Phillips’s First Joint Sale With Poly Auction in Hong Kong Reaped a Solid $50 Million and Set a Flurry of Records for Up-and-Coming Artists

New records were set for Lucas Arruda, Bernard Frize, Salman Toor, and Matthew Wong.

Jonathan Crockett, Phillips chairman of Asia, on the auction rostrum for Phillips and Poly Auction's Hong Kong evening sale. Image courtesy Phillips and Poly Auction.
Jonathan Crockett, Phillips's chairman of Asia, on the auction rostrum for Phillips and Poly Auction's Hong Kong evening sale. Courtesy Phillips and Poly Auction.

Young and up-and-coming artists stole the show for the second day in a row at Phillips’s first-ever joint sale with Poly Auction, China’s largest state-owned auction house.

New records were set at the 20th-century and contemporary art sale in Hong Kong for artists including Lucas Arruda, Bernard Frize, Salman Toor, and the late Matthew Wong. The sale came just a day after Christie’s kicked off its two-city relay auction in Hong Kong, which set records for Amoako Boafa, Shara Hughes, Nicolas Party, and Dana Schutz.

Although Phillips sometimes draws criticism for its emphasis on buzzy young names that attract market speculators and “flippers,” those artists appear to be part of a trend in Hong Kong this week—and a successful one at that.

Matthew Wong, River at Dusk (2018). Image courtesy Phillips and Poly Auction.

Matthew Wong, River at Dusk (2018). Image courtesy Phillips and Poly Auction.

Today’s sale, helmed by Jonathan Crockett, Phillips’s chairman of Asia, pulled in a total of just under HK$400 million
($50 million), beating the expectations of HK$254 million to HK$365 million ($32.7 million to $47 million). Thirty-one lots were offered and one withdrawn. Only two of the works for sale, both by Yoshitomo Nara, carried guarantees (one of which was a direct house guarantee while a third party backed the top lot, Hothouse Doll).

Bidding was intense and prolific, particularly for the record-setting lots, many of which came near the start of the sale. Kicking things off was a painting by Pakistani artist Salman Toor, who currently has a show at the Whitney Museum. The work, Group Dance (2012), sold for HK$4 million ($520,000). To date, just three works by Toor have come to auction and the previous high, set at a Phillips London sale in October, was just under $180,000.

Yoshitomo Nara, Hothouse Doll (1995). Image courtesy Phillips and Poly Auction, Hong Kong.

Yoshitomo Nara, Hothouse Doll (1995). Image courtesy Phillips and Poly Auction, Hong Kong.

Yet another record, by a notch, was set for Matthew Wong, a Canadian painter who died by suicide last year and whose works have since been hotly chased by contemporary art tastemakers. River at Dusk (2018) sold for HK$37.8 million ($4.87 million), beating out the Wong’s previous record of $4.47 million, set at Christie’s New York in October for Shangri La (2017).

The same buyer, bidding with a Phillips specialist on the phone, also snapped up the next work, which happened to be the top lot of the sale, Yoshitomo Nara’s Hothouse Doll (1995), one of the artist’s signature childlike characters glaring out at the viewer.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ancient Scientist (1984). Image courtesy Phillips and Poly Auction.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ancient Scientist (1984). Image courtesy Phillips and Poly Auction.

After bidding opened at HK$24 million ($3.1 million), it was chased by a number of bidders, including clients in Beijing and Taiwan. “I’ve never seen these increments of bidding before,” noted Crockett, as buyers leapt by as much as HK$5 and HK$6 million at times, before adding “But why not?”

The final price, with premium, was HK$103 million ($13.3 million), the second-highest price ever paid for the artist. Nara’s record, of just under $25 million for a similar figure in KNIFE BEHIND BACK (2000), was set at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2019.

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (682-4) (1988). Image courtesy Phillips and Poly Auction.

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (682-4) (1988). Image courtesy of Phillips and Poly Auction.

Given the bouts of heated demand, the sale lasted nearly two hours, though intensity declined a bit for some of the more classic blue-chip lots later in the event, including for works by Chu Teh-Chun and Zhang Xiaogang, and even for usually sensational names like KAWS and Banksy.

Among the more surprising disappointments was Zhang Xiaogang’s Fairy Tale (1985), which failed to meet its low estimate of HK$6.5 million ($833,000), and did not sell.

One blue-chip work that did do well, however, was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Ancient Scientist (1984), which sold for HK$ 58.3 million ($7.5 million), the second-highest price of the sale. The same buyer, fending off competition from a Beijing bidder, also won the next lot, Gerhard Richter’s Abstrakes Bild (682-4) (1988), which sold for HK$32.3 million ($4.2 million).

Also among the top lots were two painting by Yayoi Kusama, of which the highest was a white “Inifinity Net” painting, QRTWE (2007), which sold for HK$17.2 million ($2.2 million). Of two paintings by Zao Wou-ki in the highest lots, 12.2.69 (1969), sold for HK$13.6 million ($1.7 million).

Installation view of Phillips and Poly Auction Hong Kong sale galleries. Image courtesy Philips and Poly Auction.

Installation view of Phillips and Poly Auction Hong Kong sale galleries. Image courtesy Philips and Poly Auction.

Bidding for the other two record lots was also intense, including for Bernard Frize’s dreamy, weave-like Wir (2018), which sold for HK$2.1 million ($276,300), and for Brazilian artist Lucas Arruda’s untitled gray-toned landscape, which sold for HK$3.8 million ($487,600). The previous record for Arruda, whose work has appeared at auction roughly a dozen times, was $391,000, set in February at Phillips London.

Growing its business in Asia has been a key part of Phillips’s business strategy in recent years. This past summer, Phillips announced the Poly partnership, which is both an effort to capitalize on Poly’s regional connections and a way to help navigate a sweeping new security law passed by China in early June, which criminalizes “foreign interference, terrorism, secessionist activities, and subversion of state power.”

“Faced with significant changes in the way art is traded,” Wang Wei, director of Beijing Poly International, told Artnet News at the time, “the opportunities raised by and implications of our partnership with Phillips are unprecedented and cannot be overstated.”

So far, the pairing appears to be paying off.


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