HERstory of Art: Works by Female Artists from Hong Kong Spring Sales

Hong Kong | March – April 2019
Launch Slideshow

As March is Women's History Month, Sotheby’s proudly presents masterpieces by 9 modern and contemporary female artists at the upcoming Hong Kong Spring Sales (29 March – 3 April). Among them are such phenomenal names as Japanese artists Yayoi Kusama and Tanaka Atsuko; Chinese painters Pan Yuliang and Lalan; as well as contemporary artists Jane Lee and Julie Mehretu. Despite different generations and backgrounds, each of them has formed a unique and powerful voice in the male-dominated art world. Click ahead to view the highlights.

Edited by Melody Cheng

HERstory of Art: Works by Female Artists from Hong Kong Spring Sales

    Kusama Yayoi, INTERMINABLE NET #4, 1959, Estimate: HKD 50,000,000 — 70,000,000
    “I aspired to grab everything that went on in the city and become a star.” Shortly after Kusama arrived in New York City in 1958, Kusama began to work on what would become her most renowned series of white Infinity Net canvases. An adolescence growing up amidst war in Matsumoto City, Japan led to hallucinations that have remained with her over the course of her life. In an attempt to release her psychosomatic anxiety, overcome her reported visions, and achieve a sense of calm, Kusama retreated to her canvas in a process she termed ‘self-obliteration’. Radically challenging Abstract Expressionism with their size and all-over gestural brushwork, Kusama’s Infinity Nets responded with a dynamic intimacy, control, and meditative contemplation that diverged with the thrashing unruliness of New York School artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
    Pan Yuliang, BOUQUET DE CHRYSANTHÈMES ROSES, 1944, Estimate: HKD 1,800,000 — 3,800,000
    As one of just a handful of female pioneers of modern Chinese art, Pan Yuliang lived a legendary life. Fallen on hard times at a young age, Pan never gave up on herself. With help from her benefactor and husband, a customs official from Wuhu, China, named Pan Zanhua, Pan Yuliang took to the arts to become not only one of the first female students of Shanghai Art Academy, but also an important precedent for Chinese artists as her works were selected for show at Roman International Art Exhibition, receiving acclaim from the likes of contemporaries Xu Beihong and Chen Duxiu. Pan returned to China in 1928 and was hired to work at the Shanghai Art Academy, becoming their first ever Chinese female tutor, and travelled to Tokyo to hold a solo exhibition at Shiseido, Ginza. Her level of association with the Western art world at the time was unmatched by any Asian female artist.
    Jane Lee, DÉJÀ VU, 2013, Estimate: HKD 620,000 — 850,000
    Singaporean artist Jane Lee is an award-winning, contemporary artist best known for her experimental forays into painting. Her visually stunning, tactile works often challenge the physical limitations of a canvas, rendering her pieces sculptural and installation-like in nature. Looking to turn the traditional medium on its head, Lee’s work poses questions that challenge the very notion of what constitutes a painting by exploring unconventional materials and innovative techniques. As the contemporary art scene in Southeast Asia is a space largely governed by men, Lee, much like her work, has redefined artistic expectations and pushed the boundaries within these gender paradigms, garnering her status as a highly respected artist both locally and across international markets.
    Tanaka Atsuko, 93G, 1993, Estimate: HKD 4,500,000 — 6,500,000
    “I just want to create art that can coexist with these times.” As the decades progressed, the visual potency of Tanaka’s circle aesthetic only continuously increased. 93G is a distinguished piece from the final decade of Tanaka Atsuko’s iconic oeuvre of circle paintings – the last work to employ the distinctive composition of centrally positioned, completely overlapping concentric circles. Amongst the few works with a comparable composition, 93G possesses the most concentrated accumulation of precisely stacked discs and the densest thicket of winding coloured threads that cut circuitous, convoluted yet ostensibly organized routes across the canvas. The sheer intensity of colour and density of tightly packed circles hums with a palpable and almost visceral energy, “arousing in us a certain disquieting energy that tugs at our heart”, to quote the words of Tanaka scholar Kato Mizuho.
