New Record at Hong Kong’s Autumn Marquee Sales Ends Tumultuous Year on a High Note

Christie’s Hong Kong saleroom during the Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale single-lot sale of Goldfish by Sanyu on 2 December 2020. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Yoshitomo Nara, Hothouse Doll, 1995, acrylic on canvas, 119.8 x 109.9 cm. Image courtesy of Phillips.
Matthew Wong, River at Dusk, 2018, oil on canvas, 203.2 x 178 cm. Image courtesy of Phillips.
Amoako Boafo, Baba Diop, 2019, oil on canvas, 211 x 167.5 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Chris Huen Sin Kan, Dood Dood and Haze, 2014, oil on canvas, 180 x 140 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Eddie Martinez, Untitled, 2020, 
acrylic paint, oil paint, spray paint, baby wipe collage and oil bar on canvas; suite of three canvases,
194 x 777 cm (overall), 194 x 259 cm (each). © Eddie Martinez. Image courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.
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CoBo Social Market News Reports

With the conclusion of Hong Kong’s drawn-out Autumn auction season, a new market record is set—despite the turmoil of a pandemic-stricken economy—cementing Hong Kong’s position as a resilient global art market hub.

 

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy of various

After Sotheby’s kicked off the Hong Kong Autumn marquee sales on a high note back in October, the art world was already eagerly speculating if the pace would continue. With Christie’s, and Phillips in association with Poly Auction, clocking in their numbers from last week’s sales, the season has now concluded—and on an even higher note. According to the a recent report by ArtTactic, evening sales of Modern and Contemporary Art across the season came in collectively at HK$2.71 billion (US$349 million), a whopping 25.7% higher than the Autumn marquee sales in 2019—and setting a new auction record for the Hong Kong market.

 

Christie’s Hong Kong saleroom during the Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale single-lot sale of Goldfish by Sanyu on 2 December 2020. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

 

Christie’s Modern and Contemporary auctions on 2 and 3 December achieved a combined total of HK$1.73 billion (US$225 million) with a 94% sell-through rate. Top lot across all five sales went to Sanyu’s Goldfish (c. 1930s–40s), sold in a single-lot auction for HK$170,170,000 (US$22,056,326), setting another new record—this time for a painting depicting an animal subject—for the much-loved artist.

Meanwhile, Phillips in association with Poly Auction—a first-ever collaboration between the two auction houses—collectively realised HK$508 million (US$65.6 million) with a 94% sell-through rate by lot across evening and day sales of 20th Century & Contemporary Art and Design on 3 and 4 December. Top three lots went, unsurprisingly, to art by auction market favourites: Yoshitomo Nara, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Matthew Wong respectively. Nara’s 1995 painting Hothouse Doll—the trophy piece of the auction—sold for HK$103,115,000 (US$13,301,835), exceeding its high estimate of HK$70 million. Basquiat’s Ancient Scientist, created in 1984 during the peak of his unfortunately short career, also rose above estimates, achieving HK$58,330,000 (US$7,524,570). Hot property on the auction block since the young artist’s tragic passing in 2019, Wong’s 2018 painting River at Dusk exceeded its high estimate nearly four times over, selling for HK$37,760,000 (US$4,871,040) and setting a new auction record—yet again—for the late artist’s work.

 

Yoshitomo Nara, Hothouse Doll, 1995, acrylic on canvas, 119.8 x 109.9 cm. Image courtesy of Phillips.
Matthew Wong, River at Dusk, 2018, oil on canvas, 203.2 x 178 cm. Image courtesy of Phillips.

 

Of Christie’s note-worthy lots this season, Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline Series The Big Family No.2 from 1995 doubled its high estimate selling for HK$98,035,000 (US$12,706,657), achieving a new auction record for the highly regarded Chinese contemporary artist. Of the Modern and Post-War lots, a new auction record was achieved for French abstractionist Georges Mathieu, whose market has seen exponential growth in interest in Asia over the past year. His breathtaking Souvenir de la maison d’Austriche (Remembering the House of Austria) (1978) sold for HK$17,290,000 (US$2,241,017). Among those on the up and coming in the auction ladder, Vienna-based Ghanian painter Amoako Boafo—whose collaboration earlier this year with Dior Men’s Kim Jones drew global headlines—made auction debut in Asia with Baba Diop (2019), bringing in HK$8,890,000 (US$1,152,264). Closer to home, Hong Kong artist Chris Huen Sin Kan has certainly been one to watch—almost not a single auction went by this year without his name and work popping up. His 2014 painting, Dood Dood and Haze, depicting the quotidian setting of his wife and one of their dogs, sold for HK$937,500 (US$121,513), nearly doubling the high estimate and significantly raising the benchmark for the artist’s work at auction.

 

Amoako Boafo, Baba Diop, 2019, oil on canvas, 211 x 167.5 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Chris Huen Sin Kan, Dood Dood and Haze, 2014, oil on canvas, 180 x 140 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

 

Before the remarkable sales of the Autumn auction season, there were already signs of positive growth in the Hong Kong market sprinkled throughout the past six months. In July, when the Spring marquee sales finally took place after months of delays due to COVID-19, results demonstrated the resilience of Hong Kong’s market. But we didn’t want to be too hopeful, at least not yet. In September, UBS and Art Basel released a special mid-year market report on the various ways the global pandemic impacted the commercial galleries sector and the buying of art from High Net Worth (HNW) collectors. Although Asia was underrepresented in the report, one big takeaway for the region was the positive sign of buyer interest, alongside gallery sector strength.

By and large, it’s been a heart-stopping, eventful six months. Call it ill timing or just poor luck, Hong Kong has been dealt a hard hand each time it attempts some level of art world normalcy. At the same time the July auction sales took place, the city was hit by its third COVID-19 wave. At the end last month, against all odds, Fine Art Asia, the city’s annual antiquities and fine art fair, took place together with Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel, a special showcase of 22 galleries previously exhibited at Art Basel Hong Kong—and the mega-fair conglomerate’s only physical fair of 2020. It was humbler in scale, and quieter, but the social energy was infectiously high as Hong Kong’s art world converged at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre. It was also, however, the beginning of Hong Kong’s fourth spike of COVID-19 cases.

 

Eddie Martinez, Untitled, 2020, 
acrylic paint, oil paint, spray paint, baby wipe collage and oil bar on canvas; suite of three canvases,
194 x 777 cm (overall), 194 x 259 cm (each). © Eddie Martinez. Image courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.

 

Nevertheless, the global art hub has proven itself to still be standing strong, unwilling to be beaten. Fine Art Asia and Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel saw a reported attendance of 8,000 people. Speaking to a few galleries, some happy sales were transacted, including Perrotin’s US$1 million monumental eight-metre wide Eddie Martinez painting, which found a happy home with a Taiwanese collector. The New York-based artist has, of course, been an art world darling, rising in the market ranks since 2019, and this sale is just another indication of his popularity.

Amidst all the challenges thrown at it—which for Hong Kong goes further back than the global health crisis—and while the city and the world at large is still battling hard to contain this devastating pandemic, we can at least feel some sense of relief that Hong Kong has come out of 2020 keeping its reputation firm as a thriving global art market hub. No doubt there has been, and will be, more casualties in this aggressive, survival-of-the-richest-and-fittest art world economy, but there’s maybe a touch of hope that the confidence of the top-end market can be a positive sign for the industry as we enter 2021 still not yet at a true post-pandemic stage.

 

*all lot prices are rounded up and include buyer’s premium unless otherwise stated

 

 

 
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