$6 Million Basquiat Leads Korean Pop Star T.O.P.’s Curated Sotheby’s Sale

It was a big night at Sotheby's Hong Kong.

South Korean pop star T.O.P. with Nam June Paik, Fat Boy. Courtesy of Sotheby's Hong Kong.

It was a big night at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on October 3, where the curated auction from South Korean pop star Choi Seung Hyun, known as T.O.P., brought in 135,700 HKD ($17.5 million). The house took a gamble with its first curatorial collaboration with a young private collection, but it would seem that the musical superstar’s taste translated to auction success.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Infantry led the pack at the “#TTTOP” sale, bringing in $6 million on an estimate of $3.87 million–5.16 million. This is far less than his auction record, of course. According to the artnet Price Database, Basquiat’s top price at auction is $57.28 million achieved this May at Christie’s New York for an untitled 1982 painting.

Of the 25 lots that found buyers, the vast majority surpassed their high estimates, and only three works (by Andy Warhol, George Condo, and Sigmar Polke) went unsold. According to the house, it was the highest-value sale of Western Art to take place at auction in Hong Kong. A portion of the sale’s proceeds are being donated to the Asian Cultural Council, which provides grants to artists and scholars.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, <em>Infantry</em> (1982), which brought in $6 million at Sotheby's Hong Kong's "#TTOP" sale. Courtesy of Sotheby's Hong Kong.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Infantry (1982), which brought in $6 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s “#TTOP” sale. Courtesy of Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

A member of South Korean musical sensation Big Bang, whose decade-long career led the Hollywood Reporter to declare them “the biggest boy band in the world,” T.O.P. is also, as he says, “an eclectic collector.”

“I am not biased (or concentrated) to only collect one specific artist’s works, but always seeking to find new artists from many countries,” T.O.P. told artnet News in an email, listing Mark Grotjahn, Rudolf Stingel, Mark Bradford, and Gerhard Richter as among his favorites.

“I select works simply by their ‘beauty’, how much of a new concept it consists, how much of beauty it expresses, and how convincing it is for me,” the singer added. “An art work should always be new and beautiful.”

With that in mind, T.O.P. set about curating the auction with the goal of amassing “a never-before-attempted combination of artworks from differing eras, genres and cultures—a rare juxtaposition of contrasting styles and messages,” he explained in a statement, noting that he feels a responsibility to bring more arts and culture to the young people of Asia. “I sought works of relatively unknown, talented artists to feature alongside masterpieces by blue-chip artists, from both Asia and the West.”

Naoki Tomita, <em>View (T.O.P.)</em>. The painting went for $29,000 at Sotheby's Hong Kong's "#TTOP" sale. Courtesy of Sotheby's Hong Kong.

Naoki Tomita, View (T.O.P.). The painting went for $29,000 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s “#TTOP” sale. Courtesy of Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

To that end, T.O.P. commissioned Naoki Tomita, a young Japanese painter who finished his master’s at Tokyo University of the Arts in 2015, to create an oil painting based on one of the singer’s Instagram posts. The auction house described the resulting painting, View (T.O.P.), as “a twice-reconstructed outlook of an ordinary city street, first through the lens of T.O.P’s smartphone, then via Tomita’s singular and accomplished painterly expression.”

The painting sold for $29,000, compared to a high estimate of $10,300. Other top lots on the night included an untitled Stingel ($2 million), Richter’s Abstraktes Bild ($1.56 million), and Lee Ufan’s With Winds ($1.4 million). Nam June Paik’s Fat Boy, a 1997 sculpture of vintage TV cabinets and monitors, sold for $552,000.

Yuki Terase, a contemporary Asian art specialist at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, told CNN that the artistic range represented in the sale is reflective of how young collectors in Asia think about their acquisitions. “They don’t collect according to categories, culture, or schools of thought, they just collect what appeals to them aesthetically. So, it’s very personal. T.O.P. is not bound by any books or series of how the collection should be.”

“As an actor and musician, my job is to be observant, sensitive to sounds and sights,” T.O.P. added. “I realized that the same is true of curating: my goal is to create a new experience for audiences, for them to feel something different.”

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