    Sturtevant, WARHOL LICORICE MARILYN, 2004, Estimate: HKD 2,000,000 — 3,000,000
    A close friend of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Elaine Sturtevant was a vital part of New York’s art scene in the 1960s. Her work, produced under the moniker Sturtevant to avoid gendered assumptions in a male dominated world, constitutes one of the most unusual contributions to Twentieth Century art, and demonstrates a remarkable understanding of the cultural zeitgeist that has eventuated in the “appropriation art” of the present day. Imitating and repeating the original works of her male contemporaries, Sturtevant unsettled the artistic establishment, challenging the prevailing Frankfurt school notion of an art work’s “aura”. The relationship between the original and the notion of originality was challenged; in Sturtevant’s words: “I make reproductions in order to confront, in order to trigger thinking.”
    Lalan, LA LUNE EST VOILÉE, 1974, Estimate: HKD 1,500,000 — 3,000,000
    Lalan was a legendary figure in 20th-century art history. With unbridled talent, she was a master of music, dance, and painting. A daring and independent forward-thinker, Lalan never shrank from pursuing her dreams and passions. She was like an alluring spring breeze, opening a personal artistic revolution that continues to ripple through aspects of Chinese art history that still reflect her passion. Her multifaceted identity and broad-ranging interests enriched her pictorial expression and nurtured what she called l’art synthèse—a synthesis of music, dance, and painting.
    Sophie Chang, LEANING BEAUTY, 2018, Estimate: HKD 1,000,000 — 2,000,000
    Philanthropy has been Sophie Chang’s mission in life, and painting has been an outlet for her emotions and creative energy. She has not adopted the identity of a painter for very long, but in such a short time she has already developed a unique voice and technical mastery based on her considerable talent and intensive study of the works of European, American, and Chinese masters. In her signature painting style, she manifests her imaginative interpretations of and deep emotional connections with her objects on canvas. On offer in this night auction are Sophie Chang’s Leaning Beauty and Samantabhadra. These works perfectly express Chang’s vast inner vision, conveying her nuanced reflections on existence to the viewer through her abstract brushwork.
    Julie Mehretu, BLACK GROUND (DEEP LIGHT), 2006, Estimate: HKD 14,000,000 — 20,000,000
    Born in Ethiopia in 1970, Mehretu and her family fled the country in 1977 as the political situation became steadily more unsettled, choosing to live in the United States instead. Like in Black Ground (deep light), Mehretu’s cities frequently appear to be under attack, perhaps as an allusion of sorts to the instability of many political regimes in the land of her birth. It demonstrates the ferociously ruthless force of anonymous institutions and the immense sense of their merciless jubilance – a potent analogy for the complex global power structures. Mehretu’s kaleidoscopic visual lexicon fuses painting and drawing, abstraction and figuration, precision and pandemonium, the gestural and the mathematical; simultaneously referencing and expanding the epic grandeur of the Futurists, the geometric abstraction of Malevich and the heroic gestures of the Abstract Expressionists.
    Peng Wei, ROBE, 2003, Estimate: HKD 100,000 — 150,000
    "Women hold up half the sky" famously proclaims the assertion of gender neutrality in China. In the 20th century, women in China have held the same rights and access to positions in politics, economics and culture as their male counterparts. Women are provided the same opportunities to study art and pursue arts-focused careers, thus being involved in the conversation from an early phase and developing the respect of their peers for innovative contributions. Peng Wei is internationally recognized for her stylized painting of landscapes infused with references to Western literature or textiles and motifs inspired by antiquity. Under the influence of her father Peng Xiancheng, a celebrated modern Chinese painter, she is classically trained in painting and calligraphy. As a relatively young artist, Peng Wei has already developed a distinct and personal style that conveys the courage, determination, and diligence of its creator.

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