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.