The first sale at the new Bonhams Hong Kong Auction Gallery on 17 May got off to a good start.
The saleroom was packed with Contemporary Art collectors based in Asia and keen bidding in the room and on the telephone drove the sale to a successful conclusion with 84% sold by value. The top lot, an iconic oil on canvas triptych ‘Red, Yellow and Blue’ by famed contemporary Chinese artist Liu Ye sold at the high estimate for HK$6,040,000 (US$780,000) to a Taiwanese collector.
Two bronze sculptures ‘Single Whip Dip’ and ‘Taichi Series’ by Taiwanese modern master Ju Ming sold for HK$1,720,000 and HK$1,060,000 respectively to a Hong Kong collector.
Bonhams is the world’s third largest international fine art auction house.
With the Spring sale season about to start in Hong Kong, investors will be casting anxious eyes on the Chinese contemporary art sales. Works by Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi, Liu Ye and Yue Minjun are the highlights of Sotheby’s April 5 auction. The question is as to whether the market will power on, or simply plateau.
Zhang Xiaogang’s rare early work Bloodline: Big Family No. 3 is estimated at US$8.4m. to $10.3m. (equivalent converted from HK$). Zeng Fanzhi’s work is estimated between $1.4m. and $3m. Yue Minjun’s Garbage Hill is estimated at between $1.2m. and $2m.
Garbage Hill by Yue Munjun Sotheby’s
These figures are, in fact, not so large as they might appear at first sight. China’s most expensive piece of contemporary art was Zeng Fanzhi’s The Last Supper. It got US$23.3 last year. Neither are these works expensive when set against the cost of Western contemporary art. Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud scooped $145m. Other Western artists have also seen records in the last year: Andy Warhol $105m.; and Jeff Coons $54m.
Wait for some more records out of Hong Kong in a few days time . . . the band of collectors in China grows ever larger and this will, before too long, mean there is a scarcity of top level contemporary art. Eventually, the Chinese market will command prices on a par with those of top Western artists. Recent successful exhibitions of contemporary Chinese artists at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the focus on China at the New York Armory event this year, and the retrospective of the work of Zeng Fanzhi at the Paris Musee d’Art Moderne, all add fuel to the fire.