Last Wednesday, three marquee sales at Sotheby’s Hong Kong took a total of 221.8 million dollars, the highest amount ever achieved in a single evening at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. This spectacular total included the sale of an exceptional De Beers Blue Diamond that fetched 57.5 million dollars, one of the highest prices ever paid for a diamond at auction. Regarding the artworks, several strong results confirmed the extraordinary momentum of the Hong Kong art market.
“Western artists have become relatively important in our Hong Kong sales, but what is particularly exciting for me is seeing them interact with their Asian counterparts, great artists like Wu Guanzhong, Chu Teh-Chun and Yoshitomo Nara, who enjoy huge audiences here in Asia and around the world.” Alex Branczik, Head of Modern & Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Asia
Four works by Louise Bourgeois, Wu Guanzhong, Yoshitomo Nara and Pablo Picasso each fetched over HK$100 million (US$13 million). Pablo PICASSO’s Dora Maar now belongs to a Japanese collector who paid $21.6 million, the second highest price ever paid for a Picasso in Asia. However the record for a Western artist in Hong Kong belongs to BASQUIAT’s Warrior which sold for $41.6 million at Christie’s Hong Kong last year (March 23, 2021).
Between New York and Hong Kong, Louise Bourgeois’ Spider IV added 2 million dollars in five years!
Sotheby’s nevertheless managed to plant an absolute record in the sculpture medium by selling one of Louise BOURGEOIS‘ bewitching bronze spiders for $16.5 million (within its estimates), the highest auction price ever paid for a sculpture in Asia. This Spider IV also added two million dollars compared to 2017 when Sotheby’s presented it at a New York sale (November 16, 2017).
Chinese artist WU Guanzhong‘s Plum Blossoms (see picture here) attracted a bid of $13.2 million vs. a purchase price of $8.6 million in April 2015 (Sotheby’s Hong Kong), thereby adding 4.6 million in just seven years! Since Guanzhong’s death in 2010, demand and prices for his works have continued to grow: his paintings showing an overall value accretion of 127%.
The Japanese artist Yoshitomo NARA was represented by a large canvas, Oddly Cozy, which had never appeared at auction before April 27. The fourth work to fetch over US$13 million, at $14.3 million, the painting generated Nara’s fifth best-ever auction result. A total of eight Nara works have now sold above the $10 million threshold since 2019. With an extremely low unsold rate (around 10%), growing demand and constantly evolving prices over the last decade, Yoshitomo Nara ranks in the TOP 15 most successful artists at auction, all categories and all periods of creation combined.
It should also be noted that Contemporary Art is continuing to attract young collectors: according to Sotheby’s, 25% of buyers at the April 27 Contemporary Art sale were under 40. Competition was fierce for works by very young artists: for her first auction appearance in Asia, Anna WEYANT‘s still life Josephine fetched $514,000, a new auction record, at nearly ten times its high estimate record; Shara HUGHES‘ Tipsy attracted offers from collectors around the world (Hong Kong, New York and London) before selling to an online bidder for $1 million, and Salman TOOR’s Rooftop Singer more than doubled its high estimate, reaching $610,000. In sum, 98% of Sotheby’s lots sold, of which, 61% exceeded their high estimates, clearly illustrating an extraordinary appetite for Contemporary art in Hong Kong.
Key takeaways from Hong Kong sales (according to Sotheby’s):
● Almost all the works offered found buyers: nearly 95% in the Modern Art sale and 98% in the Contemporary Art sale (truly exceptional success rates!).
● Approximately 50% of the bidders participated online.
● Five works sold for over $13 million each: Pablo Picasso’s Dora Maar, Wu Guanzhong’s Plum Blossoms, the De Beers Blue Diamond, Yoshitomo Nara’s Oddly Cozy and Louise Bourgeois’ Spider IV.
● More than three-quarters of the works offered had never been auctioned before.
● In the Modern Art sale, there were new records for Le Pho, whose Figures in a Garden triptych sold for almost six times its high estimate at $2.3 million, setting a new auction record for the artist, for Li Huayi (Forever Young, $1.6 million), for Amad Sadali (Composition with Orange Background, $674,000) and for André Brasilier (Grande chevauchée du lac en automne, $481,761).