Christie’s Asian 20th-Century and Contemporary Sale in Hong Kong Nets $60.6 Million

Ronald Ventura oil on canvas surprises by going for almost eight times its estimate.

Christie’s Asian 20th century and contemporary art spring sale in Hong Kong raked in a cool HKD 467.9 million ($60.6 million) on Saturday evening. On the block were 63 works of which 54 sold. By value the sale realized 90 percent.

“Going in, there was good energy and a lot to be excited about,” said adviser Jehan Chu, who runs the consultancy firm Vermillion Art Collections. “The room was packed and security guards were shooing people away but then it was as if someone pulled the rug out from under the sale.”

He was referring to the fact that the first two lots of works by Chu Teh-Chun went for their lowest estimates, and the third lot, 14.06.73, a Zao-Wou Ki oil painted in 1973, was bought in. This set a subdued tone for the rest of the night.

While thin bidding continued, there were yet several standout results by the end of the sale. The evening’s top seller was a HKD 46 million ($5.97 million) Sanyu painting of pink flowers against a deep blue background. The classic still life titled Potted Chrysanthemums (c. 1950s) sold for more than double its high estimate of HKD 22 million($2.8 million).

Sanyu, Potted-Chrysanthemums (c. 1940s–1950s) sold for HKD TKTKT. Photo: Courtesy Christie's.

Sanyu, Potted Chrysanthemums (c. 1950s) sold for $5.97 million 
Photo: Courtesy Christie’s Images Limited.

Influential Chinese painter Xu Beihong’s Eagle (c. later 1930s–early 1940s) also did well, fetching HKD 24.8 million ($3.2 million) and beating its upper estimate of HKD 20 million. The work is a rare oil painting acquired from the prominent Li Shizeng family collection “a very strong provenance for a 20th-century Old Master work,” said Sandy Ma, associate specialist of Asian 20th century and contemporary art at Christie’s Hong Kong.

On the contemporary front, Chinese artist Liu Wei commanded high prices with two works in the top 10 lots of the sale. Landscape (1998), featuring a dripping pink mass evoking a mountain, sold for HKD 21.4 million ($2.8 million), exceeding its high estimate of HKD 12 million. And Swimming (1994), Liu’s boldly sensuous painting of a nude woman underwater, sold for HKD 13.2 million ($1.7 million). Both went home with Asian buyers.

Collectors also competed for contemporary and modern works by Southeast Asian artists. Among the star lots was Filipino artist Ronald Ventura’s Wonderful Bait, a colorful canvas painted last year. It sold for HKD 7.8 million($1 million) almost eight times the presale high estimate of HKD 1 million ($128,000).

Meanwhile, Singaporean painter Cheong Soo Pieng’s abstract oil Nature’s Inspiration (1963) fetched HKD 4.8 million ($627,000), more than double its high estimate of HKD 2 million ($260,000).

Xu Beihong, Eagle (c. 1930s–1940s). Photo: Courtesy: Christie's Images Limited.

Xu Beihong, Eagle (c. 1930s–1940s) sold for $3.2 million
Photo: Courtesy: Christie’s Images Limited.

The auction took place on the heels of Art Basel in Hong Kong, which saw brisk sales and active buying from across the region.

Although results exceeded expectations—Christie’s estimated that the evening sale would net in excess of HKD 372 million ($46 million)—many would agree with Vermillion’s Chu: “It wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t a triumph either. The word I would use is ‘middling.’

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