Indonesian Chinese collector Budi Tek (AKA Yu Deyao) spent up big at Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s last night, snapping up historic works by Zhang Xiaogang and Fang Lijun and helping the house to a healthy HK$211 million (US$27 million) total for the evening, their second best result ever for a mixed owner sale of Contemporary Asian Art in the Harbor City.
However, despite the importance of some of the works on offer, the sale was overall a muted affair with little of the passionate competition that animated the evening spot last spring when the Ullens Collection of Chinese Contemporary art went under the hammer. Estimates this spring were conservative and though a number were exceeded — including for the two top lots by Zhang and Fang — the overall total was inside the house’s pre-sale estimate.
Tek’s acquisitions are destined for a planned private museum in Shanghai, which is slated to open in 2013. His ambition for this museum to be a showcase of Chinese contemporary art history was first signalled in October 2010 when he bought Zhang Xiaogang’s early masterpiece "Chapter of a New Century — Birth of the People’s Republic of China II" (1992 ) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.
Last night’s purchases would appear to confirm the seriousness of his intention. The headline acquisition was Zhang’s “Bloodline – Big Family: Big Family No.2” (1993), which he secured for US$6.69 million, against a high estimate of $4.5 million. The work had been held in the same private collection since 1996 and is one of the earliest examples of the Bloodline series, which is of central importance not just in Zhang’s oeuvre but in the history of Chinese contemporary art. Tek also acquired a strong early work by Fang Lijun, “1993 No. 4” — which was created for the 1993 Venice Biennale — for US$3.67 million against a high estimate of $3.2 million, as well as early works by Wang Guangyi and Song Ling.
The success of this sale as a whole, with 75% sold by lot and 89% by value, confirms the trend of the season, the strength of which is assuaging fears that the slowdown in the Chinese art market appreciable in fall 2011 might accelerate this year. The opening days have already seen a 100% sold pair of wine auctions and solid results in the Chinese 20th Century Art and Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary sales. Attention now turns to the market’s “sweet spot,” Chinese traditional modern painting today (Tuesday) and to Chinese porcelain and works of art tomorrow. Fireworks are expected at the latter as its headline lot is an extremely rare Song Dynasty (960-1279) brush washer, fired in the Dynasty’s fabled Ru kilns. Consigned from a private collection in Japan, there are reportedly only another six like it in private hands. Market watchers will be focussed not just on the price, which could far exceed its fairly conservative estimate of US$7.7 - $10.3 million, but on determining who picks up the prize. If it goes to mainland China it would signal a change in a market that has hitherto eschewed the subtlety of the Song for the flashier charms of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).