The Lion Roars: Highlights from Singapore’s Modern and Contemporary Art Auction

The Lion Roars: Highlights from Singapore’s Modern and Contemporary Art Auction

Sotheby’s is back in the Lion City with a dazzling offering of modern and contemporary art that will whet the appetite of collectors across the region.
Sotheby’s is back in the Lion City with a dazzling offering of modern and contemporary art that will whet the appetite of collectors across the region.

F rom fresh-to-market works by sought-after women artists to contemporary stars of the global art world, Modern and Contemporary Art is a cacophony of exciting works to discover. The sale also includes standouts of Chinese modern art alongside a roster of Southeast Asian heavyweights that demonstrate not only the strength of art discourse in the region but celebrates the great achievements of its artists.

Presented in partnership with Marina Bay Sands, an icon of Singapore’s glittering skyline and an unparalleled destination for art and cultural experiences in the Lion City, Modern and Contemporary Art exemplifies the international audience and patronage of Singapore’s art scene and that of the wider Asia region.

Discover the highlights below spanning the breath of the 20th and 21st century ahead of the live auction at Marina Bay Sands on 2 July.

The Rhythm of Abstraction

Conveying the rhythm of movement through the language of abstraction, Chu Teh-Chun’s Sans titre was painted in 1970, in the midst of a stylistic breakthrough. The artist had been greatly inspired by an exhibition he had seen the previous year of Dutch master painter Rembrandt (1606–1669). Applying Rembrandt’s skillful chiaroscuro to his own lyrical abstractions, Chu Teh-Chun suffuses his painting with the radiant glow of inspiration and innovation. Eschewing canvas for paper, Chu Teh-Chun embraces a freedom beyond canvas, and melds the traditions and philosophies of the East with the radical aesthetic departures which he helped engender in the West. 

Chu Teh-Chun, Sans titre . Estimate: 120,000 - 260,000 SGD
Kazuo Shiraga, Kari . estimate: 300,000 - 500,000 SGD

Charged with primal energy, Kazuo Shiraga’s Kari exudes the powerful, irrepressible physicality of an artist who engaged with violence head-on in order to transcend it. A work of crimson barbarism and of balletic elegance, Kari is one of Shiraga’s renowned foot paintings. Created in 1991 in his post-Gutai period, the painting sees Shiraga in full mastery of his technique, emitting an unbridled, raw and visceral pugnacity, borne of a generation whose art was a catharsis for the horrors of war. The contrast to superflat legend Takashi Murakami, at the forefront of second-generation Japanese post-war artists, could hardly be more marked. 

Hovering gently between abstraction and figuration, Huang Yuxing's Treasure exemplifies the electric hues and mesmerising neon luminescence of his sought-after River and Bubbles series. The pulsating palette of fluorescence is soaked in dazzling energy and meditative calm. Painted in 2015, Treasure attests to Huang’s continued and timely exploration of the co-existence of humans with the natural world, and the flow of energy and time through the cosmos. 

Huang Yuxing, Treasure . estimate: 300,000 - 500,000 SGD

Completing the strong roster of prolific artists working in the abstract tradition is Chinese ink master Liu Kuo-Sung, once a student of Chu Teh-Chun, and later one of Chinese art’s trailblazing modernists. Liu is currently the subject of a major retrospective at the National Gallery Singapore heralding seven decades of his artistic practice. Also in the line-up is Taiwanese sculptor Li Chen, whose spiritual style bursts with the zest of humanity and echoes Botero’s sense of full-bodied joy.

Narrating Life

One of the largest works by the artist to come to the market, Srihadi Sudarsono’s Bedoyo ketawang: The sacred court dance conveys the tense moments before the bedoyo dance performance. The bedoyo is a significant part of Javanese culture and of the royal court, with records of the dance dating back to the Majapahit Empire. Each step of the choreography requires the dancer to meditate, and gesture both physically and spiritually. Sudarsono conveys not only the deep significance of the occasion, but the individual verve and charisma of each dancer. The painting is imbued with élan, rhythm and rasa, a concept defined by historian Jean Couteau as “the Javanese empathic mode of behaviour,” suffused with intuition and the intangible.

