On Wednesday, Phillips staged its marquee Hong Kong contemporary evening sale at the JW Marriott Hotel in Hong Kong. The hour-long sale lead by Phillips Chairman of Asia, Jonathan Crockett, brought in a total of $26 million across 20 lots, realizing a 91% sell-through rate. Against all odds, the total figure was up by almost 10% from the 2019 equivalent result of $23.8 million.
The sale opens the top echelon of the Asian art market after a months-long hiatus from live auctions, with Asia as the first world market to begin its economic recovery from the impact of the coronavirus. For the first time in the market’s history, the three leading international regions, the U.S., U.K. and Asia face a global pandemic concurrently with robust protest movements across urban centers. Yet, despite interruptions across the industry, the sales executed so far have shown global demand for high value art has remained largely intact.
Two lots failed to find buyers including a Takashi Murakami as the last lot of the auction, along with Zhang Xiaogang’s Duplicated Space No. 14.
80% of the evening sale’s lots were offered for the first time at auction. In keeping with the trends seen at Phillips contemporary evening sale last week, this season’s challenges lead to a smaller supply in overall consignments, but saw sustained interest in young artists on the cutting edge (though no new artist records were established).
The top sellers of the evening auction in Hong Kong were two works by Chinese master and Asian art market leader, Zao Wou-ki from his seminal hurricane series, once owned by American collector Walter R. Beardsley. An eight-minute long battle between bidders broke out for 22.6.63 a vertical orange-backed abstract from the early1960s featuring the artist’s calligraphic brushstrokes. The work came in at HKD 54.3 million ($7 M. USD) landing within its estimate of $38 million to $58 million ($4,870,000-7,440,000). Its counterpart, a neutral-ground painting of the same size and scheme sold for HKD 46.4 million ($5.98 million USD) or at the low end of its HKD 45 – 65 million ($5,770,000-8,330,000) estimate range.
In an interview prior to the sale, Isaure de Viel Castel, Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Hong Kong, Phillips remained confident in the demand for high value lots despite the uncertain market. “Collectors among the region continue to have a true, unwavering appreciation for significant works of art” said de Viel Castel.
Chinese art in the Evening sale, including works by Liu Ye, Zhang Xiaogang and Zeng Fanzhi, were sourced from private Western collections.
Despite coming to market from its sole owner, Liu Ye’s Choir of Angels (Red) from 1999 saw measured action. Four bidders pursued the work but only pushed the painting to the low end of its estimate range before it sold for HKD $27.8 million ($2,560,000-5,130,000.) That’s well short of the artist’s standing record of HKD 52.18 million for the sale of Smoke at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2019.
Elsewhere in the sale, Zhang Xiaogang’s museum quality Bloodline Series: Big Family No. 3 from 2005 attracted bids to HKD 8.8 million, failing to reach its low estimate of HKD10,000,000 – 15,000,000 ($1,280,000-1,920,000). Yoshitomo Nara’s Wisdom Tooth Fever completed in 1999 featuring a close-up portrait of Nara’s signature child realized a total of HK $12.8 million ($1.64 million).
Women contemporary painters with strong museum presence lead the sale’s group of emerging artists. American figurative painter Nicole Eisenman made her auction debut in Asia with the sale of 4:20 from 2004 for HKD 2.75 million ($355,000) against an estimate of HKD 2 million to 3 million ($256,000-385,000). Layer as a Hiding Place a pink abstract work by prominent Indonesian contemporary artist Christine Ay Tjoe realized a selling price of HKD 6.8 million ($877,413), reaching its high estimate, but still coming under the artist’s auction record of $1.5 million set at Phillips in 2017 for the work Small Flies and Other Wings.
The first work to come on the block setting the sale’s momentum was late Canadian self-taught painter Matthew Wong’s Warmth, a small-scale expressionistic landscape from 2017 that sold for HKD 2.62 million ($338,058), more than six times its low estimate of HK $400,000 ($51,300). 23 bidders competed for the lot, which was originally purchased at New York’s Karma gallery by a private Paris-based collector. The sale comes on the heels of Wong’s record-breaking night at Sotheby’s when his 2018 work Realm of Appearances sold for $1.82 million against an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000, less than a year after the 35-year-old artist’s death.
A 2007 painting by Brooklyn-based painter Eddie Martinez, a rising star in the secondary market whose works have seen high demand in recent seasons also placed above its estimate. Originally coming to the market privately through ZieherSmith in New York, the artist’s Intergalactic Go Fish went for HKD 3.8 million ($490,313), besting its high pre-sale estimate of HKD 2.8 million ($359,000).
As seen in Phillips remote contemporary evening sale in London last week, some coveted primary market names are subject to especially high demand among vying buyers. Not even a year old, Arty Party completed in 2019 by Irish contemporary figurative painter, Genieve Figgis drew 10 bidders. Figgis, whose dark comedic riffs on European history painting the market has embraced have established her as a regular in Hong Kong contemporary auctions. The work brought in HKD 2 million ($258,052) against an estimate of HK$550,000 – 750,000 ($70,500-96,200) and coming in close to the artist’s current record of over $333,000 made at Phillips in November 2019.
Daniel Arsham, a rising market figure with a wide base in Asia- who secured the first ever single artist sale at Christie’s this summer saw high bidding. His 2019 grey Porsche sculpture from his ongoing Future Relics series of eroded everyday objects brought in HKD 1.63 million ($210,318) besting the pre-sale estimate of HKD 800,000 to $1 million ($103,000 to $154,000).
This sale also revealed new strategies for auction houses in securing consignments amid an insecure market. The Arsham work, which was originally showcased at the artist’s department store collaboration at London department store, Selfridges, was donated to the sale by the owner. Despite being produced less than a year ago the work has changed hands three times.