Did it work? Did Sotheby’s decision to bring Western Contemporary art to Hong Kong (since Asian buyers are very active in the London and New York sales) stimulate sales there this week? The South China Morning Post’s excellent arts reporter, Enid Tsui, delved deeply into the question:
on Sunday, demand for Western art valued at above US$1 million was tepid. Warhol’s Mao, executed in 1973 and one of his many works of the former Chinese leader, was estimated at HK$90 million (US$11.6 million) to HK$120 million (excluding fees) before the sale, and Sotheby’s laid the groundwork to help it sell. The eye-catching portrait in red was one of three works in the evening backed by a guaranteed, irrevocable bid and even chief executive officer Tad Smith chipped in to make a bid at HK$84 million on behalf of a client.
This led Tsui to the conclusion that, “A portrait of Mao Zedong by Andy Warhol sold for less than its pre-sale estimate and a work by Keith Haring failed to sell at Sotheby’s modern and contemporary art evening sale in Hong Kong on Sunday, casting doubt on Asian collectors’ appetite for top-end Western contemporary art.”
But the story isn’t pat, as Tsui tells:
Unusually, the sale of Haring’s 1982 Untitled (diptych) was reopened a few minutes after it was passed at HK$11 million, but that bid was not bettered and it was passed a second time. Another Warhol, called Ten One Dollar Bills (1962), sold for HK$950,000, well below the lowest estimate of HK$1.8 million.
The Chinese artworks that didn’t sell were Deux nus allonges; Nu (double-sided) by Sanyu and Chess Match of the Century; Walled City III (1996-98) by Xu Jiang, nephew of Jiang Zemin.
But there was strong demand for southeast Asian and Japanese art, which accounted for most of the eight artist auction records set during the evening sale and the earlier “Brushworks II” sale, a curated sale of 25 abstract paintings at which all the works sold for a combined HK$89.6 million including fees.