A s Sotheby’s concludes seven days of Hong Kong Spring Sales on 11 July, we look back at the standout performance of modern and contemporary art sales in the week. Six auctions across the divisions of Modern Art, Contemporary Art, and Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art realized a combined total of HK$1.7 billion ($220 million), an exceptional result for Sotheby’s and for the art market in Asia.
At a combined total of HK$1.7 billion for the six sales, Sotheby’s performance in the July auction series far outdistanced its nearest competitors, and once again cements Sotheby’s leadership in modern and contemporary art.
The numbers speak for themselves. Across the six sales, five lots each fetched more than HK$100 million (US$12.9 million). The Modern Art Evening and Day auctions saw spirited bidding, which attained a HK$882.9 million (US$113.9 million) combined sale total. The two Contemporary Art auctions achieved HK$734 million (US$94.6 million), with a HK$595 million (US$76.8 million) sale total for the evening sale that represents the highest value of its kind ever staged at Sotheby’s Asia. Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art brought in HK$85 million (US$11 million), with strong prices for works by both established and emerging artist from the region, a testament to the market’s maturing demand.
Below are ten high points that underscore Sotheby’s Hong Kong success in the recent week of auctions.
1. Sanyu Takes Top Lot
Sanyu’s 1950s masterwork Quatre nus inspired a thrilling four-way bidding battle at the Modern Art Evening sale (8 July, Hong Kong), attracting 21 bids over the course of ten minutes. The painting went for HK$258 million (US$33.3 million) when the gavel fell, confirming Sanyu's status as one of the most important and sought-after artists in the art market.
2. Hockney Leads Western Offerings
David Hockney's rare masterpiece 30 Sunflowers sold for HK$114.8 million (US$14.8 million) and the Contemporary Art Evening Sale (9 July, Hong Kong), making it the second-highest sum ever paid for a Western work sold at auction in Asia, with all of the top three records held by Sotheby's. Compared with prices for paintings by Hockney globally, results for 30 Sunflowers now places the work at seventh, signaling the continued ascent of Asia as a global platform for contemporary art. The recent sales also demonstrate Sotheby's unmatched leadership in western contemporary art in Asia, including works by Clyfford Still, Albert Oehlen, and Günther Förg which all achieved stellar results.
3. Chu Teh-Chun Breaks $100 Million, a Record
Chu Teh-Chun’s singular pentaptych Les éléments confédérés went under the HK$114 million (US$14.6 million) at the Modern Art Evening Sale (8 July, Hong Kong). This is the first work of the painter to cross the HK$100 million mark, setting a new benchmark for Chu Teh-Chun.
4. Zao Wou-Ki Whips Up a Storm
Zao Wou-Ki never disappoints, with all seven of the works offered in the Modern Art evening sale 100 percent sold, led by the artist's masterpieces from his “Hurricane Period,” and fetching a combined total of HK$318.5 million ($41 million). Among the seven paintings were 20.03.60 which sold for HK$115 million (US$14.8 million) against a high estimate of HK$85 million, and 19.11.59 which skyrocketed far beyond the predicted high of HK$80 million to achieve HK$111 million (US$14.3 million).
5. Chinese Contemporary Art Remains Robust
The monumental painting by Liu Ye Leave Me in the Dark, one of only four such single-panel canvases featuring a figure created by the artist, went under the hammer at HK$45.4 million (US$5.8 million), against an estimate of HK$25–35 million. These results at the Contemporary Art Evening sale earned the second highest auction record for Liu Ye, surpassed only by the world record also achieved by Sotheby’s last October. Further underscoring the success of contemporary Chinese artists was Hao Liang’s Poison Buddha 2, which fetched HK$16 million (US$2 million) at the same sale. Sotheby’s now holds the top two auction records for both artists.
