With One Exception, Big Sales at Christie’s Hong Kong
By HG Masters
Christie’s evening auction of 20th and 21st century art in Hong Kong on May 24 demonstrated that prices for bluechip and newly hip artists from China, Asia, and the United States are still rapidly rising. The sale garnered more than HKD 1.58 billion (USD 205 million) in total, moving 73 out of 75 lots. However, between the auction’s two sessions, the single-artwork sale of Xu Beihong’s painting Slave and Lion (1924) missed the low estimate of HKD 350 million (USD 45.1 million) and failed to secure a buyer. Christie’s had billed the allegorical canvas as a “treasure of national history” and “the highest-estimated Asian artwork ever offered at auction.”
The headline canvas of Christie’s 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face) (1982), did not disappoint, surpassing its HKD 170 million (USD 21.9 million) high estimate to reach HKD 234 million (USD 30.1 million). The most expensive Chinese work of art was Zhang Daqian’s luscious blue and green landscape Temple at the Mountain Peak (1967), which hammered at HKD
209.1 million (USD 26.9 million) against an unpublished estimate reportedly set at HKD 100 million (USD 12.9 million). Sanyu’s Potted Chrysanthemums (c. 1950s) went for HKD 118 million (USD 15.2 million), within estimates. A brilliant red Zao Wou-ki titled 24.01.63 (1963) was the priciest of the late Chinese-French abstractionist’s works at HKD 76.3 million (USD 9.8 million), within estimates, though a moody blue seascape, Port – 29.04.52 (1952), exceeded its HKD 27 million (USD 3.48 million) high estimate to fetch HKD 30 million (USD 3.86 million).
Prices for select younger artists with scant institutional traction—but growing collector bases in Asia—marched upwards. Loie Hollowell’s abstraction Yellow Canyon Over Red Ground (2016) attained HKD 4.38 million (USD 564,000), above a high estimate of HKD 800,000 (USD 103,000), while Avery Singer’s 2013 canvas Dancers Around An Effigy To Modernism doubled its high estimate to reach HKD 24.3 million (USD 3.13 million). Acquired straight from the artist, Amoaka Boafo’s portrait Justine Mendy (2018) hit HKD 8.77 million (USD 1.13 million). Similarly Huang Yuxing’s rainbow landscape A Flourishing City Near the Yellow River Source (2019), which had never previously been exhibited either, was purchased for HKD 9.25 million (USD 1.19 million)—roughly four times its high estimate. Ronald Ventura’s painting Party Animal (2017), shown once at Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York, achieved a stratospheric price of HKD 19.45 million (USD 2.5 million), above its HKD 1.2 million (USD 155,000) high estimate.
Hong Kong painters continued their pandemic-year price escalation. Matthew Wong’s dreamy NIGHT 2 (2018), exhibited once at Massimo de Carlo in Hong Kong, more than tripled its HKD 8.8 million (USD 1.13 million) high estimate to reach HKD 30.3 million (USD 3.9 million). A canvas by the youngest artist in the sale, Chris Huen Sin Kan, born in 1991, more than doubled its high estimate to hammer at HKD 1.38 million (USD 178,000); while the midcareer painter Yeung Tong Lung’s Staircase (2011) went for HKD 625,000 (USD 81,000), more than three times its high estimate.
Hong Kong’s art auctions have been consistently successful since the middle of 2020, when they resumed after Covid-19’s first wave in the city. The Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on July 10, 2020, brought in HKD 607 million (USD 78.3 million) across 43 lots, with two unsold.
*All results include buyer’s premium.
HG Masters is deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.
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