Artcurial affirms leadership position with record-breaking sales of comics in inaugural Hong Kong auction.
Despite below-target overall sales, Artcurial made a strong introduction in Hong Kong with its debut sale on 5 and 6 October 2015.
The rise of Artcurial
Artcurial was first established in Paris in 1975 as a small, trendy bookshop and gallery owned by L’Oréal. It was bought by businessman Nicolas Orlowski and founded as an auction house in partnership with the Dassault family in 2002. Artcurial achieved USD254 million in global revenues in 2014 through its two sales locations in Paris and Monaco, a 50 percent rise within three years. By 2014, it was ranking second in annual sales in France just after Christie’s.
A strategic Hong Kong event
While European auction houses have conventionally established sales locations in the United States as they expand, Artcurial chose instead to organise a debut sale in Hong Kong this autumn – to test the waters of the world’s fourth largest art marketplace where giants like Christie’s and Sotheby’s are already firmly established. The city is becoming the meeting place for Asian clients who are increasingly present in European auctions.
The auction house chose to hold its four-day pre-sales exhibition in a pop-up venue in the famous arts neighbourhood of Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan, amidst traditional Hong Kong shops and chic international caterers, and just a few steps away from Asia Art Archive as well as its collaborator this time – Spink, the oldest auction house founded in 1666, with a physical location on Hollywood Road. The gallery exterior was transformed into a bright blue background with patterns that echo Artcurial’s Parisian base L’Hôtel Dassault, while part of the display halls’ interiors imitated the wooden walls of a classic gallery space also resembling that of the Dassault mansion.
The impressionist and modern art works were harmoniously put together with curios and furniture in one hall, and contemporary art and Hermès vintage exhibited in another. The comic strips – Artcurial’s strength and specialty – were displayed in a clean whitewashed space sharply anchored by the classical car, a 1961 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster.
“The Ninth Art”
Comics, known in French culture as “the ninth art”, was a particularly successful section, selling 36 out of the 37 lots, breaking two records and fetching USD4.4 million. The star lot Le Lotus Bleu (The Blue Lotus) from The Adventures of Tintin by Belgian master Hergé (Georges Remi), estimated between USD1.1–1.6 million, was acquired by an Asian collector at USD1.24 million. This India ink and white gouache work represents the cartoonist’s mature style of clear lines, and is the only original drawing still in private hands from the 1936 edition. The piece is a rare work with a China setting in Europe from that epoch, in which Tintin and his partner Snowy the dog are in Shanghai, riding on a rickshaw with a policeman looking on.
Enki Bilal, one of the most important living French artists, had 16 cartoon works from different points of his career in the auction, of which five pieces broke his previous record at a 2007 auction. His work Nikopol – Tome 2, La Femme Piège [The Nikopol Trilogy – Vol.2 The Woman Trap] broke a world auction record, selling at USD410,000 to an anonymous buyer. The work comes from a classic work of modern comics published in 1990. The other world record in the section was broken by Le Garage Hermétique [The Airtight Garage] of Moebius (Jean Giraud). It was sold at USD315,000 to a European buyer and is the cover of the comics magazine Métal Hurlant No.6 in January 1976.
European and Asian contemporaries
The 11 works by the nine Chinese artists in the show were warmly received in the modern and contemporary art section, with eight selling. An evocative portrait of Mao Zedong entitled Timonier, meaning ‘steersman’, estimated between USD260,000-400,000 was sold at USD328,380 to a European buyer. The author of the work Yan Pei-ming was born in Shanghai and grew up through the final stages of the Cultural Revolution. He was trained as an artist in France in the 1980s, and creates works that are easily recognised by their large size and bi-chromatic qualities.
Another master who was an immigrant in France, T’ang Haywen, had both his India ink on paper diptychs sold. His ink compositions are significant presentations of Taoist influenced aesthetics and spiritual principles fused with Western abstract expressionist forms. Wang Guangyi’s Cartier and Xue Song’s Reaching Beyond The Great Wall (2008) were works of contemporary Chinese pop art that also sold. Yet another style of work was Zhang Hongtu’s Shitao (Fan) – Van Gogh (2003), in which traditional Chinese ‘mountains and water’ (shan shui) landscapes are rendered in brushstrokes evocative of Van Gogh, all the while speaking of China’s current environmental crises.
All the four works of French expressionist painter Bernard Buffet were sold, amounting to USD1 million. His work Le Cri (1970) in particular was acquired at USD405,799 by a European buyer, three times the price of its estimate. However, the big names in the show – Picasso, Chagall and Renoir – did not sell.
A possible move to Asia
Despite the overall performance falling short of the target, Artcurial’s director and auctioneer Isabelle Bresset expressed satisfaction with the first sales in Hong Kong in an interview with Le Monde, explaining that the results were on par with their expectations. They also broke two records and had two lots above one million euros. According to an interview with Wealth-X, Bresset says they will now be considering whether to launch properly in Hong Kong with their own offices and auction spaces.
The author of the article calculated individual USD sale prices from EUR prices, with exchange rate of 30 October 2015, 7am GMT+7. Sale prices include buyer’s premium, while estimates do not.
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