Hong Kong stirs from slumber



Sotheby’s kicks off its Modern and Contemporary Asian Art sales in Hong Kong on 6 October 2009. The day will be divided into three sessions: 20th Century Chinese Art, Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings and Contemporary Asian Art. The catalogues are ambitious with more than 380 works by Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian and Korean artists, and a total revenue estimate of close to $25m.
Eagerly awaited, these sales will inevitably give some indication of the kind of results that can be expected at the November sales, particularly the Contemporary Art sales in New York and the Asian Art sales in Honk Kong (Christie’s, 29 and 30 November). Remember that the first consequences of the global financial crisis on the art market became apparent in Hong Kong in October 2008 before spreading to the rest of the world.

Once again, Sotheby’s is weighting its sale in favour of the Contemporary segment (Contemporary Asian Art) which carries the richest of the three catalogues with 190 lots and a total revenue estimate of $12.5m. In order to re-kindle interest amongst its biggest clients, the auctioneer has built a catalogue of very attractive signatures. Among the star lots: a powder drawing by CAI Guoqiang, Money net NO.2, estimated at HKD 4.7m – 5.5m, ($606,000 – $710,000), several paintings by YUE Minjun, including Hats series – The lovers expected to generate around $400,000 (estimated HKD 2.8m – 3.5m), three paintings from the famous Chinese Portrait series by FENG Zhengjie including a superb contemporary Amazon (4 x 3 metres) estimated at $100,000 – $130,000 (HKD 800,000 – 1m). A very similar monumental portrait fetched $133,000 in June 2009 (Phillips de Pury & Company, London, £81,000).

ZENG Fanzhi and ZHANG Xiaogang – known for their capacity to generate exceptional results even in periods of crisis – both have several works in the sale, including Zhang’s Comrade diptych offered at $600,000 – $700,000 (HKD 4.7m – 5.4m). Sotheby’s has prudently excluded his most expensive works from (the Bloodline: Big Family) series from the sale although two paintings from that series generated relatively respectable results in the autumn of 2008 at more than $2m each (Bloodline: Big Family No.1, fetched HKD 20m at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 4 October and Bloodline: Big Family No.2, fetched HKD 23m on 30 November at Christie’s Hong Kong).

The auctioneer is offering 130 Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings, including one attractive subject by I Nyoman MASRIADI. The painting entitled The man from Bantul, The Monster, depicts a ferocious boxing match and it is prudently estimated at around $100,000 (HKD 600,000 – 900,000). The same subject, developed on a canvas twice the size (250 cm x 435 cm) in The Man from Bantul (The Final Round) fetched the top hammer price of HKD 6,5m ($836,550) at Sotheby’s October 2008 sale in Hong Kong. Agus SUWAGE – another star signature on the contemporary Indonesian art scene – is represented with a work entitled Holy beer estimated at HKD 180,000 – 250,000 ($23,200 – 32,200) and a portrait of Gandhi with a cigarette estimated at HKD 100,000 – 200,000 ($12,900 – 25,800).

The 20th Century Chinese Art catalogue is a prudent mix of safe-bet works with relatively new works. Apart from the abstract masters CHU Teh-Chun and ZAO Wou-Ki (with 7.4.61, a majestic oil on canvas estimated at HKD 8m to 12m ($1m – 1.5m), works created during the last decade by Kuan-Jun PENG and WEI Xiaoming are being offered for between $10,000 and $35,000. For this sale, Sotheby’s is essentially relying on the Lotus and Red Fish by SAN Yu. Having been hidden from the public for half a century, the work is making its first auction appearance and it is estimated at between $2 and $3m (HKD 15m – 25m). Sotheby’s is probably not taking any risk by setting the price at that level since a new record was set for Sanyu in May earlier this year when his Cat and birds fetched $4.7m (HKD 37m) at Christie’s in Hong Kong.

For these Hong Kong sales, Sotheby’s has brought together some very charismatic signatures, with chosen carefully subjects and modest price pretentions. The stage is therefore set to attract buyers who have expressed a strong acquisitive appetite: according to Artprice’s Art Market Confidence Index , more than 75% of respondents are in the mood for buying.