Analysis
Art market

Sanyu, Zao Wou-Ki and Liu Ye: the Asian masters fetching millions at the Hong Kong auctions

Despite pandemic delays and the new National Security Law, the spring sales in the city last week fetched solid results

Two works by Zao Wou-Ki from the artist’s Hurricane Period, 22.6.63 and 24.10.63 were sold for a total of HK$100m at Phillips last week Image courtesy of Phillips

International auction houses are riding high on their Hong Kong Spring 2020 sales last week, after being postponed from April in a quixotic hope for a calmer world by now. Solid results defied the newly promulgated National Security Law slicing into the territory’s autonomy and a third wave of Covid-19 infections reaching a record 52 on Monday alone, as well as the global economic wariness.

“Finding ourselves up against the challenges of an unprecedented backdrop, we quickly adapted and evolved to connect with and serve our clients in ever more effective ways through digital communications", said Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s Asia chairman, in a statement.

Last week, Sotheby’s held six art sales between 8 and 10 July, which totalled HK$1.7bn (US$220m), with an 86% sell-through rate. The figure is not far below the HK$1.82bn (US$232m) achieved for comparable sales in the halcyon days of spring 2019, before protests rocked Hong Kong and the pandemic overtook the globe. Christie’s four summer Hong Kong art sales on 10 and 11 July, including the city’s portion of the Christie’s One sale, totalled HK$967.8m (US$125.5m), with combined a sell-through rate of 94%.

Bonhams Fine Chinese Paintings sale on 7 July netted HK$39m, and and HK$5m for its 10 July Modern and Contemporary Art sale. Phillips art sales on 8 and 9 July totalled HK$272m (US$35m), which marked “the highest-ever total for an auction series in this category for Phillips Asia,” noted Jonathan Crockett, the auction house's Asia chairman, and Isaure de Viel Castel, its head of 20th-century & contemporary art, Hong Kong, in a statement. “We have always taken pride in championing emerging artists alongside blue-chip names in our day sales and are delighted to have achieved six new auction records for artists who are newer to the secondary market.” These included HK$437,500 (US$56,438) for Philippines contemporary star Maria Taniguchi and HK$100,000 (US$12,900) for Map Office’s Hong Kong Is Land.

Sanyu's Quatre nus sold at Sotheby's for HK$258m Image courtesy of Sotheby's

Several of the highest hammers came for Chinese-French painter Sanyu. Quatre nus sold at Sotheby's for HK$258 Million (US$33.3m), and at Christie's White Chrysanthemum in a Blue and White Jardiniere for HK$191.6m (US$24.8m), a record for his still lifes, and Leopard for HK$10.9m (US$1.4m). Christie’s also sold Zao Wou-Ki’s 18.11.66 for HK$114.4m (US$14.8m) and Wu Guanzhong’s A Scene of Beidaihe for HK$12m (US$1.5m). At Phillips, Zao’s 22.6.63 went for HK$54.3m (US$7m) and his 24.10.63 for HK$46.3m (US$6m).

On 9 July at Sotheby’s, David Hockney’s 30 Sunflowers fetched the second highest price for Western art auctioned in Asia, at HK$114.8­­­m (US$14.8m). At Christie’s, Gerhard Richter’s Frost (1) realised HK$79.2m (US$10m) and Adrian Ghenie’s On the Road to Tarascon 2 sold for HK$33.7m (US$4.3m).

Liu Ye, Mondrian in London sold at Christie's for US$3m Image courtesy of Christie's

The Chinese painter Liu Ye meanwhile dominated the contemporary sales, selling Leave Me in the Dark for HK$45.4m (US$5.8m) at Sotheby’s and Mondrian in London for HK$22.9m (US$3m) and Wie Germalt for HK$13,325,000 (US$1,727,646) at Christie’s. At Phillips, Liu’s Choir of Angels (Red) sold for HK$27.7m (US$3.6m).