Thanks to climbing interest from both Chinese and global collectors in the red-hot Chinese contemporary art market, blue-chip pieces showed continued strength at Sotheby’s this past weekend with the record-setting sale of a piece by Zhang Xiaogang and many additional estimate-exceeding prices.
After active competition from five bidders, Zhang’s Bloodline: Big Family No. 3 sold for US$12.1 million at the Sotheby’s Hong Kong Modern And Contemporary Asian Art Evening Sale on April 5, surpassing its high estimate of $10.3 million. This amount is significantly higher than the artist’s previous record, which was set in 2011 with the sale of Forever Lasting Love (Triptych) for $10.1 million. Inspired by family photos from the Cultural Revolution and European surrealism, the painting was one of the artist’s rarer, early works, and had established a previous world record for Zhang when it was auctioned in 2008 for about half its current value.
“Collectors from around the world competed vigorously for paintings assembled from private collections by Sotheby’s global network of specialists, causing records to tumble,” said Sotheby’s Asia CEO Kevin Ching. One major factor in the many recent records set for Chinese contemporary works is the rising presence of Chinese collectors in the market. With growing incomes and a pragmatic, investment-minded approach to buying, Chinese bidders are spending more at auction every season as their numbers swell. “While bidding on the selection of highly desirable works was truly global, Asian collectors walked away with most of the top pieces,” said Ching. As mentioned in Jing Daily last week, the rising presence of wealthy Chinese collectors at global auctions may help Chinese contemporary art prices gain ground on those of Western prices in the coming years.
Chinese contemporary art dominated the top 10 lots of the sale, with many pieces surpassing their high estimates. Two pieces by Zeng Fanzhi, the artist with the current world record for the most expensive piece of Chinese contemporary art, topped their high estimates—his This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6 (Diptych) and Mask Series No. 5 both sold for $2.8 million. Chinese-French painters were highly prominent at the sale: Sanyu’s Potted Chrysanthemums sold for $10.3 million, while three of Zao Wou-Ki’s paintings were among the top 10.
Here are the top 10 lots with exact prices in USD:
1. Zhang Xiaogang, Bloodline: Big Family No. 3, 1995: $12,076,923
2. Sanyu, Potted Chrysanthemums, 1950s: $10,353,846
3. S. Sudjojono, Pasukan Kita Yang Dipimppin Pangeran Diponegoro (Our Soldiers Led Under Prince Diponegoro), 1979: $7,482,051
4. Chen Yifei, Morning Prayer, 1996: $3,461,538
5. Zeng Fanzhi, This Land So Rich In Beauty No. 6 (Diptych), 2006: $2,887,179
6. Zeng Fanzhi, Mask Series No. 5, 1994: $2,887,179
7. Zao Wou-Ki, 06.01.64, 1964: $2,743,590
8. Zao Wou-Ki, 18.08.67, 1967: $2,671,795
9. Zao Wou-Ki, 20.01.64, 1964: $2,456,410
10. Kazuo Shiraga, Chitaisei Honkoshin, 1960: $2,312,821
The strength of blue-chip works went far beyond the top 10. Many Chinese contemporary works in the seven-figure range met or exceeded their estimates, such as Yue Minjun’s Garbage Hill, which fetched $1.5 million, and Liu Wei’s Dad In Front of TV Set, which sold for about $1.4 million. The auction achieved a sale of 92.7 percent of all works by lot and 96.3 percent by value, showing that interest remains strong among blue-chip buyers at all price levels.