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Hong Kong… Outstanding performance at Sotheby’s

[09 Apr 2019]

The recent series of auction sales in Hong Kong – organised to coincide with Art Basel Hong Kong – generated more than satisfactory results, especially for Sotheby’s, which took its second best-ever sales total in its history.

During the latest round of major prestige sales in Hong Kong, competition between bidders was particularly intense and generated remarkable results at Sotheby’s. After a week of 20 sales, (including fine art, wine and diamonds) the American auctioneer posted a comfortable 90% sold-through rate and a total turnover of $483 million, a figure that represents the second best total in the company’s history. CEO Tad Smith said the excellent performance is “a clear indication of the health of the Asian market and is very auspicious for New York’s major sales in May.”

The Modern Art sale made $108 million including a remarkable result for a work by WU Guanzhong (1919-2010) when his Lotus Flowers fetched $16.7 million, more than 8.5x its estimate. Works by ZAO Wou-Ki (1921-2013) also went down well with six pieces selling on 31 March at prices ranging from $1.9 to $12.7 million, and no less than 28 works by Guan Liang also sold. At the Contemporary Art sale, a canvas title Endless Net #4 (1959) set a new auction record by the great Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama when it sold just under $8 million.

With Western art more than ever present in these Asian sales, the overall results reflected a strong performance by Western artists. Julie Mehretu scored a new auction record when her big 2006 canvas Black Ground (Deep Light) fetched $5.6 million, more than doubled its high estimate. American painter Mark Grotjahn was also very well received with his abstract painting Untitled (Yellow White Butterfly) selling for $3.4 million on 1 April. But the most spectacular result of the sale rewarded a key figure of the fashionable Western art scene – KAWS (1974)– whose 1-metre square acrylic painting (the Kaws Album) surfing on the Simpsons, surfing on the Beatles, fetched the astonishing price of $14.8 million, the New Yorker’s best-ever auction result (versus an estimated $1 million)… Kaws madness seems to have affected Asian multi-millionaires…

 

Sotheby’s figures for the week are as follows:

  • 20 sales in one week
  • 35,000 visitors to the preview
  • 4,331 lots sold
  • 28 new records
  • 20% of participants new to Sotheby’s

 

Sotheby’s generated a larger total than any other operator in Asia, with its Modern, Contemporary and Southeast Asian Art sales making $232 million, well above the pre-sale high estimates, with an average sold rate of 89% for the three sessions.

Christie’s only organized one sale during the week, leaving the field open for its principal competitor. Its sale on 29 March posted a total of $6 million from a selection of works including key Asian signatures like Leonard Foujita, Liu Wei and artists whose Pop credentials seduce rich Asian collectors: Kaws of course, but also Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama and George Condo. There were also works by dual-culture Artists like Fabienne Verdier, Chu Teh Chun and Zao Wou-Ki. But Christie’s is keeping its best works for its New York sales in May. The operator is hoping to federate major Asian collectors around one work in particular: a museum-worthy painting by Zao Wou-ki, Triptych 1987-1988, exhibited in Hong Kong at the end of March. This rare monumental triptych (one of 20 by the artist), measuring nearly 5 metres, is expected to fetch between 15 and 20 million dollars at Christie’s sale of 20th-century and Contemporary Asian Art on 25 May in New York.

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