NEW YORK—Overall volume was down at Sotheby’s series of fall sales held Oct. 4–8 in Hong Kong, to $140.74 million from $200 million last year (ANL, 10/30/08). Asian contemporary art has been one of the fastest-rising areas of the market in recent years, but demand was decidedly more selective this season, with higher numbers of unsold lots. In all, fine art, including modern and contemporary Southeast Asian art and contemporary Chinese art, Chinese paintings and 20th-century Chinese art accounted for about $56 million of the total.
The modern and contemporary Asian art evening sale on Oct. 4 fetched a total of HK$117 million ($15.1 million). Of 47 lots on offer, 28, or 60 percent, found buyers. By value the auction realized less than half of its presale estimate. Sotheby’s specialist Evelyn Lin said “the market for Chinese contemporary art has experienced unprecedented growth over the past five years . . . and it is not surprising that there will be some leveling off, which is also what we experienced this evening, in addition to some estimates which were overly optimistic.”
Records for Masriadi, Suwage
On the other hand, Lin noted strong prices and several records for Indonesian artists, including Affandi (1907–1990), I. Nyoman Masriadi (b. 1973) and Agus Suwage (b. 1959).
Works by top-selling Chinese artists nonetheless dominated the high end of the sale, albeit at prices that were more in line with estimates, especially when compared with other recent auction results. The top lot was Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No. 1, a work from the artist’s signature series, which sold to a European collector for HK$23.1 million ($2.96 million) on an estimate of HK$20 million/25 million. That was followed by Cai Guo-Qiang’s Eagle and Eye in the Sky: People, gunpowder and ink on an eight-panel paper screen, which sold for HK$17.5 million ($2.2 million) on an estimate of HK$12 million/16 million.
A record was set for Liu Ye (b. 1964) when an untitled 1997–98 oil painting by the artist fetched HK$12.98 million ($1.7 million) against an estimate of HK$9 million/14 million. A record for Masriadi (which would be broken the following day) was set with the HK$4.8 million ($620,382) paid by an Asian collector for a cartoonish depiction of superheroes Batman and Superman, Sorry Hero, Saya Lupa (Sorry Hero, I Forgot), 2008, far surpassing the estimate of HK$380,000/580,000. And Affandi’s oil painting Times Square, New York, 1962, brought a record HK$3.4 million ($435,040) on an estimate of HK$1.6 million/2.2 million.
Yoshitomo Nara’s acrylic on paper, Northern Light, 2000, also surpassed expectations, selling for HK$3.86 million ($496,821) against an estimate of HK$1.9 million/2.7 million. I Like My Man Covered Too, by Indian artists Thukral & Tagra (Jiten Thukral, b. 1976, and Sumir Tagra, b. 1979), sold for HK$1.8 million ($234,252) against a HK$800,000/1.2 million estimate. Zara Porter Hill, Sotheby’s head of modern and contemporary South Asian art, noted a “high level of bidding in the room from a completely new group of buyers.”
The contemporary Chinese art day sale on Oct. 5, which featured lower-priced material, took in HK$90.5 million ($11.65 million) and achieved considerably stronger sold-by-lot and sold-by-value rates than the modern and contemporary Asian sale the night before. Of 187 works on offer, 150, or 80 percent, were sold. By value, the auction was 74 percent sold.
Yue Minjun’s untitled 1990–91 oil painting of figures doubled over with laughter in Tiananmen Square topped the sale, bringing HK$6.6 million ($852,060) on an estimate of HK$6 million/8 million, followed by an untitled 2005 oil painting by Zeng Fanzhi, which sold for HK$5.06 million ($651,273), also within its estimate of HK$4.8 million/5.5 million. Lin noted “a very high percentage of lots that sold within or above their high estimates,” with “spirited bidding before the packed saleroom throughout the session.”
On Oct. 6, an auction of modern and contemporary Southeast Asian paintings also yielded solid results. The sale achieved a total of HK$71.6 million ($9.2 million) for 163 lots on offer; of these, 139, or 85 percent, were sold. On a value basis, the auction was 92 percent sold. The previous day’s record for a work by Masriadi was broken when The Man From Bantul (The Final Round), 2000, sold for HK$7.8 million ($1.2 million), several times its HK$1 million/1.5 million estimate.
Specialist Mok Kim Chuan said “new buyers crossing over from other collecting categories had a significant presence” in the sale, notably at the top end. The top price was HK$9.4 million ($1.2 million) for the painting Heimkehrende Javaner (Javanese Returning Home), circa 1924 (estimate: HK$5.5 million/7.5 million), by German artist Walter Spies (1895–1942).
The sale of Chinese paintings on Oct. 6 took $15 million and was 76 percent sold by lot, 82 percent by value. The top price was HK$15.8 million ($2 million), paid for an ink- and pigment-on-paper handscroll, Along The Yangtze River, 1990, by Wu Guanzhong (b. 1919), which sold against an estimate “in excess of HK$8 million” ($1 million). The work was consigned by the artist, with the proceeds earmarked for a scholarship in his name at Tsinghua University, Beijing. Three works by Zhang Daqian (1899–1983) were among the top ten, with each exceeding its estimate. The highest-selling of these, a hanging scroll titled The Leaping Ape, 1959, sold for HK$6.3 million ($805,600) against an estimate of HK$4 million/6 million.
Other sales in the series included Chinese ceramics and works of art, which took in a total of HK$75 million ($8.1 million); Chinese Imperial works of art, which took in HK$383 million ($49.1 million); jewels and jadeite, which made HK$155 million ($19.96 million); and watches, which made HK$47.6 million ($6.08 million).