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    Hong Kong Spring Sales Show Unexpected Strength

    The strength of demand at Christie’s spring sales in Hong Kong surprised market observers and Christie’s experts alike, particularly in light of the recent weakness in the broader art market.

    NEW YORK—The strength of demand at Christie’s spring sales in Hong Kong surprised market observers and Christie’s experts alike, particularly in light of the recent weakness in the broader art market. In auctions of six categories of paintings and contemporary art held May 24–27, Christie’s took in HK$401.2million ($51.6million). That was below the HK$813.8million ($104.6million) total realized last spring (ANL, 6/10/08). The series also included Chinese ceramics and works of art, jewels, watches and wines, which brought the series total to HK$1.07billion ($137million) .

    Andrew Foster, president, Christie’s Asia, said “This season we saw an art market far stronger than anticipated, and while total sales do not match the early 2008 peak of the market, average lot values this spring exceeded 2008 autumn figures by around 30 percent.”

    Several categories performed relatively well in spite of the economic slowdown. A day sale of Asian contemporary art took in HK$41.4million ($5.3million), and Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art took in HK$20.4million ($2.6million). Modern Chinese paintings brought in a total of HK$68.9million ($8.9million), and classical Chinese paintings and calligraphy took HK$28.6million ($3.7million).

    In the day sale of Chinese 20th-century art on May 25, which totaled HK$59.9million ($7.7million, works by Zao Wou-Ki (b. 1921) took first and second place among the top lots: 25-03-85, 1985, and 09-02-61, 1960, both sold for HK$9.62million ($1.24million) just above their respective high estimates of HK$9million.

    Zao’s work also figured prominently in the evening sale of Asian contemporary art and Chinese ­20th-century art on May 24. The auction totaled HK$182million ($23.4million), and was 89 percent sold by lot, 98 percent by value. Works by Zao included Nous Deux (We Two), 1957, which was bought by an Asian bidder for HK$35.4million ($4.6million), Bateaux au claire de la lune, 1952, which fetched HK$14.1million ($1.8million) and Vent et Poussière (Wind and Dust), 1957, which brought HK$9.6million ($1.2million)—all three sold for prices above their high estimates. The top lot, Cat and Birds, circa 1950s, by Sanyu (1901–66) sold for a record HK$42.1million ($5.42million) against an unpublished estimate in the range of HK$35million, according to Christie’s officials.

    Newfound Confidence

    Eric Chang, Christie’s head of Asian contemporary and Chinese 20th-century art, said, “Tremendous global demand in these categories can be seen both from enthusiastic bidding from international collectors, and from the increase in cross-category and cross-cultural buying, evidenced in the top ten results.”

    In the day sale of Asian contemporary art, Rising Sun, 1999, by Liu Ye (b. 1964) sold for HK$3.3million ($419,562) and Zampa–Golden Zipangu, 2009, by Hiroyuki Matsuura (b. 1964) brought HK$1.94million ($249,678); each sold for almost three times their estimates.

    In the southeast Asian modern and contemporary art category, the vibrantly colored Ni Pollok, by Belgian artist Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès (1880–1958) was sold to a European private collector for HK$3.62million ($465,894), well above the HK$2million/2.4million estimate. Keluarga Kuda (Family of horses), 1952, by Indonesian artist Lee Man Fong (1913–88) was sold for HK$2.2million ($280,566) to an Asian private collector on an estimate of HK$1.2million/1.6million.

    Aggressive bidding pushed the price for Antonio Blanco’s painting Dancer with Drummer, far above the HK$120,000/180,000 estimate to HK$1.58million ($203,346) with premium. The Spanish-born Blanco (1911–99) worked in Bali, Indonesia.

    In the modern Chinese paintings sale, the top lot was The Namo Amitabha Buddha and Calligraphy, a triptych of scrolls by two of the foremost traditional artists of 20th-century China, Qi Baishi and Qi Gong. The lot sold to an Asian private collector for HK$4.6million ($589,446) on an estimate of HK$4 million/5 million.

    Ben Kong, senior vice president and head of Christie’s Chinese paintings department, said that roughly half of the lots sold over the high estimate. The top lots included works by Lin Fengmian (1900–91) and Xu Beihong (1895–1953). Lin’s painting Tranquil Lake in the Autumn, brought HK$2.1million ($265,122), well above the HK$800,000/1million estimate, while Xu’s hanging paper scroll Lion, 1938, sold for HK$3.3million ($419,562), bettering the HK$1.8million/2.2million estimate. Kong said that bidding was “especially strong from mainland China, showing that the demand for works of exceptional quality and rarity remains high there.”

    In the classical paintings section, Kangxi’s Expedition to Southern China, an ink-and-pigment handscroll on silk by Jiao Bingzhen (1606–ca. 1687), fetched HK$5.4million ($697,554), three times the HK$1.5million high estimate.