• Market
  • Oct 08, 2020

Chinese Contemporary Art Makes a Comeback

GERHARD RICHTER’s Abstraktes Bild (649-2) (1987) on the block at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Buoyed by the strong numbers for Chinese artists, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art evening and day sales on October 6 and 7, respectively, totaled HKD 778 million (USD 100 million). The overall top-selling lot was one of Gerhard Richter’s numerous squeegee-roller abstractions bearing the cynically generic title, Abstraktes Bild (649-2) [Abstract Picture] (1987) from the collection of cosmetics magnate Ronald Perelman. It was purchased by the Pola Museum of Art in Hakone, Japan, for the endowment-busting price of HKD 214.6 million (USD 27.7 million), making it the most expensive work of Western art sold via an auction in Asia.

Several recent trends in the art market were in evidence. Leading the commercialization of street art is Banksy, whose acrylic painting Forgive Us Our Trespassing (2011), of a hoodie-wearing figure praying in front of a tagged-up gothic church window, doubled its high estimate to reach HKD 64 million (USD 8.3 million). Flower Boy (2019), the barely dry portrait by the Ghanaian Gen-Z artist, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, topped HKD 1 million (USD 129,000), at more than triple its high estimate. Meanwhile, Hong Kong artists of the millennial generation continued to experience unexpected auction success this year, with Firenze Lai joining the ranks with her painting The Colleagues (2017), which hammered home for HKD 3 million (USD 387,000), nearly three times its high estimate. 

Works by artists of the postwar Japanese avant-garde offered more in the way of art-historical track records. Takeo Yamaguchi, born in Japanese-occupied Korea, topped HKD 4.4 million (USD 568,000) for his golden yellow cutout form on a black ground, Kusegata (Arc) (1960). A lilac-gray mess of foot-swirled paint Deishaku (1987) by Kazuo Shiraga, a later, post-Gutai work, topped its high estimate at HKD 8.65 million (USD 1.1 million). A rare sight from a perennial auction favorite, Yayoi Kusama’s paired canvas and sculpture, Venus Nets ( R ) and Statue of Venus Obliterated by Infinity Nets ( R ) (1998), more than doubled its high estimate to reach HKD 14.7 million (USD 1.9 million), suggesting that the big waves for Chinese modern and contemporary art are buoying prices for artists around the region.

HG Masters is deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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