Srihadi Sudarsono, Bedoyo ketawang: The sacred court dance . Estimate: 320,000 - 500,000 SGD
Hendra Gunawan, Women Buying Fish Along the Beach . Estimate: 150,000 - 250,000 SGD

Hendra Gunawan’s circa 1960s painting Women Buying Fish Along the Beach captures a joyously raucous rhythm, alive with the seafaring traditions of his native Bandung, Indonesia. The vibrantly stylised, wind-blown women wear batik of lovingly depicted floral motifs, which dynamically interact with the marine life which spirals around them. If ever there was a painted scene which was filled with sound, this is it. The swirling wind, the shouts of the marketplace, the calling of the gulls, this is an artwork imbued with sights, sounds and smells. This painting hails from a private collection in Germany and is a beautiful example of an everyday scene elevated to the fantastical.

Mai Trung Thu, Jeune femme sur le chemin avec panier de cumquats . Estimate: 200,000 - 300,000 SGD

Hailing from the personal collection of the artist’s daughter, Madam Mai Lan Phuong, French-Vietnamese modernist Mai Trung Thu’s silk painting Jeune femme sur le chemin avec panier de cumquats exudes an atmosphere both of everyday simplicity and dreamlike reverie. Painted in 1941 whilst under German occupation in France, the delicate silk is imbued with a gentle longing for the peaceful beauty of the past, and of nostalgia for Vietnam. Painted in 1975, during his late artistic career, Portrait de Mme N. Au Teckel portrays Madam N endearingly modern in attire, and represents a signature mélange of East and West, placing the sitter in the aristocratic portraiture tradition of Anthony van Dyck, replete with outdoor scenery, subtly commanding posture, and dog at her lap. 

Le Pho, another pioneer of Vietnamese modern art alongside Mai Trung Thu and early graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts de L’Indochine in Hanoi, painted the sublime Jeune fille à la fleur in 1907. An ethereal, sprightly painting of ink on silk, this early work predates the artist’s later devotion to oil painting. A scene of fragrance, charm and purity, the young lady savouring the scent of a flower is timeless, personal and universal all at once. Appropriately, the backdrop of mountains is a visual echo to Le Pho’s iconic Harmony in Green: The Two Sisters in the collection of the National Gallery Singapore.

Le Pho, Jeune fille à la fleur . Estimate: 260,000 - 380,000 SGD
Le Thi Luu, La rescapée . Estimate: 100,000 - 150,000 SGD

Rounding out the silk painting offerings of Vietnamese modernism alongside Le Pho and Mai Trung Thu is Le Thi Luu's charming La rescapée. Among the first and few female graduates of the École des Beaux-Arts de L’Indochine in Hanoi, Le Thi Luu’s celebrated works are rare to appear on the market, making La rescapée a highlight not to be missed.

Portraying life could equally be about the architectures and landscapes surrounding oneself. Proclaimed the founder of modern Chinese painting, the influential work of Jiangsu-born artist Wu Guanzhong (1919–2010) continues to have a deep resonance with collectors and public in Singapore today. In 2008, Wu donated 113 of his paintings to the national collection of Singapore, establishing the Wu Guanzhong Gallery, named in his honour, at the National Gallery Singapore, and the Wu Guanzhong Exhibition Series which was initiative in 2015 to research and promote the artist’s life and art. Also in the sale are two trailblazing artists of the Nanyang school, Liu Kang and Cheong Soo Pieng, both inextricably entwined with the notably rich Singaporean 20th century artistic landscape.

Wu Guanzhong, old pier at Guazhou . Estimate: 170,000 - 350,000 SGD

The tradition of painting close to the heart has neither time nor geographic boundaries. Recognised for his sculptures and paintings of volumptous women, perennially exuberant 91-year-old Columbian master Fernando Botero infuses proceedings with his generosity of spirit and sense of joyful, corpulent abundance. A Family is one of Botero’s coveted group paintings, combining whimsical stasis with subtle gestures and movement. The sense of intimacy and balance in colour and composition conspires to form a gleefully buoyant, uplifting and distinctively volumetric whole. This is a warm and vital painting which embodies the refuge of home, heart and family at the core of his signature style, Boterismo.

Fernando Botero, A Family . Estimate: 2,000,000 - 2,800,000 SGD

Spotlight on Women Artists

Modern Art | Asia

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