On Wednesday evening in Hong Kong, Sotheby’s modern and contemporary art evening sales brought in a combined $164.2 million with premium, landing within the pre-sale estimate of HK$ 927 million–1.4 billion ($118 million–$178 million).
Despite a tense political climate in the region amid strict pandemic-related measures in Hong Kong and Shanghai, the sale performed well, with high sell-through rates and records set for 14 artists. Among those artists were Anna Weyant, Louise Bonnet, Tomokazu Matsuyama, Robert Alice, Chris Huen Sin Kan, Michael Lau, Atsushi Kaga, and Peter McDonald.
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Ahead of Wednesday night’s sale, Sotheby’s was forced to postpone the event from their usual slot in early April amid Hong Kong’s stringent coronavirus measures that have left may public spaces vacant. As a result, Sotheby’s staged the sale at a gallery space in Hong Kong’s Pacific Place complex.
The collective total for the combined sales was down significantly from the equivalent set of sales last April, which brought in a hammer total of HK$1.46 billion, or HK$ 2.1 billion with premium ($269.8 million), across 91 works sold.
The five-hour-long event was staged across three sales—the standard auctions given over to modern and contemporary art, followed by a single-lot sale of a De Beers blue diamond, which was bought for a final price of HK$451 million ($57.5 million) by an anonymous phone bidder. The gem hammered at a price above its $48 million estimate.
Nearly half the bidders participated online, while the bulk of the rest called in to auction specialists based across Sotheby’s London and New York offices. High-value works by Pablo Picasso and Louise Bourgeois anchored the night’s sale series as part of a continued effort to introduce major lots by historical blue-chip Western artists to established collectors in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Western artists have come to feature relatively large in our Hong Kong sales,” said Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s chairman of modern and contemporary art in Asia, in a statement following the sale. “But what’s particularly exciting for me is to see them in dialogue with their Asian counterparts.”
Among the top lots of the sale was Picasso’s 1939 portrait of his muse and collaborator, the Surrealist photographer Dora Maar. It sold for HK$169.4 million ($21.6 million) to a Japanese collector. That sum was more than the painting’s HK$138 million ($17.6 million) pre-sale estimate. The result makes it the second-most expensive work by the Spanish modernist to sell at auction in the region.
Meanwhile, Plum Blossoms (1973), a painting by Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong, sold for a final price of $103.9 million ($13.2 million), hammering within its pre-sale expectations.
Louise Bourgeois’s wall-mounted steel sculpture of an eight-legged black spider, titled Spider IV, sold for HK$129 million ($16.5 million), selling for a final price above its $15 million low estimate. Yoshitomo Nara’s 2013 painting Oddly Cozy also surpassed its low expectation. Making its auction debut, the work sold for HK$112 million ($14.3 million), outpacing its estimate of HK$80 million ($10.2 million).
Vietnamese artist Le Pho, who was active in the postwar era, achieved a new artist record. Pho’s Figures in a Garden, an undated three-panel work, was first shown in a 1973 exhibition in the U.S. and has been held privately ever since. It sold for HK$17.9 million ($13.2 million), nearly six times its pre-sale estimate.
Records also fell for newcomers. Rising star Anna Weyant’s starkly-rendered floral still-life painting Josephine (2020) sold for HK$4 million ($513,900), nearly 10 times its HK$250,000 ($32,000) estimate. Louise Bonnet, whose work is currently in the Venice Biennale, also saw her record fall, with her painting The Ice Skater (2016), depicting a cartoon-like blonde female figure whose nose is enlarged, realizing a price of HK$5.7 million ($574,000). That price was more than 10 times its high estimate of HK$450,000 ($57,000).