New price surge for Chinese art

[03 Dec 2013]


After the extraordinary performance of its Post-War & Contemporary Art sale in mid-November, Christie’s started its sales of Contemporary Asian art on 23 November in Hong Kong. The same artistic period, but a different cultural field and a different marketplace… and yet almost a new record: USD 102 million from its prestige sale on 23 November (its second record for Hong Kong), followed by an additional USD 36 million from its day sale on 24 November.

In the wake of second new auction records for Western Contemporary art, the Asian art market is maintaining its qualitative and speculative continuum. Having written a new page in its history on 12 November 2013 with the best sales total in its history, Christie’s is managing to push up the prices on its Hong Kong market. Its sale prestige in Hong Kong on 23 November contained just 67 lots, all selected with the utmost care. The result: 96% of the works sold with six new artists’ records.

Hong Kong is the world’s fourth largest marketplace for Contemporary art with 9% of the global auction turnover, behind New York, London and Beijing, but ahead of Paris. Auction price levels are increasing rapidly there, as we saw with the absolute record that Sotheby’s managed to generate on 5 October 2013 with Zeng Fanzhi’s The Last Supper (2001, 220 x 395 cm): USD 20.64 million (23.27 million including fees). On 23 November, Zeng Fanzhi was also the star of the Christie’s sale with USD 12.9 million for his Hospital Triptych No. 3 (14.6 million incl. fees).
ZENG Fanzhi is now the most expensive Chinese contemporary artist and among the world’s top 5 Contemporary artists. Making his auction debut in 1998, he scored his first 7-figure dollar result in 2007 with a work that multiplied its low estimate by eleven. Zeng Fanzhi became the spearhead of China’s artistic creation during the second half of the twentieth century, and the most suitable artist to compete with the auction performances of Western Contemporary artists. After his exceptional 2007 results, collectors flocked to acquire works by the hottest signature in Chinese Contemporary art. The market paid increasingly higher prices and today his price records match those achieved by Jeff Koons in 2007. However, Koons has recently hit the headlines with a result of USD 52 million for the Balloon Dog (Orange) (November 12 at Christie’s New York) … In the lively competition between Eastern and Western auction prices, China’s best artists still look capable of generating new surprises.

By the end of the Christie’s November 23 sale in Hong Kong there were new 7-figure auction records for CHU Teh-Chun whose untitled 1963 abstract work fetched just under USD 8 million ($9,117,720 including fees), LUO Zhongli’s whose Spring Silkworms fetched the equivalent of $5.54 million and LEE Man Fong whose Bali Life sold for just under $4 million. Moreover, rising prices for the best pieces inspired the bidding for smaller works: ZAO Wou-Ki’s lithographs were hotly pursued: his set of four boards Elégie pour Jean-Marie fetched $15,480 on 24 November 2013 (although, as we saw on 26 May 2013 at Christie’s Hong Kong, the same lot can fetch over $70,000) and the works of TING Walasse buried their estimates (I very Shy sold for $50,000 above its estimate on the same day at Christie’s with a final bid equivalent to USD 245,100).

Galvanized by the good results at the market’s high-end, Hong Kong’s art market is becoming increasingly dense. On November 24, more than 700 works were offered by Christie’s and nearly 400 found buyers.