As protests have roiled Hong Kong over the past few weeks, the art market has continued apace, with major auctions happening over the weekend. On Saturday, in a contemporary art evening sale, Sotheby’s set a new record at auction for Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, known for his depictions of manga-esque children and animals created in the Superflat style, typically appearing somewhere between impish and impudent.
The piece, titled Knife Behind Back (2000), sold for an astounding 195.7 million HKD, or about $24.9 million, soaring past Nara’s previous auction record of $4.45 million, which was set at Christie’s Hong Kong in May for Sleepless Night (Cat), from 1999.
Knife Behind Back features one of Nara’s most recognizable figures, a young girl with a short blunt bob and a red Peter Pan–collared dress, standing defiantly with a frown, as though threatening the viewer not to step any closer—her recourse given away by the piece’s title.
This sale places Nara squarely in the extremely blue-chip, eight-figure prices for a living artist at auction. The next five high-priced lots by Nara have all sold within a range of $3.1 million to $3.4 million, all sold within the past five years, and all sold in Hong Kong.
A number of high-flying sales have come out of Hong Kong this year, most memorably in April, with the sale of KAWS’s The Kaws Album (2005) for an astonishing $14.7 million, over a high-estimate of $1 million. Another KAWS piece sold in this weekend’s Hong Kong auctions, with UNTITLED (KIMPSONS #1), from 2004, selling for 57.87 million HKD, or about $7.38 million, making it the second top lot at Sotheby’s.