Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love NFT, along with paintings by Picasso and Van Gogh, were the strong performers during Sotheby’s Hong Kong Evening Sales on 9 October. While total sales were comparable to estimates, art auction favourites such as Basquiat and Sanyu underperformed on the block.
TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of Sotheby’s
With veteran auctioneer Ian McGinlay at the helm during most of the sessions, Sotheby’s Hong Kong Modern and Contemporary Art Evening and Day Sales held on 9 and 10 October, proved to be highly revealing about the nature of the Asian art market and its changing appetites in 2021 as the region moves into a different phase of the pandemic.
In the lead up to the Contemporary Art Evening Sale on Saturday, much hype was made about Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 Untitled (Red Warrior) hitting the auction block for the first time with expected sales from HK$150 to 200 million.
The auction headliner at Sotheby’s, physically immense at two metres high, showcases a muscular red figure wielding a sword and is one of the few “Warrior” works by the late artist still in private hands. The seminal artwork was exhibited at New York’s Vrej Baghoomian gallery the year after Basquiat passed away, and at New York’s Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 2004.
Market expectations were high especially because earlier this year, another similar “Warrior” piece from 1982 became the most expensive Western artwork ever sold in Asia when Christie’s Hong Kong sold it for HK$323,600,000 (US$41.7 million) during their 20th Century Evening Sale.
Unfortunately, Sotheby’s had no such luck breaking their competitor’s record with Untitled (Red Warrior) hammering at HK$162,926,000 (including buyer’s premium) slightly above its low estimate and approximately half of Christie’s sale.
Nonetheless, as the evening progressed it became evident that the demand for contemporary art in the Asian art market focuses more consistently on young and/or diverse artists such as Loie Hollowell, Jadé Fadojutimi, with their art hammering well above auction estimates.
Thanks to the abovementioned demand and strong day sales, the overall contemporary art sales amounted to HK$762.6 million with buyer’s premium. This was comparable to projected estimates of HK$751 million excluding buyer’s premium.
Total sales from Sotheby’s Hong Kong Modern Art Evening Sale was HK$580,214,000, with buyer’s premium, only slightly less than the total estimated price of HK$648 million (US$83.2 million). This was due in part to strong Asian art market appetite for renowned Western modern artists.
The night’s strongest performance was Picasso’s Femme Accroupie (1954), which sold for HK$191,651,000, breaking the record for the highest sale of a Picasso in Asia. Receiving a total of nine bids from London, New York, and Hong Kong, the final bid went to Patti Wong, Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia on the phone with the client.
Making its debut in an Asian auction, Van Gogh’s painting, Nature Morte: Vase aux Glaïeuls (1886), sold for HK$71,006,000—also, setting a record for a Van Gogh sold in Asia. Bidding began at HK$52 million with Felix Kwok, Sotheby’s Head of Modern Art, Asia, putting in the final bid for his client on the phone.
On the other hand, paintings by Asian masters performed rather disappointingly. Sanyu’s Nu endormi sold for HK$80,198,000 million, below its low estimate of HK$100 million and Zao Wou-Ki’s Portrait d’homme (1951) only hammered at HK$7,435,000, marginally above its low estimate of HK$6 million.
Market interest in NFTs remains consistent within Asia. Even before Saturday evening, records were made by Sotheby’s sale of an NFT comprising never-before-seen footage from acclaimed film In the Mood for Love (2000) by renowned Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai. The collaboration between the director and the auction house is his first foray into NFTs, while also marking the first time an Asian film is minted and sold by an international auction house. The NFT hammered above its estimates, at HK$4,284,000 (including buyer’s premium) during Sotheby’s Modern Art Evening Sale, going to a phone bidder via Patti Wong.
If anything, Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction sessions last weekend clearly showed that sweeping generalised views about the Asian art market do not suffice. While the market remains buoyant for the most part, the nature of its appetites tends to fluctuate and vary as buyers constantly evolve along with their changing world. It is obvious there are distinctive nuances in this broad and diverse regional market that need to be taken into consideration, especially in these volatile times.