Contemporary Art in Hong Kong



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the 10 best auction results for works of Contemporary art in Hong Kong between July 2012 and June 2013.

Continuing our tour of the key markets for Contemporary art… here is our ranking of the Top 10 results in Hong Kong (after New York, London and Paris). Hong Kong is not in the same league as New York, the global capital of the Contemporary art market with its Top 10 hammer prices in the Contemporary segment adding up to US$183.1 million, double London’s total and almost six times the value of Hong Kong’s Top 10 (US$31.3 million… fairly evenly distributed between the two leaders Christie’s and Sotheby’s with five awards each). Poly Auction scored several 7-figure dollar results this year, but none high enough to feature in the Top 10. Unlike the other capitals’ rankings, Hong Kong’s is not dominated by Jean-Michel Basquiat. In fact, to date, none of Basquiat’s works has ever sold there. Hong Kong buys and sells Chinese. However – as shown by this Top 10 which features seven artists (all at 7-figure-dollar price levels) – the Hong Kong Contemporary art market is decidedly high-end with an entry ticket of US$1.288 million (Yue Minjun). France’s entry ticket to the Top 10 Contemporary art results for the same period was US$208,560 (Keith Haring), i.e. US$1.08 million less.

Top 10 : the 10 best auction results for works of Contemporary art in Hong Kong between July 2012 and June 2013.

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 ZENG Fanzhi $3348800 Society (2001) 05/25/2013 (Christie’s HONG KONG)
2 ZENG Fanzhi $2515500 Mask series (1999) 11/24/2012 (Christie’s HONG KONG)
3 ZHANG Xiaogang $2322000 Tiananmen No.1 () 10/07/2012 (Sotheby’s HONG KONG)
4 WANG Yidong $2060800 Teasing the Newlyweds (1998) 04/06/2013 (Sotheby’s HONG KONG)
5 LIU Wei $1935000 Revolutionary Family Series – Invitation to Dinner (1992) 10/07/2012 (Sotheby’s HONG KONG)
6 FANG Lijun $1867600 Series 1, No. 4 (1990/91) 04/05/2013 (Sotheby’s HONG KONG)
7 ZENG Fanzhi $1741500 Mask series (1999) 11/24/2012 (Christie’s HONG KONG)
8 ZHANG Xiaogang $1354500 2001 No.8 (2001) 11/24/2012 (Christie’s HONG KONG)
9 AI Xuan $1288000 Longing (2011) 04/06/2013 (Sotheby’s HONG KONG)
10 YUE Minjun $1288000 Fifteen Poses in Life: Pink (1999) 05/25/2013 (Christie’s HONG KONG)



Zeng Fanzhi
The undisputed leader of Chinese Contemporary art this past year is ZENG Fanzhi with three works from his most famous and most sought-after mask series (Society and two works entitled Mask series). These works were created shortly after he moved to Beijing in 1993, a period of transition with significant economic, social and ideological change. His work on the Mask Series lasted seven years and its Pop Art influences helped Zeng Fanzhi to gain rapid acceptance on Western markets. Indeed, the series triggered Fanzhi’s auction debut in 1998 when Christie’s took the risk of presenting two of his paintings in London. But Zeng Fanzhi was still unknown and they were both bought in against a low estimate of less than US$8,000 each. For that price today, one could acquire one of Fanzhi’s very limited edition lithographs. On 24 November 2012, Christie’s Hong Kong auctioned one of the two Fanzhi works that remained unsold in 1998 (Mask Series : No.10) and – having become a star in the meantime – the painting fetched HKUS$7.5 million (US$967,500 or US$1,163,580 including fees) i.e. 107 times the asking price 14 years earlier. His first 7-figure-dollar result was hammered in 2007, and then on 24 May 2008 at Christie’s Hong Kong, his Mask series 1996 No.6 reached HKUS$67m (US$8.5m and US$9.66m including fees), an amount that still stands as his personal auction record.

Much appreciated in Hong Kong (the Hong Kong branch of the Gagosian Gallery dedicated an exhibition to his work in 2011), Zeng Fanzhi’s work will soon be exhibited in Paris at the Museum of Modern Art which is preparing the first French retrospective dedicated to the artist (18 October 2013 – 16 February 2014).

Zhang Xiaogang
ZHANG Xiaogang has held the auction record for Chinese Contemporary art since April 2011 when his early triptych entitled Forever lasting Love fetched US$9 million at Sotheby’s sale of the Ullens collection in Hong Kong. The worked tripled its pre-sale estimate and multiplied more than six fold its price of four years earlier (27 May 2007) when it was acquired for the equivalent of US$1.4 million at Christie’s Hong Kong. Like Zeng Fanzhi, whose most sought-after works belong to a series (the Masks), Zhang Xiaogang’s most expensive works are from his famous Bloodline: Big Family series which has generated no less than 40 results above the million dollar threshold since 2006! The 8th place in this ranking is another work from that series (2001 No.8). However, the work that earned him 3rd place is an exception. Tiananmen No.1 is a painting from his Tiananmen series, and its value increased US$500,000 in October 2012 when it was acquired for the equivalent of US$2.32 million compared with the US$1.72 milion paid in 2007.

China’s most expensive Contemporary artists often produce work in series, and Liu Wei and Fang Lijun are no exception to the rule. LIU Wei joined the high-end of the market in 2007 (with an untitled painting that fetched the equivalent of US$670,800 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 7 October 2007). In 2011 he scored his first million-dollar result, quickly followed by eight others, culminating in his current auction record of US$1.935 million in October 2012 for a painting entitled Revolutionary Family Series – Invitation to Dinner (1992).

YUE Minjun achieved worldwide notoriety with his narrative frescoes depicting characters all wearing the same over-sized smile. The sale of his painting Gweong-gweong for more than US$6.1 million on 24 May 2008 (Christie’s Hong Kong) gave Minjun a place among the world’s most expensive Contemporary artists. His prices have increased tenfold since 2000 and a budget of US$150,000 to US$200,000 is now needed to acquire an 80 cm painting by the artist. The work that ranked 10th in this Top consists of fifteen paintings of this dimension. It fetched the equivalent of US$1.288 million… a good sign for a work that failed to sell at the same price two years ago.

Realist paintings by Wang Yidong and Ai Xuan
Apart from the ubiquitous “series” in Chinese Contemporary art, another very popular style is realist genre paintings. This style has allowed both WANG Yidong and AI Xuan to reach into the highest auction price echelons. Wang Yidong sells mostly in Hangzhou, Shanghai and particularly Beijing where the market is traditionally more appreciative of this type of work. However, last year his Teasing the Newlyweds fetched more than US$2 million in Hong Kong, his best-ever result in the city. The work depicts 17 characters around the newlyweds in an intimate and traditional genre scene painted with explicit realism. In the same figurative vein, Ai Xuan scored his fourth million-plus auction result (in US$) this year and his first at that price level in Hong Kong (Longing sold for the equivalent of US$1.288 million on 6 April 2013 at Sotheby’s).