Auction giant Sotheby’s sold $447 million worth of Asian art, wine, watches and jewellery in its Asian spring sales. The centrepiece of auction in Hong Kong was an early triptych oil painting, Forever Lasting Love by renowned Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang sold for $10.1 million. Sotheby’s said it was a record auction price for a contemporary artwork from China.
Zhang’s early 1988 work, oil painting of figures in an arid landscape suffused with mystical symbols fetched HK$79 million with fees, more than double a hammer-price estimate of as much as HK$30 million, with the anonymous winning bid taken by telephone from Miety Heiden of Sotheby’s, New York. It was the top lot of 105 offered by Guy Ullens, founder of Beijing’s largest private art museum, with a $16.7 million total estimate. The price was higher than the $9.5 million paid for a Zeng Fanzhi canvas in 2008 and a series of massive gunpowder works by Cai Guoqiang that fetched a similar price in 2007.
Sunday’s auction tripled the pre-sale estimate and all works were sold. This represents the entire spectrum of contemporary Chinese art, said Kevin Ching, chief executive of Sotheby’s Asia. I think everyone would be proud to be able to own a piece of that history, that process and a part of that vision. Zeng, Cai and Zhang are among a vanguard of Chinese contemporary artists whose edgy, subversive early works were embraced by Western collectors and critics, driving a bubble in the market that burst with the global financial crisis in 2008.
Prices of Chinese artists will continue to rise, Gu Zhenqing, 47, who has been buying contemporary works for 10 years, said in an interview at the sale. I’m confident that the price of a work by a Chinese artist will exceed the 100 million yuan ($15.3 million) mark this year. That could be Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi or someone else.
The sale is part of a 3,600-lot series, Hong Kong’s first major auction of the year, with a presale estimate of HK$2.4 billion, said New York-based Sotheby’s, the world’s biggest publicly traded auction company. The event, starting with a weekend wine sale that raised HK$136.5 million over three days, will show whether rising wealth in China will continue to drive an increase in demand and prices.
Three more artist records were set in the first hour of the Ullens event: for Zhang Peili, Wang Guangyi and Geng Jianyi, with prices of as much as $3 million.
Ullens and his wife Myriam, who set up the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing to promote Chinese avant-garde art globally, said the sale did not mark an abandonment of their longstanding commitment to Chinese art. His dream is to support and promote a younger generation of artists, as he did with the first generation 25 years ago, said UCCA in a statement. [Reuters]