Work of the Week: Yoshitomo Nara’s ‘I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight’

Consigned by Joseph Lau, the work fetched $12.3 million at Sotheby's.

Yoshitomo Nara, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (2017). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, a large-scale acrylic on canvas work by the famed Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, was one of the top lots at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Modern and contemporary art evening sale on April 5, where it hammered at $10.3 million, just above its low estimate. It sold for a total of $12.3 million, including fees, to a phone bidder represented by Simon Stock from Sotheby’s London office.

The work graced the cover of Nara’s 2020 eponymous monograph, written by Hong Kong-based art historian and curator Yeewan Koon, and was exhibited at high-profile shows at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Yuz Museum in Shanghai, and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The sale marked its auction debut; it was first sold at Pace Gallery to a private collection in the U.K. before it was acquired by the current owner, who is believed to be Hong Kong property tycoon Joseph Lau, according to sources.

The mega collector is Hong Kong’s eighth richest man with an estimated $13.1 billion fortune, according to Forbes, which he has used to amass a trove of blue-chip artworks and precious gems. While the fugitive financier is known for his business dealings, it is witty comments on society and the economy—and the rumors surrounding his private affairs and—that have increased his renown.

Chan Hoi-wan and her husband Joseph Lau. Photo courtesy of Christie's Asia Pacific.

Chan Hoi-wan and her husband Joseph Lau. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Asia Pacific.

In November, he spoke at an impromptu press conference to defend his wife, Kimbee Chan Hoi-wan, a former entertainment reporter, from attacks alleging that Chan had lost him billions of dollars in bad investment. “I must clarify that Chan Hoi-wan has never made me lose any money. She has brought me HK$20 billion ($2.6 billion) in return from investing in art,” Lau told the media at the presser, adding that it was his own responsibility if he had lost any money from investment. The recordings of this press conference attracted tens of thousands of hits online afterwards. 

How the sale of I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight may be related to the power couple’s latest investment plans is unknown. But his company, Chinese Estates Holdings, is investing $523 million in a redevelopment project in London, which will include a commercial high-rise and a historic building that will be transformed into the home of the first Joseph Lau Art Gallery to showcase his private collection.

Sotheby’s Hong Kong set the auction record for Nara when Knife Behind Back sold for $25 million in October 2019. According to the Artnet Price Database, Nara was ranked number 21 among the top selling artists in 2023, up three places from 2022, but total sales value was down by nearly 11 percent, from $98.9 million in 2022 to $88 million in 2023.

Work of the Week is excerpted from The Back Room, our lively recap funneling only the week’s must-know art industry intel into a nimble read you’ll actually enjoy. Artnet News Pro members get exclusive access—subscribe now to receive this in your inbox every Friday.

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