The analysis of the December Hong Kong Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sales at Christie's 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, Christie’s staged its end of season modern and contemporary art evening sale in Hong Kong. Together with a single-lot sale devoted to a Sanyu painting depicting goldfish that brought in $22 million, the two sales generated a collective HKD 1.02 billion ($132 million) across 53 lots. The evening sale saw a successful sell-through rate of 96.5 percent, surpassing the pre-sale estimate of HKD 584.9 million ($75.5 million) by 20 percent.
The sales in Hong Kong saw both a greater depth of bidding and a higher total over the relay Hong Kong to New York sales that followed, which brought in 119.3 million, headlined by a $9 million Toulouse-Lautrec from the estate of Henry Ford II.
The sale of Sanyu’s goldfish still life, painted during the 1930s-1940s and formerly in the collection of Taiwanese billionaire Pierre Chen, saw the rare work hammer at $18.8 million, in the middle of the HKD 120 million to 180 million estimate ($15.4 million to $23.2 million) and making a final price of $22 million with fees. The result aligns with the modern master Sanyu’s market ascendance over the past decade. The sale realized an increase in value of 156 percent since its last sale at Sotheby’s in 2013, where the seller bought it for HKD 67.3 million ($8.6 million).
Sanyu’s big night in Hong Kong continued with the sale of his black-ground floral still-life, which hammered at HKD 118 million ($15.2 million and $17.8 million with buyer’s fees) surpassing its low estimate of HKD 68 million ($8.8 million) by 74 percent. The consignor of the the black still life purchased the work 15 years ago at a Christie’s Hong Kong sale for just HKD 3.3 million ($420,129). This week’s sale saw the painting’s market value appreciate by a staggering 4,141.6 percent since its last sale in 2005.
A large-scale gold triptych 15.01.82 by Sino-French modernist Zao Wou-Ki hammered at HKD 80 million ($10.3 million), making $12.2 million with premium. The seller acquired the work at a Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale in October 2013 for HKD 85.2 million ($10.9 million with buyer’s fees). The Christie’s sale marks a modest 11 percent increase for the work over the seven-year holding period.
Contemporary Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline Series The Big Family No. 2 followed a similar course. One of three major works from the Bloodline Series showcased at the Venice Biennale in 1995, the seller bought the work back in 2008 at a Christie’s Hong Kong sale for HKD 26.4 million ($3.4 million). Wednesday’s sale saw bidders move the hammer price past its high estimate of HKD 48 million ($6.2 million); eventually the work went to a phone bidder with Jacky Ho, Christie’s head of the Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art evening sale for a final price of HKD 98 million ($12.7 million with premium). Over the 12 years in private hands, the work’s value has appreciated by a factor of 3.7 times.
Another top performer was Japanese-French modernist Leonard Foujita. His reclining nude painting from 1921 made HKD 37.5 million ($4.8 million). The artist saw a new record in 2018 of £7 million ($9.4 million) for the sale of La fête d’anniversaire at Bonhams. More recently, in October Bonhams sold another similar reclining nude by the artist Femme allongée, Youki for £795,062 ($1.1 million)
Contemporary painter Liu Ye’s small-scale single-figure hot-pink painting Woman Reading from 2003 sold for HKD 14.6 million with buyer’s fees ($1.9 million). The seller bought the work at Christie’s London 11 years ago for £151,250 ($245,025), over its 5 times its estimate of £30,000. The present sale means the work has increased in value by 671 percent since its last sale in July 2009. While Liu Ye’s works from the mid-1990s account for his highest prices at auction, sources say as the artist’s recognition grows, collectors are becoming increasingly interested in his single-figure pictures of nude women made in the early 2000s, considered to be the artist’s later period. Auction specialists are seeing demand for these works now place in the seven-figures. In July, Liu Ye’s Girl! (2004) sold for HKD 7.8 million ($1.01 million) during Phillips Hong Kong contemporary art day sale saw, well in excess of its pre-sale high estimate.
Meanwhile, the seller of George Condo’s The Smoking Sailor (2007), who bought the work in October 2011 at Christie’s London for £223,250 ($352,735), saw the work surpass its high estimate on Wednesday. It went to a new buyer for HKD 9.9 million ($1.27 million with fees), over a low estimate of HKD 4.8 million ($619,000), realizing a solid 260 percent increase in price since its last sale nine years ago.
At the lower price end of the sale, a 2008 untitled painting by Japanese artist Isumi Kato, known for his imagery featuring surreal humanoid figures was among the many work to resurfaced at auction. It last sold for HKD 437,500 with fees ($56,451) at Christie’s in November 2015 during a contemporary art day sale. This week, the seller saw it go for $210,000 with buyer’s fees, over the estimate of HKD 800,000 ($103,000). That is an appreciation of 272 percent in value in just five years. This sale continues the trend for Kato’s market performance in the summer. In the July Hong Kong sale series, Isumi Kato saw the highest hammer ratio (hammer price over low estimate) of all the artists represented in the modern and contemporary sales at the top three auction houses in Asia.