HONG KONG — Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s fall auction season opened to mixed results on the weekend, confirming a continued slowdown in the Asian market. While sales of wine and Southeast Asian Art were buoyant, the house’s traditionally strong sectors of Modern Asian and Contemporary Asian Art were depressed, with both the quality and value of lots on offer substantially down on previous seasons.
This was particularly evident in Contemporary Asian Art. Sotheby’s went into yesterday’s sale with modest expectations, aiming for something in excess of HK$130 million (US$16 million), but they eventually netted below that figure with total sales on the day of HK$117 million (US$15 million). This result compares starkly with Spring 2012’s total for this sector of HK$211 million (US$27 million), which was itself somewhat down from the stellar seasons enjoyed by this sector in the boom year of 2011.
The decline is almost entirely due to the difficulty of securing high-quality consignments in a slowing market. While last season featured a number of iconic and hotly-contested Chinese contemporary art works, yesterday’s sale included only one truly important work, Liu Wei’s “Revolutionary Family Series – Invitation to Dinner,” (1992), which sold for HK$17.46 million (US$2.24 million) against a high estimate of HK$15 million (US$1.9 million), an auction record for the artist. Exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1993, Liu’s work is a classic of the Cynical Realist art movement which emerged from the disillusionment following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
The top lot of the sale was Zhang Xiaogang's “Tiananmen No 1,” 1993, which sold to a European collector for HK$20.82 million (US$ 2.669 million) comfortably within the pre-sale estimate of HK$15 – 25 million.
The day’s real bright spot was Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art, which recorded that sector’s best-ever result for Sotheby’s, clocking up HK$121 million (US$15.5 million), more than double the pre-sale estimate and even shading the results in its big brother sector of Contemporary Asian Art. A new record for Southeast Asian art was also set by Indonesian modern artist Lee Man Fong, whose “Fortune and Longevity” sold for HK$34.26 million (US$4.4 million), triple its low estimate.
The results confirmed Southeast Asian art as a sector to watch, with Asia’s canniest collectors, the Taiwanese, active in the sale room.
Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s fall auction season continues through tomorrow.