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Apr 21 2021

Young Artists Stand Out at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Spring Sales

by Pamela Wong

MATTHEW WONG, The Beginning, 2017, oil on canvas, 122 × 183 cm. All images courtesy Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

The modern and contemporary art section of Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s spring auction line-up set a new record for the series in Asia, with a combined total of USD 289 million across three evening sales and two daytime sales. Led by two white-glove sales, namely the five-lot cross-category ICONS: Masterpieces from Across Time and Space (April 18) and the 45-lot Contemporary Art Evening Sale (April 19), the auctions witnessed numerous records, among them, increasing traction for younger artists. 

While postwar Western artists like Clyfford Still and Roy Lichtenstein commanded expectedly high prices as did Asian modernists like Sanyu and Chu Teh-Chun, younger artists are becoming more popular. At the contemporary evening sale, the late Chinese-Canadian painter Matthew Wong continued to be highly sought after, with his oil landscape The Beginning (2017) more than quadrupling its high estimate to rake in HKD 26.8 million (USD 3.45 million). Despite only debuting at auctions in May 2020, his River at Dusk (2018) was sold for USD 4.9 million by Phillips and Poly Auction Hong Kong in December 2020, his current record. American artist Avery Singer’s acrylic on gessoed board on canvas, Untitled (Cube) (2018), tripled its high estimate to rake in HKD 6.7 million (USD 863,000). Mostly notably, Salman Toor’s oil painting Three Boys (2019), depicting a trio of young men dressing up and photographing themselves, achieved HKD 5.6 million (USD 723,000), more than seven times the high estimate of HKD 750,000 (USD 96,630). The Pakistan-born artist, who made his auction debut in October 2020 at Philips London, has just ended his first museum solo, “How Will I Know,” at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art on April 4.

AVERY SINGER, Untitled (Cube), 2018, acrylic on gessoed board on canvas, 101.6 × 114.3 cm.

Works by postwar Japanese artists also garnered robust results. Yoshitomo Nara’s angry looking green-eyed Frog Girl (1998) fetched HKD 96 million (USD 12.4 million), above a HKD 80 million (USD 10.3 million) high estimate. The painting was last sold for USD 482,500 at Christie’s New York in May 2010. Two other paintings of girls, namely Ten Stars (2014) and Life is Only One! (2008), achieved HKD 36 million (USD 4.6 million) and HKD 19.5 million (USD 2.5 million), respectively, with the former exceeding its high estimate of HKD 28 million (USD 3.6 million). The artist has enjoyed much success recently, with his current USD 24.9 million auction record set in October 2019 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong with Knife Behind Back (2000). Another favorite, Yayoi Kusama’s painting-sculpture I Carry on Living with the Pumpkins (2013) sold at HKD 15.9 million (USD 2 million), more than doubling its high estimate.  

Paintings by 1990s contemporary Chinese artists continue to attract interest, following last year’s trend, led by Zhang Xiaogang’s oil and photo collage on canvas, Bloodline: Mother and Son No.1 (1993), which brought in HKD 33 million (USD 4.3 million), within estimates. Fang Lijun’s brightly colored portrait of an old man and a young girl, 1993 No.4 (1993), one of six works he created for the 45th Venice Biennale, sold at HKD 24 million (USD 3 million), within estimates. Zeng Fanzhi’s Mask Series No. 18 (1994), adapting Auguste Rodin’s famous The Thinker (1902), sold at HKD 14.7 million (USD 1.9 million), also within estimates. 

Amid Sotheby’s week of live auctions, which ends this Friday, Christie’s Hong Kong announced on April 19 the single-lot sale of Xu Beihong’s Slave and Lion (1924) during its upcoming May series. Mostly known for his ink works, oil paintings by the Chinese modernist are rare on the market, and Slave and Lion has been estimated at HKD 350–450 million (USD 45–58 million), the highest-estimated Asian artwork ever offered by a Western auction. It will be interesting to see whether strong results continue in Hong Kong in May.

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor. 

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