6. Women Artists on the Rise
Works by women artists appear to be enjoying extraordinary growth at this week's auctions. Femme Nue (Nude) by Georgette Chen, the first nude composition by the celebrated artist to appear on the international market, was sold at the Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art Evening sale (8 July, Hong Kong) at HK$1.6 million (US$210,000) more than five times the higher projected estimate of HK$300,000 (US$39,000). On the same evening, Christine Ay Tjoe’s The Flying Balloon reached HK$5.9 million (US$765,793), while thought-provoking works by Jane Lee also performed exceptionally well.
At the Modern Art Evening Sale (8 July, Hong Kong), Guan Zilan’s Portrait of a Young Girl set a new benchmark for the artist at HK$9.8 million (US$1.3 million). Abstract works by Lalan offered at the sale La Lune Était Bleue and Sans Titre achieved great success, going under the hammer respectively at HK$1.4 million (US$177,000) and HK$2.8 million (US$355,000). Sophie Chang’s Source of Hope was one of the three works auctioned in aid of efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The painting earned a sale price HK$2.3 million (US$300,000), sale proceeds that will be donated to Taiwan Centers for Disease Control.
7. Japanese Artists in High Demand
At the Contemporary Evening Sale, works by Japanese artists were 100 percent sold, led by Yoshitomo Nara’s Three Stars, which sold for HK$29 million (US$3.7 million), and Kazuo Shiraga’s Chitaisei Honkōshin which went for HK$26.6 million (US$3.4 million). Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin Army fetched HK$25.6 million (US$3.3 million) at more than twice the projected estimate.
8. Vietnamese Artists Reach New Heights
"We are pleased to see the extraordinary performance of works by Vietnamese artists, a market that we have been leading and cultivating for years as it continues to grow from strength to strength, as well as the strong results for prominent female artists in the region, who are increasingly coming under the spotlight on the global art scene."
Works by Vietnamese artists were 90 percent sold across evening and day sales of Southeast Asian Art, with notable prices achieved often in multiples of pre-sale estimates and three artist records established. A new high was achieved when Mai Trung Thu’s Grand-Mère (Grandmother) went under the hammer for HK$4.3 million (US$548,378). Tran Van Ha’s previous artist record set twice in one day with Stags and Does in a Mountain Landscape at HK$687,500 (US$88,667) and then Trung Sisters HK$1.1 million (US$145,000). Nguyen Nam Son’s Nude came in at HK$1.4 million (US$177,334), which is the new benchmark for an oil on canvas work for the Artist. Pham Hau’s Deer in a Forest fetched HK$4.5 million (US$580,000), which is not only three times the estimate but also the second highest price for the artist at auction. Mai Trung Thu’s Iris sold at eight times its projected high at HK$2.1 million (US$274,000) while Le Pho’s Jouseuses Des Cartes (Card Players) also realized the price of HK$2.1 million at six times the high estimate.
9. Le Mayeur Takes the Spotlight
The top lot of the Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian sales was Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres's Balinese Women in the Garden, sold at HK$7.4 million (US$950,000). In the auction, three rare works by the artist were all sold.
10. Younger Artists Make an Impact
New auction records were set for Hao Liang with Poison Buddha 2 at HK$17 million (US$2.2 million) and for Firenze Lai with his auction debuts Happily Ever After, which garnered HK$2.6 million (US$339,000). Both are young artists, born after 1980. Works of artists in this age bracket offered at the contemporary sales were 100 percent sold.
Breaking New Ground
Following the outstanding results of the Hong Kong’s Spring Auction Week, among the many records held by Sotheby’s include:
- Top Three Prices for Western Artworks Sold at Auction in Asia
- Liu Ye, Top Two Auction Records
- Hao Liang, Top Two Auction Records
- Chu Teh-Chun, Artist Auction
- Guan Zilan, Artist Auction
- Pang Jiun, Artist Auction
- Chen Ting-Shih, Artist Auction
- Ho Kan, Artist Auction
- Hsiao Ming-Hsien, Artist Auction
- Mai Trung Thu, Artist Auction
- Tran Van Ha, Artist Auction
- Chu Teh-Chun, Calligraphy Work for the Artist
- Sanyu, Oil Painting on Mirror for the Artist
- Nguyen Nam Son, Oil on Canvas Work for the Artist