Blue-Chip Chinese Artists Crush Estimates In Hong Kong

Top Chinese Contemporary Artists Like Cai Guo-Qiang, Liu Ye, Yue Minjun A Hit With New Chinese Collectors

Liu Ye's "Bright Road" was the most expensive item in the auction, selling for more than $2.5 million

Liu Ye's "Bright Road" was the most expensive item in the auction, selling for more than $2.5 million

Results only came in a few hours ago, but from our first look at  the numbers from the Sotheby’s spring auction of Contemporary Asian Art in Hong Kong, it’s safe to say that Chinese and other Asian collectors were in the mood to buy today. Much like what we saw this weekend with the first auction of this wide-ranging Sotheby’s series — the fifth installment of the “Classic Cellar From a Great American Collector” wine series — which brought in HK$49.7 million (US$6.4 million), the mainly Chinese collectors at the Contemporary Asian Art auction weren’t afraid to go far beyond high estimates for high-quality pieces by some of China’s top blue-chip artists.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Chinese collectors fought hard for works by artists who are rising in popularity in mainland China, such as Liu Ye, Cai Guo-Qiang, and Yue Minjun. However, other blue-chip Chinese artists, such as Wang Guangyi, Ai Weiwei, Zeng Fanzhi and Yan Pei-Ming proved extremely popular as well, with Wang’s “Passport (set of 30)” selling for US$1.08 million — the first time a piece by Wang has topped $1 million since 2007. The results of this auction indicate that the momentum noted at the autumn auctions in Hong Kong, then validated with contemporary auctions in London and New York, continues to gain speed, pushed by mainland Chinese collectors looking to diversify their investments.

Demand for quality works by Liu Ye proved exceptionally strong, with his 1995 painting “Bright Road” (#1 on Jing Daily’s “Top 10 Lots to Watch”) selling to super-collector Wang Wei for HK$19.14 million (US$2.46 million) — over four times its low estimate. All told, Liu was the third highest-grossing Chinese contemporary artist, taking in a total of HK$22,406,250 (US$2.88 million). Ahead of Liu in the top grossers category were Cai Guo-Qiang with HK$28.6 million (US$3.68 million) and Yue Minjun with HK$24.3 million (US$3.13 million). Yue Minjun remains very popular with collectors, with 100% of his works selling at this auction and his early work “On the Lake” selling for a whopping US$2 million.

In addition to Yue Minjun, 100% of works by Zeng Fanzhi — China’s “#1 artist” in 2009 — sold today, as did all works of historical photography. This indicates that top-quality Chinese contemporary photography, which got a boost in prominence with high-profile purchases by museums like the Getty in 2009 and MoMA in 2008, continues to draw interest among mainland collectors. The high sell-through rates of blue-chip artists reflects a growing sense in the Chinese art market that buyer confidence is high, yet buyers are well-informed and connoisseurship is growing rapidly. As Eric Huang, a Taipei-based buyer and dealer, told Bloomberg,“Demand for the best Chinese contemporary artworks is back…Don’t be surprised to see prices match or even beat pre-crisis levels very soon.”

Interestingly enough, although the HK$144.88 million (US$18.65 million) — 154% above the pre-sale estimate of HK$94 million — brought in by this auction is extraordinary, some of China’s top collectors still think their country’s blue-chip artists remain highly undervalued. This may explain their willingness to go far beyond estimates for artists they feel display exceptional longevity, such as Cai Guo-Qiang, Ai Weiwei (whose “Table With Two Legs” sold for triple its estimate), Liu Ye and Yue Minjun.

As super-collector Wang Wei told Bloomberg, when asked if prices for top Chinese artists were rising too much, Wang said, “Not even if the sellers added another zero to the tag.”

Sotheby's Top Lots and artists, April 5, 2010

Sotheby's Top Lots and artists, April 5, 2010

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Art & Auction, Culture