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Chinese Bidders Boost $83 Million Auction as Zao Reaches Record

"10.1.68" (1968) by Zao Wou-ki. The work was among several which went unpaid by Chinese collectors, according to lawsuits filed by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in the past two years. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

An abstract painting by Zao Wou-ki fetched an auction record price last night, pushing Sotheby’s sales of modern and contemporary Asian art to HK$647 million ($83 million), as Chinese buyers battled for the artist’s work.

An unidentified woman in a black lace dress calmly placed the winning bid of HK$68.98 million in the saleroom in Hong Kong. The 1968 work, “10.1.68,” led 18 lots by the painter that drew strong bidding as offerings from other artists went unsold.

Bidders also vied for contemporary names such as Zhang Xiaogang and Zeng Fanzhi on the day that the Hang Seng stocks index in the city tumbled 4.4 percent amid signs that China’s economic growth is slowing. The buildup in the country’s wealth will help keep prices rising, said Pascal de Sarthe, a gallery owner who has been selling Zao’s works for 20 years.

“The Chinese have financial power and are buying their own artists first,” said de Sarthe, who forecasts that Zao’s works will sell for as much as $50 million in 10 years. “Money follows art, and art follows money.”

The effect of the current stock market turbulence was felt more strongly during the weekend’s wine sales, when collectors passed on oversized bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, the first time in the past 17 wine auctions in Hong Kong that the auction house failed to sell every bottle.

Sotheby’s autumn sale began on Oct. 1 after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index had its worst quarter since the end of 2008. The top lot in the two days of wine purchases, worth a total of HK$99.1 million, was the sale of a 12-bottle case of 1988 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Burgundy for HK$907,500.

‘Cheap Prices’

“There weren’t so many buyers,” said Liu Dan, a Beijing-based collector who picked up six cases of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1996 vintage for $HK48,400 each. “Prices were cheap.”

Sotheby’s has raised HK$879 million during the first three days of its Hong Kong Autumn sales that included the wine and modern and contemporary Asian art. The six days of sales feature 3,400 lots of porcelain, art and jewels that New York-based Sotheby’s forecast will raise more than HK$2.7 billion.

Sunday’s wine sale suggests that the steady climb in first growth Bordeaux is finally leveling out, dealers said.

“Before prices were getting pretty insane,” said Serena Sutcliff, head of International Wine for Sotheby’s who noted that Burgundy prices keep climbing. “Today there was some good value,” she said on Sunday.

Zeng’s Art

On Oct. 2, the top lot of a contemporary Chinese art sale was a painting by Zeng Fanzhi, which sold for $HK20.3 million, compared with a high estimate of HK$20 million that doesn’t include the buyer’s premium. The evening sale of 90 works amassed by Guy Ullens, founder of Beijing’s largest private art museum, raised HK$132.4 million, with 93 percent of the lots sold.

Yesterday, an oil by Zhang Xiaogang from his Bloodline series sold for HK$65.6 million, close to the HK$65 million high estimate. At Sotheby’s April sale in the city, Zhang’s triptych “Forever Lasting Love” fetched HK$79 million with fees, more than double the HK$30 million top estimate.

Sotheby’s autumn sale series has 200 fewer lots than its April auction in Hong Kong, which took a record HK$3.49 billion, compared with an estimate of HK$2.7 billion, the auction house said. The star lot in the spring sale, an 18th-century Chinese vase worth more than $23 million, failed to find a buyer.

Sotheby’s is offering 36 works by Zhang Daqian today, followed by rare porcelains from the Meiyintang collection tomorrow. Watches and jewelry from the estate of Hong Kong singer and actress Anita Mui also go on sale the same day.

Buyer’s premium, the commission added to the hammer price of works sold, is 25 percent for the first HK$400,000, 20 percent for lots fetching as much as HK$8 million, and 12 percent above that. The wine premium is a flat 21 percent. Estimates reflect the hammer price, before premium.

Potential buyers who aren’t represented at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre sale can bid via Sotheby’s online bidding system.

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