This report on the Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening sale in Hong Kong sale for July 2020 by Angelica Villa is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
After Sotheby’s successful Hong Kong modern evening auction on Wednesday, the contemporary evening sale on Thursday brought in HKD 595 million ($76.8 million) across 39 lots, with only three lots failing to find buyers, leading to a 94 percent sell-through rate.
Overall, Hong Kong demonstrated solid demand for high-value art, the previous day’s sale maintaining totals near 2019 levels, and today’s sale followed suit. David Hockney’s 30 Sunflowers from 1996—one of two of his large-scale floral paintings—sold for $14.8 million, exceeding its estimate of HKD 80 million ($10.3 million) and making it the second most expensive work by a Western artist to sell at an auction in Asia. Prior to its sale in a Phillips New York contemporary auction in May 2011 for $2.5 million, the painting had had only one owner. The sale’s international exhibition tour, scheduled for Los Angeles, Jakarta, Hong Kong, and Taipei, was interrupted in February by global closures sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Asian buyers have been an essential force in the market for Impressionist and modern works for the past several years, but their bidding and buying took place during auctions held in London and New York. With the Hockney, we see a shift toward those same buyers becoming active in Hong Kong auctions for Western artists, and the overall value of those purchases in Hong Kong rising. There’s also a shift from modern to contemporary artists like Hockney.
Masterworks by contemporary Chinese artists whose careers began in the 1990s remained a focus in the sale. Liu Ye’s Leave Me in the Dark, featuring a lone central figure, sold for HKD 45.3 million ($5.8 million). The price falls just below the artist’s current auction record, set by another of his large-scale, single-figure red paintings, Smoke (2001–02), which took in HKD 52.18 million ($6.65 million) in October 2018.
A Japanese artist with a global cult following, Yoshitomo Nara saw Keep Your Chin Up, featuring his manga child protagonist against a neutral ground, go for HKD 25.1 million ($3.2 million). Contemporary painter Yue Minjun is known for figural paintings criticizing Chinese and Western norms; his Goldfish from 1993 drew competitive bidding, to best its high estimate by two and a half times and reach a price of HKD 7.6 million ($982,107). The work last sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2007 for HKD 1.4 million ($172,577).
Later in the sale, Cecily Brown’s large-scale two-part abstract, Park, from 2004 sold for HKD 19.4 million ($2.5 million). A new primary-market benchmark was set for the artist this past May with the sale of Figures in a Landscape 1 (2001) for $5.5 million at a Gagosian online viewing room. American postwar Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still’s PH-306 sold for HKD 64.1 million ($8.3 million), within its presale estimate.
“The strong prices we witnessed across the board for prominent Western and Asian artists, with many works surpassing their high estimates, not only demonstrates our extraordinary market leadership in contemporary art in Asia and the quality of our offerings, but also the thriving importance of Hong Kong as an international art hub,” said Yuki Terase, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art, Asia, in a statement following the auction.
Bidders competed for emerging contemporary artists new to the Asian art market. Julie Curtiss’s Mother and Daughter from 2016, bought by the seller at New York’s Monya Rowe Gallery, came to auction for the first time, hammering at the high end of its estimate, to garner HKD 1.62 million ($209,576). The result still came in at half the record result of $423,000 paid for Curtiss’s Pas de Trois at a Christie’s New York sale in 2019.
A painting by Brooklyn-based painter Eddie Martinez, whose works have gained traction for melding reference to Abstract Expressionism and street art also came up for sale. MATADOR #2, completed in 2020, sold for HKD 1.62 million ($209,576), hammering at the low estimate of HKD 1.5 million ($193,455). The seller had purchased the work at New York’s Journal Gallery in Martinez’s 2013 solo exhibition of the same title.
At the lower end of the sale’s price points, Tomoo Gokita’s 2013 grayscale portrait titled Secret Gesture sold for HKD 2.38 million ($306,304), landing within its estimate of HKD 2 million to HKD 3 million ($258,000–$387,000). Bejing-based artist Jia Aili‘s 2009 landscape Good Morning, World sold within estimate for HKD 2.5 million ($322,425).