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Sotheby’s $227M Asian Sales Sprint Past Last Year’s Total

A spirited sale of modern and contemporary art kicked off Sotheby’s four-day spring sale of Asian art in Hong Kong from April 8-11.

NEW YORK—A spirited sale of modern and contemporary art kicked off Sotheby’s four-day spring sale of Asian art in Hong Kong from April 8-11. The entire series took $227.5 million, way exceeding the year-ago total of $135.3 million (ANL, 5/1/07).

This year’s individual totals included Chinese ceramics and works of art ($97.17 million), Chinese contemporary art ($51.73 million), fine Chinese paintings ($19.1 million), watches ($9.45 million) and jewels and jadeite ($37.94 million).

The auctioneer included a new category this season: modern and contemporary Southeast Asian paintings that featured lots of Filipino, Indo-European, Malaysian, Singaporean and Thai paintings. In all, the sale fetched $9.74 million. Works from the inaugural-theme sale of Vietnamese paintings, part of the Philip Ng Collection, totaled $2.48 million.

Estella Trove Fetches $17.9M

On April 9 the first offering of the Estella Collection of Chinese contemporary art, comprising more than 108 works ranging in date from 1966-2006, and including seminal pieces by both prominent and emerging artists—raced past its $12 million high estimate to realize $17.9 million. The collection was assembled on behalf of a group of investors by art dealer Michael Goedhuis and later acquired jointly by Sotheby’s and Acquavella Galleries. The balance of the collection will be offered at Sotheby’s New York next fall, the auction house says.

Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: The Big Family No. 3, 1995, was acquired by a Taiwanese bidder for a record $6.1 million, far past its $3.5 million high estimate.

Also setting a record was Xu Bing’s The Living Word, 2001—an installation that depicts Chinese characters rising from the printed page and taking flight as birds—which fell to an Indonesian collector for $976,499, comfortably past its $515,000 high estimate.

The sale was 97 percent sold by value, 91 percent by lot. Evelyn Lin, head of the Sotheby’s contemporary Chinese art department, says the results point to “a market that is gaining in sophistication as collectors move beyond paintings and sculpture to compete in categories such as videos and installations.”

The contemporary Chinese art sale totaled $33.8 million. A record was set for neorealist artist Liu Xiaodong when Battlefield Realism: The Eighteen Arhats (set of 18), in oil on canvas, was bought by an Asian collector for $7.95 million. The work represents nine pairs of life-size paintings, each showing a Taiwanese soldier juxtaposed with a soldier from mainland China—a commentary on political issues. Guo Bochuan’s oil The Forbidden City, 1946, sold for a record $3.49 million (although the HK$27.2 million price was below the HK$30 million low estimate). Yue Minjun’s Take the Plunge, 2002, a series of laughing self-portraits in acrylic on canvas, sold right on its high estimate of $2.62 million.

In the modern and contemporary Southeast Asian category (93.5 percent sold by lot, 97.9 percent by value), two auction records were set for Indonesian artists: Nyoman Masriadi, for his Jago Kandang, which fetched $370,668, 14 times the high estimate of $27,500; and Rudi Mantofani, for Cakrawala Warna #3, which earned $293,646, 11 times the high estimate $27,500.

The top lot, Buyansee, by Walter Spies, won $703,403. Mok Kim Chuan, head of Sotheby’s Southeast Asian paintings department, says the sale offered “an international platform to attract new collectors and [other] buyers.”

In the Vietnamese section, records were set for three artists: Le Pho, for Vierge à l’enfant, which went to a private bidder for $309,051 at three times the high estimate $83,400; Vu Cao Dam, whose Conversation d’élégantes au jardin fell to a private Asian buyer for $262,838; and Pham Hau, whose Alentours du fleuve rouge, Tonkin, took $247,433, nearly twice the high estimate of $128,400.

Lacquer Paintings Attract Buyers

Another record price was set for artist Bui Xuan Phai when his Cheo Actors sold for $124,198. Sotheby’s Mok Kim Chuan points to a strong interest in lacquer painting, a particular specialty of Vietnamese painters; he suggests that new Hong Kong and European buyers were “responding to the opportunity” to buy these works in Hong Kong.

Among the top ten Chinese paintings was Zhang Daqian’s Cross-Island Highway, Taiwan—in splashed ink and color on paper, framed—which brought $1.07 million (estimate: $513,500/770,200). Fu Baoshi’s 1947 Lady by the Willow Tree—in ink and color on paper, framed—tripled the high $154,000 estimate to sell for $478,500.

Said C.K. Cheung, head of the Sotheby’s fine Chinese paintings department: “There was frenzied bidding for Fu Baoshi’s paintings [offered] from a French private collection that had been off the market since the 1940s.”

Lü Shoukun’s Zen, 1974, set a record for the artist at $219,038. And yet another Baoshi painting—Garden Fete, 1945, in ink and color on paper, framed—realized $570,926, seven times the $77,000 high estimate.

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