On Thursday night, Sotheby’s held a modern and contemporary art evening sale in Hong Kong that brought in a hammer total of HKD 712 million ($91.7 million), or HKD 839 million with premium ($108.2 million). Guest-curated by Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou, it exceeded its pre-sale low estimate of HKD 617.9 million ($36.6 million), which is calculated without the buyer’s premium.
Led by Sotheby’s auctioneer, Ian McGinlay, all 46 works offered in the auction sold to new owners. Four of the lots came secured with irrevocable bids, including those by Richard Prince, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Frank Stella and Avery Singer. Altogether, these works hammered above their collected low estimate of HKD 365.8 million ($47 million), raking in HKD 387.4 million ($49.9 million or $62 million with premium), accounting for 57 percent of the sale’s premium total.
These results reflect the growing force of the Asian buyers in the market. In an interview after the sale, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Asia, Yuki Terase, whose final sale this was before her departure at the end of the month, told ARTnews that the market in the region has adapted drastically since the beginning of her decade-long tenure at Sotheby’s. “You could see how enthusiastic Asian clients were in the saleroom and I think that demonstrates the market here right now,” she said. Terase explained that when she first began her role, the market for contemporary art was only in its nascence. “It was more premature, a lot of people were not so certain about offering great Western pieces in Hong Kong auctions.”
Thursday’s sale was assembled with a selection of strategic lots that combined brand names—Yoshitomo Nara, Yayoi Kusma, Gerhard Richter and Adrien Ghenie—with young artists experiencing rising international markets—Loie Hollowell, and Japanese painter Yukimasa Ida—who achieved new auction records.
The centerpiece of the sale was a triptych painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat featured behind the artist on the 1985 cover of The New York Times Magazine—a story that confirmed the artist’s stardom—for HKD 289 million ($37.2 million) with buyer’s premium on Thursday. The untitled triptych is now the eighth most expensive Basquiat work sold at auction.
It went to a buyer on the phone with Sotheby’s Asia chairman Nicholas Chow, hammering at HKD 250 million ($32.2 million), below its HKD 255 million ($32.8 million) low estimate, amid a silent auction room.
Next up was Richard Prince’s Runaway Nurse (2005-2006), from the Pictures Generation artist’s seminal Nurse paintings series. The guaranteed work set a new record for the artist at HKD 94 million ($12.1 million), against an estimate of HKD 75 million ($9.6 million). It attracted several bidders in Asia, most of whom, Terase said, had not competed for or privately bought a work by Prince through Sotheby’s before. The consignor, Japanese mega-collector Yusaku Maezawa paid $9.7 million for the painting at Christie’s in 2016, which was the artist’s previous record; he received $10.3 million for it today.
Adrian Ghenie’s pink abstraction Pie Fight Interior 9 (2013) was among the few works to resurface at auction. The seller originally purchased it at Christie’s in May 2015 for $1.6 million, where it was estimated at $800,000. Back with an estimate of $2.8 million, it attracted bids from Hong Kong and New York, hammering at its low estimate and going for a final price of $3.5 million.
Also among the top sellers was Pablo Picasso’s painting Buste d’homme (1969), a tribute to Vincent van Gogh, which hammered at an above-estimate HKD 80 million ($10.3 million or $12.6 million with premium), going to a phone bidder represented by Carrie Li, Sotheby’s senior specialist of Chinese Works of Art. The seller purchased it from Las Vegas real estate mogul Steve Wynn.
Gerhard Richter’s vibrant abstract canvas Abstraktes Bild (522-1) from 1983 drew bidders from Hong Kong and New York. The hammer fell within its estimate at HKD $19 million ($2.5 million, with a final price of $3.1 million). In 2016, it sold at Christie’s for $1.7 million.
Meanwhile, Loie Hollowell’s 2018 canvas Linked Lingams hammered at HKD 13.5 million ($1.7 million), four times the estimate of HK 3 million ($386,000) which marks a new auction record for the artist’s work. The result surpassed Hollowell’s previous record price of HKD 10.9 million ($1.4 million) paid for her 2018 canvas First Contact at Phillips and China’s Poly auction joint sale in Bejing and Hong Kong earlier this month.
While the pandemic continues to stall business operations in many parts of the world, the Asian art market continues to thrive. According to Terase, Thursday’s evening sale provides proof that top consignors are seeking exposure for high caliber works in Hong Kong sales. “It’s fascinating how fast this market has expanded,” Terase said. “This collaboration with Jay really ends on a high note.”