Auction Wrap-Up: Chinese Artists Beat Estimates In London

Demand For Works By Ai Weiwei, Yan Pei Ming Growing, Especially Among Asian Collectors

Yan Pei Ming's "Grand Timonier" sold for nearly double its high estimate at Christie's

Yan Pei Ming’s “Grand Timonier” sold for nearly double its high estimate at Christie’s

This week, Sotheby’s and Christie’s held a series of Contemporary and Post-War art auctions in London. Reflecting the ascendance of top-tier Chinese artists into the upper echelons of the art world, works by Beijing-based artist Ai Weiwei and France-based painter Yan Pei Ming were auctioned alongside pieces by the likes of Andy Warhol, Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Also reflecting an art world trend that has only picked up steam over the last two years, these works by Ai (“Sunflower Seeds”, sold at Sotheby’s) and Yan (“Grand Timonier”, sold at Christie’s) handily beat estimates, with prices driven up by intense telephone bidding from Asian collectors.

As Jing Daily wrote earlier this week, Ai Weiwei’s “Sunflower Seeds” sold to an anonymous bidder for £349,250 (US$560,476), nearly three times its high estimate of £120,000. Not to be outdone, at yesterday’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction the appeal of longtime resident of France, Shanghai native, and “Master of the Big Brush” Yan Pei Ming was made starkly apparent. Auctioned alongside works by Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Richard Prince, Yan’s epic-sized portrait of Mao Zedong, “Grand Timonier,” sold for £529,250 (US$855,268), nearly double its high estimate of US$560,000.

Ai Weiwei's "Kui Hua Zi" (Sunflower Seeds) sold for nearly $600,000

Ai Weiwei’s “Kui Hua Zi” (Sunflower Seeds) sold for nearly $600,000

So what does all of this mean? For one thing, the rising prices we’ve been seeing for top-tier Chinese contemporary artists like Ai and Yan indicate that Asian collectors (most of whom bid via telephone and who accounted for a surprisingly large percentage of the buyers this week in London) are a growing force in the international art world. For another thing, despite the rising prices for works by blue-chip Chinese artists, by comparison with the established European and American artists also up for grabs in London this week they remain relatively undervalued. For reference, look at the top 10 highest-priced works auctioned off over the course of this week’s sales:

1. Andy Warhol, “Self-Portrait” (1967), $17.4 million
2. Martial Raysse, “L’année dernière à Capri (titre exotique)” (1962), $6.5 million
3. Gerhard Richter, “Abstraktes Bild by Gerhard Richter” (1990), $5.1 million
4. Jeff Koons, “Winter Bears” (1988), $4.8 million
5. Lucio Fontana, “Concetto spaziale” (1961), $4.4 million
6. Willem de Kooning, “Untitled XXVIII” (1983), $4 million
7. Lucio Fontant, “Concetto spaziale, Attesa” (1964), $3.7 million
8. Piero Manzoni, “Achrome” (1958-59), $3.5 million
9. Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Lead Plate with Hole”, $3.3 million
10. Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Untitled”, $2.96 million

By comparison, the sub-million-dollar pieces sold this week by Ai and Yan look inexpensive, and they’ve got ample room to continue climbing upward.

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Art & Auction, Culture