World Records Tumble at Hong Kong Auctions

Sotheby's and Christie's are making a fortune in Asia as market continues to grow.

Liu Xiaodong "Disobeying the Rules" (1996) sold for $8.49 million, a new record for the artist.
Zao Wou-Ki's 1995 work “Debut d'Octobre”  sparked a bidding war at Sotheby's Hong Kong, finally selling for $7.63 million. (courtesy Sotheby's Hong Kong)

Zao Wou-Ki, Debut d’Octobre (1995) sparked a bidding war at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, finally selling for $7.63 million. Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong

If the Hong Kong protests had any effect on the art market at all, it hasn’t shown at the blockbuster contemporary Asian art sales that have been taking place in the city this week (see “Hong Kong Protests Panic Auction Houses on Eve of Sales“). “The protests definitely kept some people away, but at the highest levels for the best work, it didn’t keep people from bidding,” Hong Kong-based art adviser Jehan Chu told artnet News.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s had a heavyweight showdown on October 5. In the afternoon, an Asian private collector won Liu Ye’s Yuan Yuan at Christie’s for $409,220, nearly double its pre-sale estimate (all prices in USD). The auction was the first time that Christie’s Hong Kong paired their “Asia+” contemporary Asian art offerings with their “First Open” sale of Western modern and contemporary offerings. Overall the reception was lukewarm, with only 65 percent of lots sold by volume.

Collectors were quite possibly saving their appetite for the wide range of museum-quality works at Sotheby’s that evening, where nine world records were set. The sale totaled $78.91 million, with the house selling 80 percent by volume. Liu Xiaodong’s Disobeying the Rules (1996) sold for a $8.5 million (estimate on request), breaking the artists previous world record of $8 million set for Battlefield realism: The eighteen arhats (set of 18) (2004) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2008. According to the artnet Price Database, Disobeying the Rules (1996) was last sold at Poly Auction in December 2010 for $5.5 million.

Fang Lijun’s Series 2 No. 4 (1992) sold for $7.6 million, nearly double its $3.24.5 million estimate. It was one of the sale’s 37 fresh-to-market works culled from the collection of Guy and Myriam Ullens de Schooten. According to the artnet Price Database, the artist’s previous record was set in November 2007 at Sotheby’s New York for a work from the same series, which sold for $4 million.

A work by the late master Zao Wou-Ki also sparked a bidding war Sunday night. Debut d’Octobre (1955) had been in the possession of a single family since it was purchased nearly 50 years ago from New York’s Kootz Gallery. On Sunday, the painting brought $7.6 million (estimate: $3.24.5 million).

Liu Xiaodong "Disobeying the Rules" (1996) sold for $8.49 million, a new record for the artist.

Liu Xiaodong Disobeying the Rules (1996) sold for $8.49 million, a new record for the artist
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Sotheby’s senior specialist for contemporary Asian art, Jonathan Wong observed after the sale that, while museum-quality works never disappoint, work by young artists also did remarkably well. Jia Aili’s oil on canvas Wasteland Series No.1 (2009) fetched $1.51 million (estimate: $413,000515,000). And Wang Guangle’s ultra-minimalist work Terrazzo 2004. 1. 1 – 2004. 2. 5 (2004) sold for $697,000, far above its $129,000193,000 estimate.

“Auction houses are under pressure to come up with new high quality works; audiences have to feel surprised with new material available each sale,” said contemporary art dealer Meg Maggio who owns Pekin Fine Arts. She attended the “art marathon” over the weekend and was excited to see that non-traditional works of photography, video, and mixed-media were also part of the auction line-up. According to Maggio, Chinese auction giants China Guardian and Poly Auction “make Christie’s and Sotheby’s plenty nervous.”

China Guardian achieved $44.23 million over two days of sales of everything from ceramics to classical and contemporary paintings, while Poly Auction achieved $40 million on their first day alone. Still, these numbers are far from Sotheby’s where just 50 lots at a single evening sale brought in $78.9 million.

Jia Aili "Wasteland Series No. 1" (2009) (courtesy Sotheby's Hong Kong)

Jia Aili, Wasteland Series No. 1 (2009)
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Confirming its status as a white-hot category, modern and contemporary Southeast Asian works did particularly well at Sotheby’s. Lee Man Fong’s Bali Life (1974) sold for $4.32 million (estimate on request). According to the artnet Price Database, a similar work of the same title sold for $3.24 million in April 2010, a result that setting a record for Southeast Asian artists at the time. “In this increasingly sophisticated market. Collectors are willing to push past pre-sale estimates to get their coveted pieces of art, especially ones with impeccable provenance and [that] are fresh to the market,” says Mok Kim Chuan, Sotheby’s Head of Southeast Asian Paintings Department.

Modern Filipino master Anita Magsaysay-Ho surprised by fetching $1.24 million on a $645,000–1,000,000 pre-sale estimate for Paghuhuli Ng Mga Manok (Catching Chickens) (1962), a record for the artist. Meanwhile, contemporary Chinese ink paintings continue to be a consistently strong and growing category in the region, achieving $3.2 million from 52 lots sold at Sotheby’s on October 6. Just three lots went unsold.

Lee Man Fong "Bali Life" (1974) fetched $4.32 million at Sotheby's Hong Kong.

Lee Man Fong, Bali Life (1974) fetched $4.32 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong

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