th Century and Contemporary Art auction (6 October), the top selling lots were all by modern masters, including Wu Guanzhong‘s small oil on paper Green Seascape sold at HKD3.304 million, Chu Teh-chunh’s Doux Avenir (1996) at HKD2.36 million and Liu Guosong’s Guarded by Dragon and Tiger at HKD2.006 million.

Zeng Fanzhi and Jack Ma with 'Paradise', 2014, oil on canvas, 79.6 cm diameter. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Zeng Fanzhi and Jack Ma (left to right) with ‘Paradise’, 2014, oil on canvas, 79.6 cm diameter. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Asian contemporary art: new collectors

As Dr. McAndrews also highlighted in her report, the market may be undergoing a re-adjustment. As high quality artworks offered in the past were collected by museums, institutions and other collections – that are reluctant to part with them – the market has seen an increase in offerings that are more affordable for a new generation of Asian collectors.

Sotheby’s Contemporary Asian Art sold during the Evening Sale and the Contemporary Asian Art Day Sale (5 October) totalled HKD374,495,750 (USD48,012,276). Sotheby’s recorded an increase of new collectors from the region competing in the two-day contemporary sales. The top lot of the Evening Sale was Yayoi Kusama’s oil on canvas No. Red B (1960), which sold well above its higher estimate of HKD40 million to an Asian private for HKD54.52 million (USD6,989,744) after a five-bidder competition.

A favourite of the Evening Sale was Alibaba Co-founder Jack Ma and Zeng Fanzhi’s collaborative oil on canvas Paradise (2014), which the pair created for the environmental cause. The piece sold to Chinese businessman Qian Fenglei for HKD42.2 million (USD5,410,256), 17 times its pre-sale estimate of HKD2.5 million and ranking second in the top ten lots. Proceeds from the sale are going to the Paradise International Foundation, a non-profit, environmental conservation group backed by Ma, Zeng and other Chinese philanthropists and entrepreneurs.

Zhang Xiaogang, 'Tiananmen No. 3, 1993, oil on canvas, 100 x 129 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Zhang Xiaogang, ‘Tiananmen No. 3’, 1993, oil on canvas, 100 x 129 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Among the top ten lots of the evening were also Zhang Xiaogang’s Tiananmen No. 3 (1993), sold for HDK21,920,000 (USD2,810,256), as well as Liu Wei’s Swimming (1994) for HKD15,68 million (USD2,010,256) and Zeng Fanzhi’s Untitled 10-1-2 (2010) for HKD14.48 million (USD1,856,410).

Among the contemporary lots that did not sell were several prominent Chinese artists, including Zeng Fanzhi’s Self-Portrait (1996), estimated at between HKD25-35 million and Zhang Xiaogang’s Untitled (2013) with a pre-sale estimate of HKD2.4-3.5 million. At Bonham’s, works by Damien Hirst, Cai Guoqiang, Zhan Wang, Ji Dachun and Wang Guangyi, among others, did not find buyers.

At China Guardian, the most expensive lots offered did not surpass a higher estimate of HKD2.5 million, which means new collectors would easily find an entry point into the art market with top lots such as Lee Ufan‘s From Cuts: Untitled (estimate HKD2-2.5 million) and Zeng Fanzhi’s Andy Warhol portrait (estimate HKD1.2-1.5 million), although both went unsold.

At Poly Auction, a 2001 Zeng Fanzhi work from the “Mask” series sold for HKD7.08 million, below its higher estimate of HKD8 million (USD1,025,600). Mao Yan’s oil on canvas Sharp-born Black Rose (1995) sold at almost double its higher estimate of HKD4.8 million (USD615,400), at HKD8.614 million.

Affordability was the key word for most of Sotheby’s Contemporary Ink sale (5 October), where most lots did not surpass the HKD1 million mark. Only a few, including classical favourites like Liu Guosong, Liu Dan and Li Huayi, went over HKD1.5 or HKD2 million. The most expensive lot was Liu Guosong’s Misty Mountains Afar (1969), sold for HKD6,08 million (USD784,502), just above its higher estimate of HKD 6 million. Among the unsold lots were contemporaries like Xu Bing, Gu Wenda and Qiu Zhijie.

