Our selection of five lots from Sotheby’s Hong Kong auctions – and what they tell us about the Asian art market



Since Sotheby’s began offering Western art in Hong Kong five years ago, the art market in the Special Administrative Region has evolved rapidly.

Over the weekend, the auction house said it sold for $ 114 million (887 million Hong Kong dollars) of modern and contemporary Western art, bringing its total this year to a record US $ 330 million (HK $ 2.57 billion)—Almost triple the amount sold for the whole of 2020. However, the works of Chinese masters including Zao Wou-Ki and Sanyu underperformed, which, with the removal of Rodin’s Napoleon marble sculpture, valued at HK $ 70 million (approx. $ 9 million), resulted in overall totals less than estimate. The modern art evening sale completed HK $ 485.4m / US $ 62.4m (low estimate HK $ 648.3m / US $ 83.3m), while the contemporary evening sale nn HK $ 490 million / US $ 63 million (low estimate HK $ 470.1 million / US $ 60.4 million).

Alex Branczik, who recently left London to become president of Sotheby’s for modern and contemporary art in Asia, believes the change in taste is driven by millennial buyers. He notes that just under a quarter of bidders in the company’s global sales are millennials, four times the number of active bidders just five years ago. In Hong Kong, this figure is even higher: a third of bidders are under 40 years old. Branczik adds: which concerns. “

that of Jean-Michel Basquiat Untitled (Red Warrior, 1982) sold for HK $ 162.9 million / US $ 20.9 million

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

The first five hits and misses

Picasso / Basquiat

Two of the Western cannon’s biggest guns – Picasso and Basquiat – have dominated modern and contemporary evening sales, selling for $ 21.2 million ($ 24.6 million with fees) and $ 18 million ($ 20, respectively), respectively. $ 9 million with fees). Neither of the two images had been auctioned before. The portrait of Picasso’s second wife, Jacqueline, was last shown in public in 1975 and was pursued by bidders in Hong Kong, London and New York, eventually selling it to an Asian collector. Buyers in the region have long been active in finding big names in Sotheby’s auction rooms in London and New York; As Branczik notes, in 2020, out of the 20 best lots auctioned by Sotheby’s, Asian clients are bidding on 10 and buying new ones. “The new dynamic is that we are increasingly bringing these artists for sale in Asia, where they can be seen by more people and where appetite and appreciation keep growing,” he adds.

Loïe Hollowell, Portrait of a woman

The value of paintings by young American painter Loïe Hollowell has climbed 1,200% in the secondary market over the past three years, and the waiting list for works fresh from the studio is long. It is hardly surprising, then, that one of his abstract images of female genitalia, Portrait of a woman with green hair (2015), more than doubled its high estimate to sell to an online bidder for HK $ 6.5 million (HK $ 8 million with fees). Branczik believes the market for female nudes is strong in Asia, noting that paintings by Amedeo Modigliani and Lucian Freud are particularly in demand. “Tastes in Asia are no more modest than in the West,” he says.

Amoako Boafo, White hat White shades (2019)

Painted only two years ago, Amoako Boafo’s White hat White shades surpassed its estimate of HK $ 2.5million-HK $ 3.5million to sell HK $ 4.2million (HK $ 5.3million with fees). The meteoric rise of the Ghanaian artist in the West has been well documented, as has the turnaround in his work – a practice Boafo tried to end, seemingly unsuccessfully. “We are currently seeing huge interest in Boafo around the world. It has a huge following among the younger generation of collectors, which is in full force in Asia in particular, ”says Branczik.

Sleeping Nude of Sanyu (1950), sold for HK $ 80.2 million / US $ 10.3 million

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Banksy, Kate moss (2005)

Equally revealing that the best lots were the ones that didn’t sell. Among them, the garish silkscreen of Banksy of the British model Kate Moss, rendered in the style of Marilyn de Warhol. Edition number five of five, the print was expected to fetch HK $ 12-18 million, but the Banksy market has cooled slightly in recent months after hitting record highs in 2019. “The market has gone so far, so quickly for Banksy, ”notes Branczik. “We’re still seeing extraordinary prices for prints, so there is clearly a deep and breadth of demand there. It remains to be seen whether Banksy will break into the Asian market in the same way as his fellow street artist KAWS.

Zao Wou-ki

It was a pass for three of Asian master Zao Wou-ki’s five works in the Modern Evening Sale, including a vibrant 1965 aquamarine canvas estimated at between HK $ 70 million and HK $ 100 million. Branczik attributes this to a lack of interest in the evening, pointing out that seven of the top ten prizes in the sale were for works by Asian artists: Sanyu, Chu Teh-Chun and Zao Wou-Ki. “I firmly believe that the art produced in China from the 1980s until today is very important,” adds Branczik, although he notes that supply is an issue. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to find these works because they are already in the largest collections in the world. “



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