ARTnewsletter Archive

Demand for Contemporary Art Cools at Christie’s Hong Kong Sales

Modern and contemporary Asian art yielded uneven results at Christie's series of sales in Hong Kong in late November.

NEW YORK—Modern and contemporary Asian art yielded uneven results at Christie’s series of sales in Hong Kong in late November. While more traditional collecting categories, such as Chinese modern paintings and Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art, fared relatively well, yielding sold-by-lot and sold-by-value rates above 70 percent, contemporary Asian art in particular saw a sharp decline in demand. Christie’s sale of Asian contemporary art on Nov. 30 realized HK$65.9million ($8.5million), less than half its projected value. Of 32 lots on offer, just 18, or 56 percent, found buyers.

The results were hardly surprising given the current global economic turmoil and the rapid escalation in prices for Chinese contemporary art in recent seasons. On the other hand, the top lot of the sale, Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No. 2, 1995, sold for HK$26.4million ($3.4million), indicating that there is still solid demand for an artist whose prices have skyrocketed into seven figures in a short period of time.

The second-highest lot was Liu Ye’s painting Composition in Red, Yellow and Blue, 1997, which sold to an Asian collector for HK$7.2million ($931,380) on an estimate of HK$6.5mil­lion/9.5million.

Liu Wei’s 1994 painting Swimmers ’94 sold for HK$4.6million ($590,820) against an estimate of HK$4.6million/5.4million, also to an Asian collector. Cai Guo-Qiang’s Project No. 143–The Mark of 921, 2000, an installation of gunpowder on paper on wood panels (estimate: HK$3.5million/5.5million), sold for HK$4.2million ($544,380).

A U.S. dealer acquired an untitled 2005 painting of pots and pans by Subodh Gupta for HK$3.6million ($466,980), just clearing the low estimate of HK$3.5million with premium. An unidentified European institution bought an untitled 2001 painting by Tetsuya Ishida, which sold for HK$2.9million ($374,100) on an estimate of HK$2million/3million).

Christie’s evening sale of 20th-century Chinese art, also held on Nov. 30, realized HK$74.7million ($9.6 million) with 22 lots offered. Only ten of the lots found buyers, but by value the sale was 64 percent sold. The top lot of the sale, Zao Wou-Ki’s painting Hommage à Tou-Fou, 1956, accounted for more than half the total, bringing HK$45.5million ($5.9million), a new record for the artist. Another painting by Zao, 23-1-60, 1960, realized HK$1.9million ($250,260) on an estimate of HK$1.2million/2million).

The second-highest price of the sale was the HK$8.4million ($1.1million) paid by an Asian collector for Sanyu’s Potted Chrysanthemums, circa 1940s–50s, a dark-toned floral still life (estimate: HK$3million/5million).

Artist records were also set for Yun Gee, whose Old Broadway in Winter, circa 1930–40, sold for HK$5.8million ($745,620), and for Yu Chengyao, whose Magnificent Landscape, 1984, sold for HK$5.8million ($745,620).

Christie’s sale of Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art realized HK$28.5million ($3.7million). Of 114 lots offered, 84, or 75 percent, were sold. By value, the auction was 88 percent sold. The top lot was Las Damas Romanas (Roman Maidens), by Filipino painter Juan Luna (1857–1899), which sold for HK$4.7million ($606,300), far below the low estimate of HK$8million. Works by Indonesian artist I.Nyoman Masriadi (b. 1973) figured prominently in the high end of the sale, with four works landing in the top ten. Marathon, a large mixed media on canvas estimated at HK$800,000/1.6million, sold for HK$2.1million ($265,740). Works by Indonesian artists Han­diwirman Sahputra (b. 1975) and Budi Kustarto (b. 1972) also sold above estimate.

Ruoh-Ling Keong, vice president and head of the Southeast Asian and contemporary art department, said that “private collectors continue to be the primary force on the market, collecting masterworks against a backdrop of a difficult economic climate.” In total, the five-day Hong Kong series, which included sales of jewels, classical paintings, calligraphy and watches, realized HK$1.13billion ($146million).