Records Swept Away At Sotheby’s Chinese Contemporary Art Auctions In Hong Kong

Zhang Xiaogang Triptych Sells For Record-Breaking HK$79 million (US$10.1 Million)

Wang Guangyi's "Great Criticism Series - Pepsi" sold for HK$1.16 million

Wang Guangyi’s “Great Criticism Series – Pepsi” sold for HK$1.16 million

Sotheby’s Hong Kong saw a spending frenzy this weekend at its spring auctions, with the auction of more than 100 lots from the collection of Chinese contemporary art “early adopter” Baron Guy Ullens starting the bidding for Chinese art off with a bang. While Chinese collectors had been expected to drive prices for lots by top artists well beyond high estimates, they seemed to outdo even themselves, with their aggressive bidding driving prices for certain pieces up to new highs, even breaking the record for a single piece of Chinese contemporary art set in 2008 by Zeng Fanzhi’s “Mask Series 1996 No. 6.” In all, the Ullens auction took in a whopping US$54.9 million, well over the pre-sale estimate of $16.7 million, with $10.1 million of that coming from the sale of Zhang Xiaogang’s “Forever Lasting Love,” the 1988 triptych that most observers (rightly) expected to steal the show.

With the Chinese contemporary art market currently seeing the signs of a “second boom,” driven this time by demand from Chinese — rather than the formerly dominant Western — collectors, some expect that the amount spent for Zhang’s triptych could become something of a baseline. As one Chinese buyer, Gu Zhenqing, told Bloomberg after the Ullens auction this weekend, “Prices of Chinese artists will continue to rise.” Added Gu, “I’m confident that the price of a work by a Chinese artist will exceed the 100 million yuan ($15.3 million) mark this year. That could be Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi or someone else.” As more cash-rich new Chinese collectors — eager to beef up their collections, diversify their investments, and hedge against inflation — enter the scene, we expect that Gu’s prediction will prove correct.

This photo by Zhang Huan sold for nearly three times its high estimate, showing the interest in budding interest in photography among Chinese collectors

This photo by Zhang Huan sold for nearly three times its high estimate, showing the interest in budding interest in photography among Chinese collectors

More Chinese collectors, who have already shown themselves to be among the most motivated and aggressive in the world, at least when bidding for Chinese art, will most likely lead to even more records falling in coming months and years. However, it didn’t take long after this weekend’s Ullens sale for Chinese collectors further make their influence in the art world felt, as today in Hong Kong, Sotheby’s held its much-anticipated Contemporary Asian Art auction. Previously profiled by Jing Daily, this auction — which featured top-quality works by Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi, Hai Bo and Yue Minjun — didn’t disappoint.

Over its pre-sale estimate of HK$121 million (US$16 million), the wide-ranging auction, which also included works by top Asian artists like Yoshitomo Nara and Kang Hyung-Koo, took in a grand total of HK$182.9 million (US$23.5 million). Again, Zhang Xiaogang also proved the most valuable artist at this auction, with 1995’s “Bloodline – Big Family” (#1 on Jing Daily’s “Top Lots to Watch” list) selling for HK$56.6 million (US$7.3 million), 140 percent over its pre-sale high estimate. Other lots featured in our profile proved highly popular with Chinese collectors, with Liu Ye’s “The Rietveld-Schröder House At Nightfall” selling for HK$7.8 million (US$1 million), nearly HK$2 million over its high estimate, Zeng Fanzhi’s “Mask Series” selling for HK$560,000 (US$72,000) — almost triple its high estimate — and Qiu Xiaofei’s “Studying No. 3” going for HK$524,000 (US$67,380), more than five times its high estimate.

Yue Minjun's "Hats Series - Acrobatics" sold for HK$3.6 million

Yue Minjun’s “Hats Series – Acrobatics” sold for HK$3.6 million

The popularity of other blue-chip Chinese artists among China’s new class of collector was very much evident in Hong Kong today, with a lot by Zhou Chunya — recent recipient of the Art Power “Best Artist” award in Beijing — selling for HK$6.6 million (US$849,000), more than four times its high estimate, Zeng Fanzhi’s “Untitled No. 11” selling for HK$10.7 million (US$1.4 million) over a high estimate of HK$6.5 million, and Yue Minjun’s “Hats Series: Acrobatics” going for HK$3.6 million (US$493,000).

The rising interest in Chinese contemporary photography among new Chinese collectors was also on display in Hong Kong today, with Hai Bo’s “I Am Chairman Mao’s Red Guard” (set of 2) selling for HK$50,000 (US$6,400), almost double its high estimate, and “To Add One Meter to An Anonymous Mountain” by Zhang Huan selling for nearly triple its high estimate, going for HK$275,000 (US$35,000).

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