At $12.6 Million, an Andy Warhol ‘Mao’ Sets New High for Western Contemporary Art in Asia

Just four Mao canvases have fetched higher prices.

Andy Warhol, Mao (1973). Courtesy Sotheby's Hong Kong.

An Andy Warhol painting of Mao Zedong from 1973 brought $98.5 million HK ($12.6 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on Sunday evening, setting a new high price for any work of contemporary art sold in Asia. It was the night’s top lot.

That sunny outcome is despite the fact that the hammer price, $86 million HK ($11 million), failed to meet the work’s low pre-sale estimate of $90 million ($11.6 million). The painting went to an unnamed Asian collector, and was guaranteed to sell thanks to an irrevocable bid established before the sale.

The sale overall brought $574 million HK ($73.6 million), well past the pre-sale estimate of $460 million HK ($60 million) and set auction records for Hsiao Chin, Le Pho, Joseph Inguimberty, and Vicente Silva Manansala.

Just four Mao canvases have fetched higher prices at Western auction houses than the one that sold Sunday, though one went dramatically higher. The loftiest price for one of the Pop master’s paintings of the Chinese ruler was $47.5 million, paid at Sotheby’s New York in November 2015—the second-highest price that evening.

The seller of Sunday’s Mao, a head-and-shoulders portrait of the ruler in a red jacket with a golden face against a brown background, had picked it up at Sotheby’s London in February 2014 for £7.6 million ($12.6 million), meaning that the value of the work failed to keep up with inflation.

“We are very pleased with tonight’s robust results with an international participation from close to 20 countries,” said Patti Wong, chairman of Sotheby’s Asia. “There was strong interest among Asian buyers across the four categories of paintings on offer including for our top lot, Mao, by the American Pop art master Andy Warhol which sold to an Asian private collector.”

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