On Monday, Christie’s held its Hong Kong 20th and 21st century art evening sale across two sessions at the city’s convention and exhibition center. Led by auctioneer Georgina Hilton, the five-hour-long event brought a hammer total of HKD 1.3 billion ($170.6 million, or $204.2 million with premium), landing well above the HKD 1.1 billion ($141.7 million) low estimate. The sale realized a successful 97 percent sell-through rate across 72 lots.
But the excitement came to a halt shortly after the sale ended, when a single-lot sale of Xu Beihong’s painting Slave and Lion (1924) followed. Estimated at HKD 350 million ($45 million), it failed to find a buyer. The Chinese artist last sold a painting in 2006 for $53 million.
Still, the Christie’s sale showed healthy demand driving the market in Hong Kong. Sixty percent of the lots sold above their high estimates, 30 percent sold for within their ranges, and 10 percent came in under their low estimates. The evening sale also notched new records for Loie Hollowell, Avery Singer, Kim Tschang-Yeul, and Christine Ay Tjoe.
The leading lot was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 painting Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face), which carried an estimate of HKD 140 million ($18 million). Bidding started at HKD 120 million ($15.5 million) and slowly picked up as bids came in from people on the phone with Francis Belin, president of Christie’s Asia; Eric Chang, chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art in Hong Kong; and Alex Rotter, New York chairman of 20th and 21st century art. After a 10-minute long bidding war, the hammer went down at HKD 202 million ($26 million), for a final price of $30.2 million, with Belin’s client as the winner.
The seller of the Basquiat purchased it during a Sotheby’s contemporary art sale in London in 2017 for $14.6 million, well below its estimate of $17.4 million—a bargain price, compared to the sums similar works by the artist tend to command and nearly half the price it sold for at Christie’s Hong Kong sale. In 2017, it came to the market after two decades in private hands, having last sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1987 for $23,100.
The painting’s success on the block follows the sales of Basquiat’s paintings In This Case (1983) and Versus Medici (1982), both of which topped $50 million at this month’s marquee auctions in New York. Those works now rank among the artist’s top ten auction records. Several weeks prior, another Basquiat painting from 1982, Warrior, went under the hammer at Christie’s Hong Kong in March and realized a price of HKD 323.6 million ($41.7 million), setting a new auction record for a work by a Western artist in Asia.
Still, work by familiar names at Asian auctions provided solid results at Christie’s on Monday. A 1950s abstracted mountain landscape by Chinese painter Zhang Daqian sold to a buyer in the salesroom for HKD 209.1 million ($27 million) with premium; it had last sold at auction in 2010 for HKD 61.1 million ($7.9 million). Chinese-French modernist Sanyu, typically a star at Asian auctions, was represented by a painting of blue-stemmed pink chrysanthemums. Five bidders drove the hammer price up to HKD 101 million ($13 million), going to a buyer on the phone with Hong Kong modern and contemporary art specialist Ada Tsui for a final price of HKD 118.6 million ($15.3 million).
Liu Ye, who gained representation at David Zwirner in 2019, is also a top seller in Asia. At the Christie’s sale, his painting Hope No. 1 (2000), depicting his signature child-like protagonists in sailor’s uniforms against a red sky, was a hit. It sold for a double-estimate HKD 10.4 million ($1.3 million), more than three times the $385,000 paid by its seller in 2008 at Sotheby’s. As of late, the artist’s more recent images of nude women have also accrued a following among collectors. One such work from 2007 came with a third-party guarantee and sold for a final price of HKD 16.4 million ($2.1 million), against an HKD 10 million ($1.2 million) low estimate.
A new record was set for Kim Tschang-Yeul, a renowned Korean painter who died this past January. His 1978 painting of water drops sold for a hammer price of $1 million, against an estimate of $618,000. On the heels of a recently opened show at White Cube’s Hong Kong outpost, Indonesian artist Christine Ay Tjoe also saw her record fall, with her painting Layers with More Circles (2011) selling for HKD $11 million ($1.42 million), against an estimate of HKD 5.5 million ($708,000).
Works by a group of in-demand emerging women artists surpassed expectations. Julie Curtiss’s 2019 painting Triplette (Triplet), featuring three nude female figures, each one’s face covered by tresses of silky hair, attracted aggressive bidding. Sold from a private Asian collection, the work hammered at HKD 1.9 million ($245,000), three times its estimate of HKD 700,000 ($90,000). Loie Hollowell’s Yellow Canyon Over Red Ground (2016) hammered at HKD $3.5 million ($451,000), six times its low estimate of HKD 500,000 ($64,400). A 2019 painting titled An Evening Portrait by Genieve Figgis, a staple at the Hong Kong contemporary art sales, hammered at HKD 1.3 million ($167,000), quintupling its HKD $1.3 million ($25,800) estimate.
Despite a strong track record for each of these market stars in the Hong Kong auctions, Christie’s specialists assigned conservative low estimates to these works—a strategy used to draw competitive bidding and drive up hammer prices. Still, the results for Curtiss, Figgis and Hollowell were just below their respective auction records.
Elsewhere, ascending stars like Amoako Boafo, Salman Toor, and Matthew Wong whose markets have maintained momentum in the past year since their auction debuts, saw favorable results. Boafo’s portrait Justine Mendy (2018) sold for a hammer price of HKD 7 million ($915,000), more than nine times the estimate of HKD 800,000 ($100,000). Toor’s The Burden (2015), a work similar to the painting that set his record, sold for HKD 3.5 million ($451,000), more than quadrupling its estimate of HKD 800,000 ($103,000). Wong’s Night 2 (2018) hammered at HKD 25 million ($3.2 million), three times the low estimate of HKD 6.8 million ($876,000).