W ith Sotheby’s Hong Kong Contemporary Evening Auction nearly upon us it's time to review some of the artists who will set pulses racing this October. Read on ahead of the livestreamed sale on 5 October 2023.
The youngest on the list, Los Angeles-based Lucy Bull (b. 1990) is an artist with a growing international following. Most recently she was the subject of a solo exhibition at Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai. Her artworks are cinematic episodes of trance-like atmosphere: adventurous journeys into new realms of colour. Surreptitious mark-making unobtrusively guides the eye, darting through the no-man’s-land between the grounded and linear. Flash Chamber (2020) is one such odyssey of colour, a maelstrom of lime, emerald and racing greens, placing the viewer in the eye of the storm. Deliberately eschewing meanings, solutions and messages, her work appeals instead to instinct, emotion and the subconscious. Seeking chaos and escape, her work plunges us into the kaleidoscopic and vertiginous space between dreams and reality.
When it comes to longevity on the US contemporary art scene, few can match George Condo (b. 1957) who has been a pivotal figure in American painting for four decades. His carnivalesque canvases fuse the real, the imagined and the nonsensical into a seething cauldron of humanity. In his paintings, he is the director of a troupe of visually arresting actors: clowns and cardinals, the multi-limbed and the goggle-eyed. They compose an ever fascinating, ever evolving snapshot of a world of, in his words, “Artificial Realism.” Female Portrait with Blue Eyes (2013) is a joyous example of Condo’s ability to delve into the treasure trove of the Western art canon. Having borrowed from Velazquez, Matisse, and Twombly among others, this painting nods to Picasso. Created in acrylic, charcoal and pastel, this is one of Condo’s “drawing paintings,” of which Condo remarked in 2011, “They are about beauty and horror walking hand in hand. They are about improvisation on the human figure and its consciousness.”
New York-based Loie Hollowell (b. 1983) creates bold, symmetrical, biomorphic forms which are simultaneously sensuous and spiritual. They are collisions of the abstract and the figurative, offering sensitive perspectives both of the individual human body and the psychology underpinning our species. Her work is often geometric, with prominence given to strong colour, considered shading and the interplay of light and shadow. Hollowell has been compared by some to preceding luminaries of American art such as Agnes Pelton, Judy Chicago and Georgia O’Keeffe. Milk Fountain (2019) turns a lens on the maternal female body, a snapshot of the feminine form in firm lines.
Willem de Kooning
One of the leading lights of the post-war New York abstract expressionist boom, Willem de Kooning (1904-97) is an artist who captivates and mesmerises in equal measure. His Souvenir of Toulouse (1958) represents a turning point in his professional career as he turned from the creative hub of New York City towards nearby Long Island. To change location meant not just a change of scenery, but new journeys. This painting fizzes with the blurred urgency of rushing wind in a speeding automobile towards Long Island; the dashes of sunlight through the car window, the blue horizons, the palpable velocity. This museum-quality work has played its part in some of the greatest exhibitions of de Kooning in history, including at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Chengdu-born, Beijing-based Hao Liang (b. 1983) works in ink and silk to form a richly-layered, luxuriant dialogue with the classical world. His paintings are both real and ethereal, conversing sotto voce with both the present and past. His artworks engage with literati life with meticulous, sombre nuance, using paint sourced from plants. Shell (2010) occupies a unique place in Hao’s own career, having been a highlight piece in his debut solo exhibition in China, “Hao Liang: Secluded and Infinite Places,” in Beijing in 2014. This is a work of philosophical weight, and a crucible of Eastern and Western contemplations of mortality and faith. The man depicted in the painting is holding a shell which is eerily similar to a human heart, and the chiaroscuro calls to mind a struggle between good and evil, life and rebirth. The painting has been linked with historical masterpieces such as the Ming dynasty work Erlang and his Soldiers Driving Out Animal Spirits, as well as Leonardo da Vinci’s St. Jerome in the Wilderness (c. 1480).
New York City-based Julie Mehretu (b. 1970) was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and was educated both in Senegal and the US. Since the late 1990s, Mehretu has harnessed architectural drawings, maps and construction blueprints in the conception and layout of her works. An artist with a global insight and perspective into the human story of migration, she perceives her mandate in global terms, drawing from a diverse pool of historical movements as well as her own heritage and experience. The artist has remarked, "I don’t think of architectural language as just a metaphor about space, but about spaces of power, about ideas of power." Building upon studies of army terrain maps, NFL game plans, airport diagrams and construction blueprints, Mehretu’s Untitled (2001) is both grounded in the foundations of buildings and architecture, and yet abstract. As such, it embodies the world itself, part order and logic, part chaos and unpredictability.
Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (1994) is emblematic of a genius in full flow. With his unique synergy of figuration, abstraction and the journey into memory, Gerhard Richter investigates forms of perception. His squeegee, drawn across the canvas, demonstrates his mastery of space, direction and pressure – and surrenders control to the elements, gravity and happenstance. This painting was included in the seminal 1995 exhibition “Gerhard Richter: Painting in the Nineties,” at Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London. Works from this show are now dispersed across the world’s most significant collections, including The Cleveland Museum of Art, the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.
Matthew Wong (1984-2019) spent his life between Hong Kong and Canada. A self-taught painter, his interiors and landscapes are redolent with the psychological: solitary journeys across plains of loneliness and long journeys across daunting chasms to distant peaks. Harnessing juxtapositions of surface textures and colours to jar and provoke discomfort, Wong is an artist of mood and power. White Room (2018), painted in the year before his tragic death, is a window into a lost talent.
Celebrated contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang’s (b. 1958) Bloodline - Big Family No. 2 (2001) is a signature piece from his Bloodline series, investigating ties of family and politics in a world of changing political allegiances. The reddened child in the foreground is thrust forwards to take urgent precedence over his parents in the background; their neutral expressions are devoid of fervour or active engagement, blankly accepting. Beyond its origins and deep resonance with Chinese societal history, the series carries intrinsic human relevance, exploring as it does the ties that bind, the transfer of hope to the next generation and the active or inactive fading out of the past. Zhang is a staple of major art collections, including Hong Kong’s M+. Bloodline: Big Family No 3 (1995) fetched HK$94.2 million at auction at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in 2014.
Liu Ye (b. 1964) was born in Beijing and studied at the city’s prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts. He later undertook an MFA at the Fine Arts University in Berlin, and his collector base and perspective, are global. His work embraces human emotions, with the presence of cartoon-like characters underlining a purity of feeling, and whimsical, deliberate naivete. His She and Mondrian (2021) combines the elegant geometry of Piet Mondrian (1877-1944) with roundness and volume. The innocent, cartoonish form, relaxing at her work with eyes half-closed, expresses the mindful concentration and infectious joy of artistic creativity. The composition’s angular lines, with the delineation of the paper, the table and the blue wall, all echo the abstract geometric oeuvre of Mondrian which is presented in the foreground.