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    Asian Contemporary Art a Bright Spot at Subdued Hong Kong Sales

    Sotheby’s spring sales of Asian paintings, held in Hong Kong April 5–6, were not as robust as those in recent seasons.

    NEW YORK—Sotheby’s spring sales of Asian paintings, held in Hong Kong April 5–6, were not as robust as those in recent seasons. This year’s sales totaled HK$317.33million ($40.6 million); the spring series a year ago took in HK$1.78billion ($227.5million) and in 2007, the total was HK$1.06 billion ($135.3million). However, some high prices, including several records, were posted for contemporary Chinese art, defying recent reports that this market has all but collapsed. The auctions also had solid sold-by-volume and sold-by-value rates that came as a surprise to some observers.

    This year’s offerings included Chinese paintings, which took HK$129.77million ($16.6million); 20th-century Chinese art, which realized HK$92.7million ($11.9million); contemporary Asian art, which totaled HK$66.4million ($8.5million); and modern and contemporary Southeast Asian paintings, which brought in HK$28.44million ($3.6million)

    The auction of contemporary Asian art on April 6 was 74 percent sold by lot, 81.4 percent by value. A work by Chinese-born French conceptual artist Huang Yongping (b. 1954) scored a new auction record. Sixty-Year Cycle Chariot, 1999–2000, of copper, iron, wood and cloth, sold for HK$3.4million ($432,539), twice the HK$1.5million high estimate. A work by Chinese sculptor Sui Jianguo (b. 1956) also set a record: Legacy Mantle, 2005, a sculpture of a jacket cast in iron, sold for HK$3.14million ($401,826) on an estimate of HK$2.5million/3.5million. Yayoi Kusama’s painted ­fiber-reinforced-plastic Pumpkin, 2007, sold for HK$2.72million ($348,078), a record for a sculpture by the artist (estimate: HK$1.5million/2million).

    The top lot was an untitled 2006 oil by Zhang Xiaogang, which sold for HK$4.8million ($616,815) against an estimate of HK$4million/5.5million). Yue Minjun’s oil Armed Forces, 2005, was sold for HK$4.6million ($586,103), within the HK$3.5million/5.5million estimate. Evelyn Lin, Sotheby’s head of contemporary Asian art, said bidders came “from all over Asia as well as Europe and America.”

    The auction of Chinese paintings on April 5 was 89.2 percent sold by lot, 96 percent by value. The top lot was Drunken Monk, 1943, a hanging scroll by Fu Baoshi (1904–65), which was sold to an Asian collector for HK$6.26million ($801,092), well above the high estimate of HK$5million.

    The ink and pigment on paper Mount Jiuhua, 1979, by Li Keran (1907–89) was sold for HK$3.9million ($493,964), and Flowers and Insects by Qi Baishi (1864–1957) was bought for HK$3.62million ($463,251). C.K. Cheung, Sotheby’s head of Chinese paintings, called the results “an encouraging sign for the market that quality works are highly sought after.”

    The auction of 20th-century Chinese art on April 6 was 80 percent sold by lot, 98 percent by value. Two artist records were set: the first for Lin Fengmian (1900–91), whose oil painting Fishing Harvest, circa late 1950s–early 1960s, sold for HK$16.34million ($2.1million) on an estimate of HK$3million/3.5million, and the second for Zhu Yuanzhi (Yun Gee, 1906–63), whose oil-on-silk mounted on board The Last Supper, circa early 1930s, was bought by an Asian dealer for HK$6.02million ($770,379), well above the estimate of HK$2.5million/3.5million. The latter was originally commissioned by St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in the Bronx, New York, and had been believed lost until it was rediscovered in a U.S. private collection.

    Freshness to the market played a role in the strong prices. Lily Lee, Sotheby’s head of 20th-century Chinese Art, said eight of the top ten works had never appeared at auction before.

    The auction of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art on April 5 was 76.8 percent sold by lot, 86 percent by value. Indonesian painter I.Nyoman Masriadi (b. 1973) led the field with Negosiasi (Negotiation), 2008—an homage to director Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, the artist’s favorite movie—selling for HK$1.7million ($217,950) against an estimate of HK$600,000/800,000. Another work by Masriadi, Ingin Menang Harus Curang (Want to Win, Must Cheat), 2001, an acrylic-on-canvas depicting an illegal tackle in a soccer game, sold for HK$1.6million ($202,564). Both works sold to private Asian buyers, according to Sotheby’s.

    Oh Boy, 2009, an oil painting, by Filipino artist Ronald Ventura (b. 1973), sold for HK$836,000 ($107,179), four times the high estimate of HK$180,000. Mok Kim Chuan, Sotheby’s head of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian paintings, said that there were “exceptional prices achieved for top-quality paintings by masters,” adding that this market “remains vibrant” and ­noting interest from U.S. and European collectors.