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Artprice: Hong Kong is an economic heavyweight that promotes the contemporary art market

by Ada Hazel
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Christie’s, Phillips and Bonhams started their 2019 sales plan in Hong Kong. Sotheby’s, China Guardian, Poly, Council and Seoul auctions held major conferences in Hong Kong.

Auctions have always been an important indicator of the art market. The unusual sales calendar between Christie’s and Sotheby’s has made the Hong Kong art market more evenly profitable in the first half of the year.

According to thierry Ehrmann, Artprice’s CEO and founder, “one of Hong Kong’s major advantages is its capacity to offer an extraordinary mix of works from around the world. In this respect, it is absolutely unique in the world, turning over the best works from China, Japan and all of Southeast Asia, but also from Europe and the United States.

Phillips’ recent evening sale included works by Zao Wou-KiRoy LichtensteinZhang Xiaogang, Yoshitimo Nara and Andy Warhol. The selection was both prestigious and universal… a perfect reflection of the wealth of the Hong Kongmarketplace. That’s why all the big auction houses, both Chinese and American, want to be there.”

Indeed, this year, Hong Kong’s attractiveness convinced the Guangzhou-based auctioneer Holly’s International to expand its activities there. Founded in 1994, Holly’s has organised no less than seven sales in Hong Kong for the end of May 2019… its first venture into the city since it began operations.

Zao Wou-Ki reigns supreme

The best results at Christie’s and Phillips were, unsurprisingly, generated by the Franco-Chinese painter Zao Wou-Ki. Since his massive record of $57.5 million last September, the master of lyrical abstraction has joined the giants of the art market, taking third place in Artprice’s 2018 auction turnover ranking, just behind Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet.

The eight Zao Wou-Ki paintings offered for sale by Christie’s on 25 May 2019 generated $50 million, accounting for 45% of the sale’s total turnover. It was a remarkable performance, but it could have been better because the best piece among the eight, a large oil on canvas titled 02/01/65, failed to sell.

No doubt the on-demand estimate was above $30 million, a value that is consistent with the latest results, but which in view of the rapid inflation of Zao Wou– Ki’s prices, might take a little longer to prevail on the market. In 2010, the same work was acquired for just $2.7 million.

Success confirmed for Kaws and Richard Lin

The sales organised by Sotheby’s at the beginning of April 2019 were particularly marked by the unexpected record for the American street artist Kaws. Estimated between $800,000 and $1 million, his painting The Kaws Album (2005) reached a staggering $14.8 million (including fees). The new star of the Perrotin and Skarstedt galleries has had an exceptional start to the year on the secondary market.

Phillips generated a thirteenth result above the $1 million line with Half Full (2012). Acquired in New York at Christie’s in March 2018 for $444,500, this acrylic on canvas was resold for $1.4 million in Hong Kong, just 14 months later.

The abstract painter Richard Lin (1933-2011) also generated substantially buoyant results. Seven years after his death, interest in his work renewed his auction record three times in 2018. On 27 May 2019 his painting 1.3.1964 – Painting Relief dominated Bonhams’ Contemporary & Modern Art sale.

Prices stabilise for works by Contemporary Chinese artists

The prices of Chinese painters born in the 1950s are firming in Hong Kong. Without setting new records (set five or six years ago for most of them), this generation of new Chinese masters of the oil painting medium is enjoying strong demand in Asia… and reassuring collectors.

On 25 May, Zeng Fanzhi’s painting Mask (1996) sold just under $3 million at Christie’s, far below the $23 million recorded in 2013 for his much larger canvas The Last Supper (2001), a value he has never come close to since then… Similarly, and on the same day, Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline Series: The Big Family No. 10 (2000) sold for $1.6 million. In 2014 his Bloodline: The Big Family No.3 (1995) from the same series fetched over $12 million.

In view of these results, we are clearly seeing a price consolidation on works by Chinese artists from this generation: their values are tending to stabilise at very high levels. This trend has been confirmed, among other signs, by three successive results for Zhou Chunya’s painting Stone Series – The Tree Connected to Stone (1993):

$246,000 – 9 October 2006 (Sotheby’s Hong Kong)

$6,700,000 – 5 April 2014 (Sotheby’s Hong Kong)

$4,100,000 – 25 May 2019 (Christie’s Hong Kong)

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