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.)
On Friday, Christie’s staged its marquee Hong Kong auction combining the modern and contemporary categories. The sale came just before the global “ONE” auction which also kicked off in the region’s headquarters.
The Christie’s auction drew a fully packed room, with masked staff bidding by telephone without having to observe social distancing recommendations. The successful auction achieved a total result of HKD 607.2 million ($78.3 million) from 45 lots, with an overall sell-through rate of 96 percent. One lot was withdrawn before the auction began.
Leading the sale was Chinese-French painter Sanyu’s red and white floral still life, painted in the 1940s–50s, which came to auction with an estimate of HKD 60 million to HKD 80 million ($7.8 million–$10.4 million). After a protracted bidding battle, the work sold for HKD 191.6 million ($24.7 million) with buyer’s premium tripling its low estimate and setting a new record for a Sanyu still life. Sanyu‘s last nude painting, Nu (1965), holds the Chinese master’s current record price of HKD 198 million ($25.24 million), achieved at Sotheby’s last year.
Previously in the collection of the Yageo Foundation, which was founded by Taiwanese mega-collector Pierre Chen, the floral work last sold at auction in 2005, when it hit the block at Christie’s and was bought for around $1 million, nearly doubling its pre-sale high estimate of $540,000. Bidding began at HKD 45 million, with participants in the rooms and on the phone moving the hammer price up to HKD 100 million past its pre-sale high estimate within the first minute. The still life is one of only two remaining Sanyu works of the sort still in private hands.
Postwar master Zao Wou-Ki’s horizontal 1966 painting 18.11.66, from his renowned “Hurricane” series, brought in 114.4 million ($14.8 million), far surpassing its pre-sale expectation of HKD 68 million HKD–88 million ($8.8 million to $11.4 million). Another midsize Zao abstract landscape, 23.03.68 (1968), doubled its low estimate of HKD 24 million ($3.1 million), ultimately selling for HKD 47.5 million ($6.1 million).
Liu Ye’s Composition in Red, Yellow, and Blue (1995) sold for HKD 6.5 million ($839,000), hammering in the middle of its estimate range of HKD 4 million to HKD 6 million. With two previous owners, it last came up at auction in a Christie’s Hong Kong sale in November 2012 for HKD 2.6 million. Liu’s Mondrian in London (2001), featuring references to the work of the modernist Piet Mondrian, hammered at the high end of its estimate after a drawn-out bidding period, fetching 22.9 million HKD ($3 million). The work last came up for sale in Beijing’s Poly Auction in June 2010.
The first lot of the evening sale, an abstraction from 2014 by painter Chris Heun Sin Kan, started off the auction with a bang. Just before hammering down on a price of HKD 680,000 ($88,000), another bidder jumped in driving up the final hammer to HKD $720,000 ($92,000), besting its pre-sale estimate of HKD 150,000 to HKD 250,000. The work debuted at auction with only one previous owner, who originally purchased the work at Hong Kong’s Gallery Exit.
Cheon Soo Pieng’s modestly sized Seated Girl (1952) also came to auction for the first time, hailing from its sole owner, a private collection based in the U.K. The work bested its pre-sale estimate of HKD 600,000 to HKD 800,000 ($78,000–$104,000), placing with the winning buyer HKD for 2.3 million ($300,000).
The 1996 work Rooftop Refugee by Tetsuya Ishida, made at the beginning of the Japanese artist’s career, more than doubled its low estimate, realizing a price of HKD 4.7 million ($606,000) with buyer’s premium.
Another world record came in for Huang Yuxing‘s expressionistic work Enlightening, which sold for HKD 8.6 million ($1.1 million). The previous record of $287,000 was established with the sale of the 2015–16 diptych Ebb and Flow, which sold at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2019.
The auction also saw a new record for Spanish artist Javier Calleja with the sale of his 2018 painting WHAT? Featuring his signature cartoon-like wide-eyed portraiture, the work sold for HKD 3.7 million ($480,000), hammering at the low end of its estimated value. Another record was established for Chen Ke with the sale of his 2016 figurative New York scene for HKD 3.6 million ($464,000). The work also came to the secondary market for the first time, having been purchased from Perrotin gallery in Hong Kong.