Phillips’ New Partnership With a Beijing Auction House Brings in a Modest $33.6 Million During Its First Evening Sale in Hong Kong

The sale is a collaboration with Yongle auction house and follows Phillips' partnership with Poly Auction.

Phillips Asia chairman and auctioneer Jonathan Crockett selling lot 8, Gerhard Richter's Abstraktes Bild (774-1) at Phillips Hong Kong autumn evening sale in association with Beijing auction house Yongle. Courtesy of Phillips.

The first evening sale of 20th-century and contemporary art held on Thursday as part of a new partnership between Phillips and Beijing auction house Yongle achieved a total of HK$262 million ($33.6 million, including fees). The auction was led by the sales of an abstract work by Gerhard Richter, followed by Asia’s favorites Yoshitomo Nara and Yayoi Kusama.

The sales total at hammer price was more than HK$213 million ($27.4 million), exceeding the lower end of its presale expectation of HK$193.5 million ($24.9 million), but falling short of the higher end at HK$288 million ($40 million; presale estimates do not include fees, sale prices do, unless otherwise stated). Half of the top 10 lots hammered down below their presale estimates, while three just met the lower end of their presale expectations. That being said, four artist records were set at the sale.

Yoshitomo Nara, <i>Nachtwandern</i> (1994). Courtesy Phillips.

Yoshitomo Nara, Nachtwandern (1994). Courtesy of Phillips.

But compared to Christie’s Hong Kong evening sales held on Wednesday, Phillips achieved a higher sell-through rate of 97 percent of the 33 lots offered and 99 percent sold by value (excluding the two lots withdrawn). Six lots had guarantees, with one in-house and the rest guaranteed by third parties. The house said 95 percent of the lots were appearing at auction for the first time.

Thursday evening’s sales total saw a more than 22 percent increase on Phillips’s evening auctions in June, which brought in HK$214 million ($27.3 million). But this was still just around half of the HK$454.6 million ($58 million) and HK$491.8 million ($63.4 million) achieved in the autumn and spring of 2021, respectively, and less than the HK$388 million ($50 million) achieved in autumn of 2020.

Two works were withdrawn before the sale began: a KAWS Companion sculpture (estimate HK$6 million-HK$10 million; $770,707-$1.3 million) and a 1981 painting by Madrid-born artist Rafa Macarrón (estimate HK$800,000-HK$1 million; $102,761-$128,451), after a work by Macarrón went unsold in the house’s day sale held on Wednesday. Surprisingly, Nara’s Flying Nun (2002), which was expected to fetch HK$3.8 million ($488,115) to HK$5.8 million ($745,017), surprisingly did not find a buyer despite Nara’s strong performance in the market in recent years.

Gerhard Richter, <i>Abstraktes Bild (774-1)</i> (1992). Courtesy Phillips.

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (774-1) (1992). Courtesy Phillips.

Phillips’s partnership with Yongle, which follows its successful collaboration with Poly Auction, is the London-headquartered auctioneer’s latest move to grow its market presence in mainland China, despite the country’s economic and socio-political uncertainties under the ongoing zero-Covid policies. But how much of this was achieved during Thursday’s sale remains to be seen as most of the bids came from phone bidders represented by Phillips’s staff, rather than representatives of Yongle. Biddings were slow for many lots as buyers seemed to be taking a long time to think whether they wanted to place the next bid. Overall, the evening saw online biddings from Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Liechtenstein.

The evening’s top lot was Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (774-1) (1992), which was fresh to the secondary market. The work hammered down at HK$75 million ($9.6 million)—below the lower end of its fees-free presale estimate of HK$80 million ($10.3 million)—selling for HK$89.4 million ($11.5 million) with fees. This was followed by Nara’s 1994 painting Nachtwandern, also fresh to the market. It achieved a hammer price of HK$15.5 million, also not meeting the lower end of presale expectations of HK$16 million ($2 million). With fees, the picture sold for HK$19 million ($2.4 million) to an absentee bidder.

Yayoi Kusama, <i>Gold Accumulation (1)</i> (1999), sold for HK$9.9 million ($1.3 million) at Phillips Hong Kong evening sale December 1, 2022. Courtesy Phillips.

Yayoi Kusama, Gold Accumulation (1) (1999), sold for HK$9.9 million ($1.3 million) at Phillips Hong Kong evening sale on December 1, 2022. Courtesy Phillips.

INFINITY-NETS (GMBKA) (2013) by Kusama, who has a retrospective at Hong Kong’s M+ at the moment, went under the hammer for HK$10.2 million ($1.3 million), less than the lower end of its presale estimate of HK$12 million ($1.5 million). With fees, its sale to an online bidder from Malaysia for HK$12.6 million ($1.6 million) represents a 64 percent increase from its previous appearance at auction. In 2019, Philips Hong Kong sold the same work for HK$7.7 million ($985,379).

Split Orbs in gray-brown, yellow, purple and carmine (2021) by Loie Hollowell, one of the favorite western contemporary names at Hong Kong auctions in recent years, hit the auction block just about a year after the piece was exhibited at König Galerie in Berlin. The region’s passion for Hollowell was apparent when a phone bidder suddenly raised the increment from HK$3.2 million to HK$7 million. It hammered down at HK$10 million ($1.3 million), selling for HK$12.4 million ($1.6 million) with fees, which was nearly double the higher end of its presale estimate of HK$6 million ($769,000). It is now the fourth priciest work by Hollowell to be sold at auctions (her top three records were all set at Hong Kong sales).

William Monk, Far-Out III (2013). Courtesy Phillips.

William Monk, Far-Out III (2013). Courtesy Phillips.

Other notable sales include an untitled 84-inch-tall sculpture by Japanese artist Izumi Kato, who currently has his first U.K. solo at Stephen Friedman Gallery in London. The work sold for HK$4.4 million ($566,223), well above the higher end of its HK$2.5 million ($321,000) presale estimate. It is the artist’s biggest and priciest sculpture sold at auction.

Five artists achieved new auction records, including New York-based British painter William Monk, whose Far-Out III (2013) nearly doubled its presale expectations to sell for HK$2.5 million ($323,064). But the other three records set for artists were for works made within the past two years. Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s What’s the Use in Yearning was made in 2021 (sold for HK$3 million; $387,677), Sarah Slappey’s Black Pearls II was created in 2020 (HK$1 million; $129,226), and Trey Abdella’s 2020 painting Sunny Days, which sold for HK$3 million ($129,226), just two years after it debuted at Berlin’s König Galerie. London-based Indian-born, Singapore-educated Raghav Babbar’s 2020 painting Off Duty, sold for HK$5 million ($647,998), nearly 20 times of the higher end of the presale expectations.

Update: This story was updated on December 5. An earlier edition of this story indicated that there were four artist records.

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