Sotheby’s five-day autumn sale got off to a mixed start during the weekend, setting a record for a Southeast Asian work and pulling another lot whose ownership was contested by a Buddhist nun.
A painting by Indonesian artist Lee Man Fong sold yesterday for HK$34.3 million ($4.4 million), the most paid for a Southeast Asian artist at auction, earning nearly three times its estimate of HK$12 million.
The work also commanded more than the most expensive Chinese contemporary painting on the same day, a work by Zhang Xiaogang that fetched HK$20.8 million, while three other of his works went unsold, as did paintings by Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun.
“The results of this sale are showing some cracks in the market, with a large number of cornerstone artists’ works going unsold,” Jehan Chu, a Hong Kong adviser who runs Vermillion Art Collections, said in an interview.
The contemporary Asian sale, normally the marquee auction, raised HK$117 million with 42 out of 153 lots unsold, making less than its presale estimate of HK$130 million. In contrast, the Southeast Asian contemporary sale earned HK$121 million, more than twice its presale estimate.
“The contemporary Chinese art market bubble has burst,” said Amalia Wirjono, sales director of Gagosian Gallery Hong Kong. “The market is now very selective and it’s survival of the fittest.”
Exceptional works still attracted strong buyer interest, she said. A 1992 painting by Chinese artist Liu Wei entitled “Revolutionary Family Series-Invitation to Dinner,” sold for HK$17.46 million, setting a record for the artist. The work is part of the collection belonging to David Tang that hung for many years at the China Club in Hong Kong.
Sotheby’s withdrew a painting from today’s sale by Chinese master Zhang Daqian with a high estimate of HK$12.8 million, after a Taiwanese Buddhist nun contested its ownership, saying it was originally given to her as a wedding present and didn’t belong to the seller.
“Sotheby’s takes issues of title seriously,” Kevin Ching, Sotheby’s Asia chief executive officer said. “We will not sell anything that we cannot be sure that we can pass good title to.”
Demand for wine proved resilient, with 96 percent of lots purchased in the two-day sale, raising HK$73.6 million, compared with a high estimate of HK$73 million (excluding buyer’s premium of 22.5 percent.)
The top lot of nine bottles of Romanee Conti Domaine de La Romanee-Conti 1990 sold for HK$1.7 million, or $24,580 per bottle.
At Sotheby’s watch sale today, the top lot was a Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon wrist watch that sold for HK$10.5 million, compared with a high estimate of HK$12 million.
Across town, Beijing-based China Guardian’s inaugural Hong Kong sale yesterday of Chinese painting and calligraphy, and Ming and Qing dynasty furniture earned HK$455 million, more than doubling its presale estimate of HK$185 million, with 90 percent of lots sold.
In a sale dominated by mainland Chinese buyers, the top lot was a landscape series of colored ink paintings by Chinese artist Qi Baishi painted in 1922 that sold for HK$46 million compared with a high estimate of HK$26 million.
An absence of deep-pocketed Chinese buyers was evident at Fine Art Asia, which concluded yesterday after four days.
“What’s missing is that crazy buying from coal mine owners from Shanxi and Inner Mongolia and businessmen from Wenzhou, we don’t see them this year,” fair director Andy Hei said.
(Frederik Balfour is a reporter-at-large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Warwick Thompson on London stage, Scott Reyburn on the art market and Elin McCoy on wine.