Christie’s in Hong Kong 20th and 21st Century Evening Sales Reap HK$1.58 billion, Led by Basquiat and Ultra-Contemporary Names

Adrian Ghenie, The Collector I, 2008, 200 x 290 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Banksy, Sale Ends Today, 2006, oil on canvas, 213.4 x 426.7 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Amoako Boafo, Justine Mendy, 2018, oil on canvas, 160 x 133 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face), 1982, acrylic, spray paint, oilstick and Xerox collage on panel, 182.9 x 191.9 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Pablo Picasso, Nu couché à la libellule, 1968, 97 x 162 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
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CoBo Social Market News Reports

Christie’s in Hong Kong held its 20th and 21st Century Sales Evening Sale on 25 May, hot on the heels of the successful return of Hong Kong’s art week. While sales were strong and regional buyers continue to flex their buying power, there were some disappointing moments, and telling signs of a shifting market taste.

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy of Christie’s

The cherry on top of a great art week in Hong Kong that saw the city’s fairs affirm the strength of local and regional buying power, Christie’s held its 20th and 21st Century Spring Evening sale on 25 May with stellar results bringing in a total of HK$1.58 billion (US$20.5 million) selling 97% by lot, making it the highest ever evening sale total for Christie’s Asia. The new combined category brings together the traditionally split modern and contemporary sales, as well as Southeast Asian sales. Visiting the preview last week in Hong Kong, it also became more visible that there is a surge in the number of artworks by Western artists proportionally to pieces by Asian artists—reflecting perhaps, a changing taste in the Asian market.

Watching the first 90 minutes of what turned out to be a five-hour sale via livestream was quite astounding, and lasting the distance until 12.30am HKT was certainly a test for stamina. Christie’s reported more than 1.8 million viewers tuned in worldwide while bidders hailed from some 26 countries—perhaps an indication of how truly global auctions have become due to livestreaming and international live bidding.

The sale kicked off with an adrenaline inducing high thanks to young American painter Loie Hollowell’s Yellow Canyon Over Red Round (2016) exceeding five times its high estimate to hammer for HK$4,375,000 (US$566,129). This was followed by two other female artists whose works saw fast and furious bidding. An Evening Portrait (2019) by rising market start Genieve Figgis sold for HK$1,625,000, well above its HK$300,000 high estimate, while French artist Julie Curtiss’ Triplette (Triplet) (2019) realized HK$2,375,000 above its high estimate of HK$1,500,000. Two other female artists making headlines this season include Indonesian painter Christine Ay Tjoe who recently unveiled a new body of work in a solo exhibition at White Cube, Hong Kong, and American artist Avery Singer. The latter’s monochromatic canvas Dancers Around An Effigy To Modernism (2013) sold for HK$24,250,000 (US$7,020,005) while Ay Tjoe’s Layers with More Circles (2011) brought in HK$13,450,000 (US$1,740,444)—both doubling its high estimates and setting world auction records for the artists.

 

Adrian Ghenie, The Collector I, 2008, 200 x 290 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Banksy, Sale Ends Today, 2006, oil on canvas, 213.4 x 426.7 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Amoako Boafo, Justine Mendy, 2018, oil on canvas, 160 x 133 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

 

Another notable contemporary work to achieve top results, Romanian painter and rising auction darling, Adrian Ghenie’s The Collector I (2008)—a psychologically charged painting portraying a man sitting upon a sofa in a dimly-lit room surrounded by picture frames—sold for HK$65,975,000 (US$8,537,232), establishing a new record in Asia for the artist. A 21st century auction cannot go by without Yoshitomo Nara and Banksy, persistent favourites on the block. While Nara’s Untitled (2007) failed to exceed its pre-sale high estimate, the painting of a teary-eyed little girl with a bob cut still brought in HK$54,250,000 (US$7,020,005). On the other hand, Banksy’s four-metre canvas, Sale Ends Today (2006), hammered for HK$47,050,000 (US$6,088,317), well exceeding its HK$28,000,000 high estimate. Ghanian painter Amoako Boafo has experienced a meteoric rise in the art world since 2018, and parallel to this, a sharp uptick in his market prices. His 2018 painting Justine Mendy sold for HK$8,770,000 (US$1,134,847), more than 10 times its low estimate, once again proving the demand for his work has yet to slow down.

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face), 1982, acrylic, spray paint, oilstick and Xerox collage on panel, 182.9 x 191.9 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Pablo Picasso, Nu couché à la libellule, 1968, 97 x 162 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

 

Phenomenally, as the Jean-Michel Basquiat fever continues and his works break each record set before it (just at Christie’s alone, Basquiat made headlines in March in Hong Kong and two weeks ago in New York), Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face) (1982), created at the height of the short-lived artist’s career, became the second most valuable Basquiat to sell at auction in Asia. Climbing well past its pre-sale estimate of HK$170,000,000, the painting sold for HK$234,290,000 (US$30,317,362) after a fierce 15-minute phone bidding war.

In the 20th century category, the sale was led by Zhang Daqian’s Temple at the Mountain Peak, a glorious painting on a hanging golden paper scroll from 1967, which was acquired for HK$209,100,000 (US$27,062,468), making it the second-highest price ever achieved for the artist at auction. As the demand for post-war Chinese art continues, Zao Wou-Ki’s 24.01.63 (1963) sold for HK$76,280,000 (US$9,870,709) while Nu couché à la libellule, a Picasso masterpiece from 1968, realised HK$62,540,000 (US$8,092,739). Predictably, both Sanyu paintings offered were part of this season’s highlights and sold for significantly high sums—even if not surpassing its pre-sale high estimates. Potted Chrysanthemums (c.1950s), the largest floral work by Sanyu to feature blue-stemmed pink chrysanthemums and painting under moonlight, sold for HK$118,645,000 (US$15,352,783) while the earlier work, Chrysanthèmums blancs (White Chrysanthemums) (c.1930s) achieved HK$56,650,000 (US$7,330,567). Most surprisingly—mainly because it failed to sell—was the less than desirable result of the single-lot sale of Chinese master Xu Beihong’s Slave and Lion, painted in 1924, which had fetched a record price for Chinese oil painting in 2006. The painting was marketed as a treasure of national history and the highest-estimated Asian artwork ever to be offered at auction and carried an estimate of HK$350,000,000 – 450,000,000 (US$45,000,000 – 58,000,000) but sadly collectors seemed to think otherwise.

Reflecting on the sale, the market for ultra-contemporary art at auction has without question been gaining explosive traction of late, proving that we are witnessing a new generation of young collectors with deep pockets playing in the arena. Last October, I began to question this dangerous game of flipping recent works by living artists who are still heavily in the primary market. There are so many potential consequences—some less than desirable—that can happen from this inflation. And should we cautiously remember the lesson from our high school science teacher that what goes up, must come down? Surely this bubble will burst soon, or perhaps we are still a long way off, as we have recently seen, the rise of new collectors keeping the market in Asia afloat—and escalating—seems to be an apparent reality across all commercial sectors of art.

 

 

*All prices stated include buyer’s premium

 
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