Asian Art Auctions Pop: Christie’s Hong Kong Evening Sale Hits $82 Million

Sanyu, Shiraga and Zao Wou-Ki are big winners.

"Potted Peonies" by Sanyu fetched the highest price at Christie's Hong Kong at the November 22 sale.

Strong sales of pan-Asian modern and contemporary art took place over the weekend at Christie’s Hong Kong, with results totaling $109 million (HK$847,907,500): the evening sale for Asian 20th century and contemporary art brought in HK$635,495,000 ($81,900,700); the contemporary art day sale brought in HK$80,912.500 ($10,427,800); and the day sale of Asian 20th century art brought in HK$131,500,000 ($16,947,300).

Despite mainland China’s anti-corruption campaign clamping down on conspicuous consumption, Chinese artists continue to command high prices for their works, perhaps buoyed by collectors outside China.

The highest price went to Modern Chinese-French master Sanyu’s Potted Peonies (1940-1950), which sold to a Taiwanese couple for HK$56 million ($7.26 million), exceeding its presale high estimate of HK$40 million ($5.15 million). The piece had been acquired directly from the artist.

The painting hit the auction block during the November 22 evening sale that totalled $82 million, marking the second highest auction total in Asia for Christie’s. A work from 1962 by Zao Wou-Ki sold for HK$46 million ($5.96 million), narrowly surpassing its presale high estimate of HK$45 million ($5.8 million). Abstract works by Gutai artists also did well with Kazuo Shiraga’s painting “Kaien” selling for HK$23,640,000 ($3,047,059). There’s been a run on Shiraga lately (see “Art Market Analysis: Why is Gutai Member Kazuo Shiraga’s Market Soaring“) and there are two gallery shows scheduled in New York for next year (see “Are Levy and Mnuchin Together Again? Both Have Upcoming Shiraga Shows“).

However, some works received a more lukewarm reception. Chinese auction star Zeng Fanzhi simply met expectations with his Mask Series (1998), which sold for HK$25.8 million ($3.35 million), directly in the middle of its HK$22–28 million ($2.8 – 3.6 million) estimate.

It may be a sign that collectors are sharpening their auction eye. “These auctions are a demonstration of the maturing appetite of collectors for compelling Asian art,” says Eric Chang from Christie’s Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art Department.

He also observed that works fusing traditional Asian aesthetics with modern influences were well-received.

The market for Southeast Asian works in particular continues to grow and Chang noted growing interest in the category by a wider overseas audience.

New records abounded for Southeast Asian artists at auctions of the category, which took place on November 23. Filipino artist José Joya fetched HK$5.4 million ($704,408) for his Homage to Turner (1965). The price was nearly four times the work’s presale high estimate and set a world auction record for the painter. According to artnet’s Price Database, the artist’s previous record was HK$1,720,000 ($221,835) for The World Was Once Pollution Free (1970).

A record was also set for recently-deceased Thai artist Thawan Duchanee (see “Thawan Duchanee, Thai Art Legend, 1939–2014“). His oil on board painting The Harvesters (1964) sold for HK$4.6 million ($595,700).

Hernando Ruiz Ocampo’s Masks set another record for the artist at HK$3.64 million ($471,380).

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