This report on the Sotheby’s Hong Kong contemporary art evening sale 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 Tuesday, Sotheby’s Hong Kong contemporary art evening sale brought in a total of HKD 684.1 million ($88.3 million) with buyer’s fees across 34 lots. Hammering at HKD 571.8 million ($73.8 million), the result placed solidly within the pre-sale estimate range HKD 400 million–570 million ($51.5–73.4 million). The sale had a high sell-through rate by lot of 92 percent. The figure marks an increase of 26 percent over the October 2019 equivalent sale total of HKD 538.2 million ($69.4 million) made across 30 sold lots.
This year marked the highest Asia-based contemporary evening sale estimate for Sotheby’s with an equal number of Western and Asian artists represented in the offerings. Overall, 68 percent of works sold above the high estimate, 30 percent sold within the pre-sale expectation and 1 works failed to reach the low estimate.
The leading lots of the evening auction included works by Western artists. Gerhard Richter’s abstraction from 1987 sold for HKD 214.6 million ($27.7 million) from the collection of Ron Perelman, setting a record for the highest price ever achieved for a Western artist in an Asia auction. It went for 1.8 times the low estimate of HKD 120 million ($15.5 million.). Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait (1979) featuring the face of Bacon’s confidant and heir to his estate, John Edward, sold for HKD 37.7 million ($4.9 million), meeting its high estimate. It last sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2011 for $4.4 million, where it was acquired by the seller.
Adrien Ghenie’s Lidless Eye (2016-2018) went for HKD 54.9 million ($7.1 million), landing within its estimate range. Banksy’s Forgive Us Our Trespassing (2011), a four-part painting depicting graffiti-tagged stain glass windows with a praying figure sold for HKD 64.1 million ($8.27 million). It sold for four times its expectation of HKD 16 million ($2.1 million). It came from the collection of Steve Lazarides, an early dealer of Banksy’s work and an active promoter of street art. George Condo’s painting, Purple and Yellow Abstraction (2012), went for HKD 31.6 million ($4.1 million). In almost a decade since its last sale in May 2013 at Sotheby’s, where the seller acquired it for $1.1 million, the work’s value has quadrupled.
At another point in the sale, holdings from the prominent Johnson Chang collection saw solid results. Zhang Xiaogang’s triptych, The Dark Trilogy (1989-90), went for HKD 59.9 million ($7.1 million), more than doubling the low estimate of HKD 25 million ($3.2 million). Just one panel, The Dark Trilogy: Sorrow was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2016 for HKD 8.4 million ($1 million). The Sotheby’s sale was the first time the complete three-part work has ever been sold as a whole.
Bejjing-based artist Zeng Fangzhi’s Mask Series No. 11 (1994) featuring a suited figure with a dog in the background went to a buyer for HKD 23.7 million ($3.1 million), reaching a selling price just above the high estimate. This was the first time the work came to auction. Liu Ye’s Florence (1994), an example from the artist’s German period depicting the Italian landscape of Fort Belvedere and an angel-winged child figure sold for HKD 11.1 million ($1.4 million), also making above the high estimate. It last sold at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2006 for HKD 960,000 ($123,076). Over its 14-year holding period, the work’s value has increased by 1,038 percent.
Emerging artists also saw attention from bidders. Newly-minted auction star Otis Quaicoe debuted in the region with the sale of Flower Boy (2019), a figurative portrait of a man holding a bouquet of flowers. It is the fourth work of Quaicoe’s to surface at auction and was acquired by the seller from the artist. It sold for HKD 1.1 million ($138 million), going for four times the low estimate of HKD 200,000 ($25,800). Firenze Lai’s black and white figurative painting sold for HKD 3 million ($390,000), making three times the low estimate of HKD 900,000 ($116,000).
Some works by postwar blue-chip names underperformed. Ed Ruscha’s yellow text painting President (1972), made originally for a benefit sale at Pace Gallery, sold for HK 10.1 million ($1.3 million), hammering at its low estimate. It last sold at Sotheby’s in May 1995 for $18,400. In more than two decades, the work’s value has increased by 6,965 percent. Elsewhere in the sale, a 2017 David Hockney still life and Ellsworth Kelly’s Blue Angles (2014), each new to the market and lacking in strong provenance, failed to find buyers.