Yoshihara Jiro, 'Work', 1971, acrylic on canvas, 45.6 x 53 cm. In situ view. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Yoshihara Jiro, ‘Work’, 1971, acrylic on canvas, 45.6 x 53 cm. In situ view. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Korean and Japanese contemporary art stay strong

Sotheby’s also observed continued and renewed interest in both Korean and Japanese contemporaries. “Full Circle – Yoshihara Jiro Collection” offered 21 fresh-to-market works from the Gutai founder’s personal collection during the Evening Sale, and realised HKD26,746,250 (USD3,429,006), over four times the pre-sale estimate of HKD5,920,000 – accounting for five percent of the proceeds of the Evening Sale, which totalled HKD595,626,250 (USD76,362,340).

The entire collection sold above higher estimates, many of which in multiples of their pre-sale estimates, such as Yoshihara Jiro’s Work (ca. 1961-1963) for HKD2.36 million at almost seven times its higher estimate of HKD350,000. Both Jiro’s Work (1936) and Kazuo Shiraga’s 1969 Untitled sold for HKD1,062,500, more than seven times their higher pre-sale estimate of HKD150,000.

Yoshitomo Nara, 'Little Red Trooper', 1996, acrylic on canvas, 33.5 x 27.7 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Yoshitomo Nara, ‘Little Red Trooper’, 1996, acrylic on canvas, 33.5 x 27.7 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

During the Contemporary Asian Art Day Sale, Japanese artists were among the favourites, with seven out of ten ranking among the top ten lots. All prices were lower than USD1 million, offering a way into the sales to new collectors with more affordable yet high quality works. Kazuo Shiraga’s Fire of Dattan (1974) was the top selling, going to an Asian private for HKD6.92 million (USD887,179). Among the favourites were Yoshitomo Nara and again Yayoi Kusama, with a Pumpkin sculpture.

At Bonham’s, Nara’s No Means No (1995) sold for HKD2.2 million, marking the second highest sale price of the auction, while Kusama’s Oil No. 19 (1997) went for HKD1.6 million.

Among the top selling Korean art at Sotheby’s were Dansaekhwa works like Chung Sanghwa’s Untitled 82-9 sold for HKD3.68 million (USD474,830) and auction favourite Kim Whanki’s Plum Blossoms (ca. 1956-59) for HKD3.92 million (USD505,798), both sold above estimates. A 1993 Nam June Paik work, Robot on a Swing, went under the hammer for HKD1.875 million (USD241,931), above its higher estimate of HKD1.2 million.

Brian Uhing, 'In The Guerdorners Garden', Oil on canvas, 123 x 84 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Brian Uhing, ‘In The Guerdorners Garden’, Oil on canvas, 123 x 84 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Southeast Asian art gains momentum

Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art at Sotheby’s sold during the Evening Sale and the Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art Day Sale (5 October) totalled HKD156,550,000 (USD20,070,513). The evening saw the largest-ever grouping for the category, which sold at 90% by lot and by value. Sotheby’s recorded an increased interest in blue-chip, fresh and rare works by established modern and contemporary artists, with new participants from across Asia.

A young artist debuting at auction, Brian Uhing of the Philippines ranked seventh in the top ten Day Sale lots, realising HKD1.5 million (USD192,308) for his oil on canvas In The Guerdoners Garden, at ten times its higher pre-sale estimate (HKD150,000).

An auction favourite, Ronald Ventura, was also among the top ten lots, ranking second with his Fragmented of Light (2013) canvas sold for HKD3.2 million (USD410,256), more than three times its higher estimate of HKD880,000. The price realised by Ventura’s painting and Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s Fruit Vendors (1960), which ranked first in the top ten, was the highest for the whole auction. With prices ranging below the USD500,000 mark, it is easier to expect new collectors from across Asia starting to gain interest in the re-balancing market.

Estimates do not include Buyer’s Premium. Prices achieved include the hammer price plus Buyer’s Premium. HKD to USD figures are based on daily exchange rates: please check websites, where applicable, for up-to-date USD prices.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related Topics: Asian art, Southeast Asian art, auctions, collectors, news, auction round-up, business of art, market watch, 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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