G athering at the Sands Expo & Convention Centre on a typical Singapore summer afternoon braving heat and drizzles of rain, collectors and new audiences filled the sale room with palpable energy for the return of Modern & Contemporary Art, held as part of the ongoing celebrations of Sotheby's 50th anniversary in Asia.
The sale realised SG$15.1 million (US$11.1 million) and a sell-through rate of 93% by lot achieving the second highest total for any sale held by Sotheby’s in Singapore. Of the 56 lots that went under the hammer, more than half sold above high estimates.
The top-selling lot of the sale was Georgette Chen’s resplendent still life, Lychees and Peaches painted in the 1940s and appearing at auction for the first time. Created while the artist was under house arrest with her first husband in Shanghai in the 1940s, Lychees and Peaches weaves an allegorical tale of this significant time in her life. The artist’s still lifes are among the most coveted of her works, with only seven works from the same period known to have come to auction. This rarity was once again proven when Lychees and Peaches surpassed pre-sale expectations to sell to an in-room bidder for SG$2 million (US$1.5 million).
Noticeably among the lots that gathered immense interest and fierce bidding, the demand for works by women artists continue to remain strong, reflecting the global trend highlighted by Sotheby’s Insight Report that saw sales of art by women artists more than double between 2018 and 2022, growing from US$221.7 million to US$461.9 million.
Kei Imazu, who has gained international acclaim for her signature blend of structured strata, bright beauty and rewarding complexity, proved to be a contemporary star to watch. Painted in 2017, WOOO saw a spur of bids quickly soaring past its SG$95,000 high estimate. After fierce bidding, the painting sold for SG$342,900 (US$253,578), setting an exceptional new record for the artist at auction.
Jane Lee’s visually arresting painting Melt VII drew immense interest across the sale room, fetching SG$190,500 (US$140,877), more than twice its low estimate. Lee has become renowned for her dashing, luscious, almost gastronomic handling of her medium. In the words of artist Guo-Liang Tan: “Lee works with a consistency of paint that is thick and viscous but still appears malleable and soft, not unlike cream or whipped butter.”
Southeast Asian art proved to be going strong. Rodel Tapaya’s Multi-petalled Beauty sold for more than twice its high estimate at SG$215,900 (US$159,660), achieving a new artist record. Two paintings by renowned Filipino painter Fernando Cueto Amorsolo, Fruit seller and Woman by the Water exceeded estimates to reach SG$304,800 (US$225,403) and SG$406,400 (US$300,537), respectively. Among Vietnamese modern art, all five works by Le Pho found buyers, while Mai Trung Thu’s Mona Lisa topped its high estimate selling to an online bidder for SG$304,800 (US$225,403).
Appearing at auction for the first time, trailblazer of the Singaporean Nanyang school Cheong Soo Pieng’s Seated Balinese Lady nearly tripled its low estimate, achieving SG$203,200 (US$150,268), while Return from market realised SG$292,100 (US$216,011). Meanwhile a new artist record was set for Liu Kang, a peer to Cheong and also a pioneering figure of the Nanyang style, with Pounding Rice which sold in excess of its high estimate for SG$698,500 (US$516,548).
Other noteworthy results include Jean-Michel Basquiat's Flexible, which sold for more than three times its high estimate at SG$381,000 (US$281,753), Liu Ye's Composition with Moonlight and The Team of Red by Christine Ay Tjoe which fetched SG$1.65 million (US$1.22 million) and SG$990,600 (US$732,559), becoming the second and third top-selling lots of the auction, respectively.
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 & Contemporary Art reaffirms Sotheby’s commitment to expanding its presence across the APAC region, and to Southeast Asia with Singapore at the core. With in-room international participation from 20 countries and more than half hailing from Southeast Asia, Singapore’s market for art is unquestionably going from strength to strength.