• Market
  • Oct 07, 2020

Chinese Modernists Ring Up Huge Prices Again

WU GUANZHONG’s Scenery of Northern China (1973) made USD 20.7 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Other artists of the same period also did well along with the increase in demand for the category. A 1952 Cubist-influenced still life of a tabletop with fruit by another auction mainstay, Lin Fengmian, sold for HKD 6.2 million (800,000) above its 4.5 million (USD 581,000) high estimate. Two paintings by Zao Wou-ki’s first wife, Xie Jinglan, known by the pseudonym Lalan sold well, with the marbled textured abstraction Les Formes Sortent du Bleu et du Vert (1972) achieving more than HKD 11 million (1.4 million), above a high estimate of HKD 6.5 million (USD 839,000), and an untitled painting (1993) nearly doubling its high estimate to pass HKD 3.5 million (USD 452,000). 

Taiwanese postwar artists also fared well. An abstracted relief print of mountain peaks and a yellow orb on a folding screen by Fifth Moon Group member Chen Ting-Shih, Day and Night #25 (1973), more than doubled its high estimate to pass the HKD 1 million threshold (USD 129,000), while a pink and orange abstraction from Hsiao Chin, Volare Sopra Il Giardino Eterno – 19 (1998), sold within estimates at HKD 1.5 million (USD 194,000). 

Among the sale’s few off notes were two minimalist abstractions by Richard Lin: March 1962 failed to find a buyer at a low estimate of HKD 1 million (USD 129,030), while his June 1958 sold for HKD 1.26 million (USD 163,000), well below its low estimate of HKD 2.5 million (USD 323,000). A reclining nude by Walasse Ting, Eat Me, I’m A Fish (1978), also failed to find a home, with a low estimate of HKD 1.5 million (USD 193,540), while a second Ting painting, a colorfully splattered abstraction, Ten Miles Fly Red Little Flowers (1973) topped HKD 2.5 million (USD 323,000).

This season marked the last at Sotheby’s for Vinci Chang, head of the Modern Asia Art department, whose departure was announced with the results. There was no word on her next endeavor, however, in Chang’s six-year tenure at the house, the market for Chinese modern art has expanded enormously. She oversaw numerous blockbuster sales, including Zao Wou-ki’s largest canvas Juin-Octobre 1985 (1985), which reached the astronomical price of HKD 510 million (USD 65.8 million) in 2018. At the house’s Modern Art Evening Sale in July, Sanyu’s Quatre Nus (1952) earned HKD 258 million (USD 33.3 million). Felix Kwok, currently the department’s head of sales and an auctioneer, will succeed her. 

HG Masters is deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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