Good results for Sotheby’s in Hong Kong



Hong Kong is Asia’s second art marketplace after Beijing and accounts for nearly 24% of Greater China’s art auction turnover. In a difficult economic environment for the Chinese art market, Hong Kong was the only Chinese marketplace to resist the general slowdown, posting revenue growth up 8% in 2015 compared with a 33% contraction in Beijing. Hong Kong’s resilience appears to be due to a strategic repositioning of its auction operators who have expanded their offer to Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian artists. Internationalization is therefore still very much at the heart of the city’s success with Hong Kong still attracting Western and pan-Asian market players (including the French auction house, Artcurial, which started organising sales there in 2015). Recently, the city’s best results have been hammered at Sotheby’s.

Along with October, April is one of the best months in Hong Kong’s art market calendar with Sotheby’s usually holding major sales of Asian art at the start of the month. Between 3 April and 5 April, Sotheby’s hosted no fewer than six sessions, generating a turnover total of $196.8 million. To expand its clientele, the American auction firm decided to add a special component to its Modern & Contemporary Asian Art sale entitled “Brushwork. From Asia to The World”. Consisting of a well-chosen selection of 20 abstract works by Asian, European and American artists, the component was highly successful with a 100% sold rate, total turnover of $8 million and results exceeding their pre-sale high estimates. The sale set new auction records for the Japanese calligrapher Shiryu MORITA (Kame fetched $96,750), the Japanese painter and sculptor Sofu TESHIGAHARA (whose Setsugetsu Ka – Snow Moon Flower fetched $56,000) and the Korean artist In-Sik QUAC (whose Work 63 sold for $137,000).

The week of sales also generated a new record for Tsuguharu FOUJITA who crossed the $5 million threshold with a magnificent Nu au chat (1930) acquired by Shanghai’s Long Museum (a private museum founded by Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei). This new record is all the more significant as it returns the Japanese-French artist to the price levels his work reached back in 1989-1990 when Japanese investors vigorously supported their compatriot artists. Today, Foujita’s market seems to have acquired new momentum and it will very likely relay to Western marketplaces. His work is also appreciated throughout Europe, in Switzerland and in the United States. Until recently, Paris was the epicentre of his market (generating 31% of his turnover over the last 10 years), followed by New York (with 19%). But with this new record, China has also become a reference market for the sale and exhibition of his works. The recent upside is an encouraging sign for Foujita’s global market.

Sotheby’s sales would have left a slightly bitter taste if they had concluded without any Chinese artists in the limelight. Fortunately, that was not the case since WANG Huaiqing (born 1944) added $3 million to his previous auction record when Feet 2 (a large oil-on-canvas completed in 1999) fetched $7 million. Another significant auction record was generated for the Chinese Contemporary artist LIU Wei (born 1965) whose oil-on-canvas triptych The Revolutionary Family Series sold for $5 million. Lastly, the painter WU Dayu (1903-1988) crossed the $2 million threshold for the first time with an abstract oil-on-canvas from the early-1980s that was exhibited at Taiwan’s National Museum in 2001 and now belongs to a private Asian collector. We note that Wu Dayu’s work has been the subject of strong demand since last year and his annual auction turnover doubled in 2015.

The next major Hong Kong art sales have been programmed for the end of May when Christie’s will be selling 20th Century and Contemporary Asian Art along with Contemporary Works in Ink. As this last component has been particularly successful on the secondary market over the last two or three years, we would not be surprised to see more new records.