Christie’s HK Contemporary Asian Art Auctions (Nov. 24-25): Top Lots To Watch

Discriminating Collectors To Hand-Pick Scarce Works

Zeng Fanzhi is very popular among mainland Chinese buyers

Following up last month’s Hong Kong autumn auctions by Sotheby’s and China Guardian — which pulled in respective totals of US$258 million and US$58.6 million — Christie’s is set to hold its HK autumn series from November 23-28. With local and mainland Chinese collectors proving far more discriminating in 2012, yet still showing a strong appetite for historical and quality pieces, expect to see the same selectively aggressive bidding at Christie’s that was seen at its competitors’ sales in October. Despite less frenzied buying on the part of mainland Chinese collectors in particular, owing to this year’s overall slower economic growth, customs issues and other factors, demand has shown resilience at the top end of the contemporary Chinese art market for rare works by leading artists, whose best works are becoming increasingly scarce at auction as speculators have been shaken out.

As collector Zheng Hong told Reuters last month, however, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Said Zheng, “[For the market to] cool down a bit is a good thing…Last year, it was too high…China’s economy is weakening, property and other sectors are not booming as before, so this is a natural result.” Cool-down aside, Chinese collectors have continued to go far beyond high estimates for certain works, such as Zhang Xiaogang’s “Tiananmen No. 1,” which sold at Sotheby’s last month for US$2.7 million, over its low estimate of $1.9 million, Liu Wei’s “Revolutionary Family Series” which sold for $2.25 million, over a low estimate of $1.5 million, and Ding Yi’s “Appearance of Crosses 94-7,” which went for $203,807, nearly three times its low estimate of $77,395.

This year, amid a more selective buyer market, the name of the game remains quality, not only in terms of the artist but in terms of the artwork itself. Mainland Chinese collectors have quickly learned the difference between a good historical piece by a blue-chip artist and a lesser work, a fact that saw certain works by artists like Zeng Fanzhi go unsold while, at the same auction, rarer works sold far beyond estimates. With Chinese collectors still largely motivated by pragmatism, buying art not only out of enjoyment but also as relatively stable long-term investments compared to property or the domestic stock market, we expect highly deliberate bidding to be on full display at Christie’s. For many of China’s wealthiest collectors, top-quality contemporary artwork has become something of a luxury good, and just as this demographic has become highly particular about automakers, fashion brands, and fine wine, it has learned how to pick and choose favored artists and artwork as well.

Deliberate bidding or not, considering they’re packed with top contemporary artists like Zhou Chunya, Zeng Fanzhi, Cai Guo-qiang, Liu Ye and more, the upcoming 20th century & contemporary Asian art evening sale (Nov. 24) and contemporary Asian art day sale (Nov. 25) should hold some surprises and see some artist records fall. Our picks, in no particular order, for the top lots to watch at the upcoming sales:

Fang Lijun – “2001.7.25” (2001)
Asian Contemporary Art (Day Sale)
Lot: 435
180 x 79 cm
Oil on canvas
Estimate: HK$2.4 million – 3.2 million (US$307,700 – 410,300)

Fang Lijun

Zeng Fanzhi – “Mask Series” (1999)
Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)
Lot: 31
149.5 x 129.5 cm
Oil on canvas
Estimate: HK$8 million – 10 million (US$1.03 million – 1.28 million)

Zeng Fanzhi

Zeng Fanzhi – “Mask Series” (1999)
Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)
Lot: 32
217.5 x 327.5 cm
Oil on canvas
Estimate: HK$20 million – 25 million (US$2.6 million – 3.2 million)

Zeng Fanzhi

Liu Wei – “No Smoking” (1998)
Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)
Lot: 34
170 x 170 cm
Oil on canvas
Estimate: HK$3.5 million – 5.5 million (US$448,700 – 705,100)

Liu Wei

Liu Ye – “Mondrian, Dick Bruna, and I” (2003)
Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)
Lot: 36
120 x 80 cm
Oil on canvas
Estimate: HK$3.5 million – 5.5 million (US$448,700 – 705,100)

Liu Ye

Zhang Xiaogang – “Bloodline Series: Big Family” (1999)
Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)
Lot: 39
150 x 190 cm
Oil on canvas
Estimate: HK$12 million – 18 million (US$1.54 million – 2.3 million)

Zhang Xiaogang

Cai Guo-qiang – “Man, Eagle and Eye in the Sky: Eye-Kite Flying People” (2003)
Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)
Lot: 29
230 x 310 cm
Gunpowder on paper
Estimate: HK$3 million – 5 million (US$384,600 – 641,000)

Cai Guo-Qiang

Zhou Chunya – “We Come From Germany” (2008)
Asian Contemporary Art (Day Sale)
Lot: 417
200 x 250 cm
Oil on canvas
Estimate: HK$4 million – 6 million (US$512,800 – 769,200)

Zhou Chunya

Yang Shaobin – “No. 18” (2000)
Asian Contemporary Art (Day Sale)
Lot: 422
260 x 180 cm
Oil on canvas
Estimate: HK$1.5 million – 2 million (US$192,300 – 256,400)

Yang Shaobin

Huang Yong Ping – “Untitled (Rue Carpeaux, Paris)” (1993)
Asian Contemporary Art (Day Sale)
Lot: 433
95 x 60 x 48 cm
Emulsion paint on washing machine
Estimate: HK$500,000 – 800,000 (US$64,100 – 102,600)

Huang Yong Ping

Fang Lijun – “1999.6.1” (1999)
Asian Contemporary Art (Day Sale)
Lot: 438
488.9 x 726.4 cm
Woodblock prints
Estimate: HK$1.5 million – 2 million (US$192,300 – 256,400)

Fang Lijun

Yue Minjun – “Hat Series” (2005)
Asian Contemporary Art (Day Sale)
Lot: 442
80 x 80 cm
Oil on canvas
Estimate: HK$1 million – 1.5 million (US$128,200 – 192,300)

Yue Minjun

Xu Bing: “New English Calligraphy: Quotations from Chairman Mao” (2000)
Asian Contemporary Art (Day Sale)
Lot: 474
Overall: 294.6 x 274.4 cm
Ink on paper, four scrolls
Estimate: HK$800,000 – 1.2 million (US$102,600 – 153,800)

Xu Bing

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Art & Auction, Culture