As the art market continues to adapt through virtual channels, Sotheby’s has expanded its foray into reformatting the auction sale to meet new client needs during the coronavirus pandemic. In the first edition of its kind, under the direction of Sotheby’s Asia Chairman, Nicholas Chow, the house unveiled a new silent auction series, a hybrid format between a private sale and live auction, which took place over the course of two days from its Hong Kong headquarters.
Echoing Sotheby’s Hong Kong Head of Contemporary art Yuki Terase’s curation of a series of several “pop-up” style auctions featuring only a handful of works, In Confidence brought 13 lots to bidders featuring masterpiece level works by 20th century foremost names in the Hong Kong market alongside high-value luxury and antique items. Exhibited online in a private viewing room digital format, the offerings were tagged with a presale value of over HK$350 million ($45,144,890 USD) with works ranging in price from HK$5 million to 70 million ($644,927–$9.1 million).
ArtBnk, a New Hampshire–based software company founded in 2017 that uses artificial intelligence to provide art valuations, estimated the cross-category Hong Kong presale estimate of the four leadings lots at more than $11 million. With works by Chinese masters alongside jadeite jewels, auction house executives are now meeting collecting demand through narrowed selections of cross-categorical lots that appeal to the luxury experience buyers want.
The first of this sale three stars was Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline – Big Family: Family No. 2, created in 1993, the second in the artist’s pivotal series Bloodline – Big Family series. A masterpiece level work, the first edition from the series is in the permanent collection of Japan’s Tokushima Art Museum. ArtBnK has valued the piece at $3.86 million in accordance with its previous sale history—the painting realized $6.72 million in a 2012 public sale at Sotheby’s.
Other leading lots include Ice Candy Lollipop from 1998 by Yoshitomo Nara, featuring the artist’s signature expressive child against a neutral ground. Nara’s market has been on the rise following a new auction record of $25 million set last year at Sotheby’s and preceding the artist’s pending traveling retrospective at LACMA. ArtBnK estimated the Nara painting, which has never before come to auction, with a value of $4.96 million. Another untitled classic dot painting by Yayoi Kusama from the artist’s early era in New York made in 1960 is estimated at $3.44 million, and Zao Wou-Ki’s 1980 triptych 16.01.1980 is slated with a value of $1.94 million. It was last sold at Christie’s in 2017 for $810,428.
With estimates available only upon request, Sotheby’s has found a new format that provides buyers anonymity and eases the concerns of consignors reticent to sell in a public auction in the current uncertain market. The sale strategy also tends to a rising momentum in the market leading up to the marquee 20th Century July auctions. The limited sale offerings allows for the house to meet a still-active demand without disrupting the market’s anticipated live sale reboot, bringing highly recognizable works with historical strength to the region’s client base.