Paris – Hong Kong



On 3 December 2012 Christie’s Paris held a Contemporary Art sale with works ranging from the 1950s to the early 2000s.
A Louise BOURGEOISSpider (rare mural version) generated a fifth of the sale’s total revenue, doubling its high estimate with a winning bid of €3m (nearly $4m). Louise Bourgeois, a monument of Contemporary Western art, now sells all over the world … except in China!
But situations of this kind may soon become a thing of the past because, while Western collectors were bidding on December 3 at Christie’s, Asian collectors were discovering on the same day (for the first time in Hong Kong) works by the French New Realists and other important Western signatures (Marc QUINN, Fernando BOTERO, Andy WARHOL, etc.) at Sotheby’s. Although Fernandez ARMAN’s superb Birds of Paradise did not found a buyer at this first sale of Western art in Hong Kong, Sotheby’s has at least started the ball rolling.

Test sale at Sotheby’s
To test the Hong Kong market, Sotheby’s selected its Western signatures carefully avoiding any unnecessary risk and clearly seeking protection from the notion of the artwork as a luxury object. We note for example that the French champion of immaterial art, Yves KLEIN, saw his presence reduced to a Table d’or (a work that has been edited in a large number). This famous coffee table, covered in gold leaves (a symbol of success and prosperity in China), was bound to sell and it was acquired for its low estimate of HK$ 180,000 (US$ 23,000) which is also its best result over the last two years of global public sales.
Another French artist at the sale was Claude LALANNE who also had a piece of furniture-art: a table-sculpture in aluminium which fetched the equivalent of $116,000. This graceful Table ‘Ginkgo Biloba (HK$ 900,000 edition 3/8) reproduces the leaves of the “tree of a thousand crowns” a traditional Chinese theme and a symbol perfectly tailored for Hong Kong buyers.
Sotheby’s continued to hammer the theme of prosperity (and of vanity) with two minor works by Damien HIRST: one of his famous silkscreens For the Love of God, Laugh enhanced with diamond powder (edition 133/250) fetched HK$ 80,000 ($10,300), and a small Butterfly painting with a single bright blue butterfly. This Loving Look 15,2 x 15,2 cm with its popish colours was acquired for HK$ 220,000 or ($28,000). The Japanese auction house Est-Ouest Auctions had already tried to sell it last year (29 November 2011), but without success; no doubt because it was substantially overestimated (HK$ 400,000 – 600,000).

With this first sale presenting a number of Western signatures among the major names of Contemporary Asian art, Sotheby’s has not only adapted to local demand, but it has also shown that it is best to start with humility if you want to establish a solid grounding in China. Recall that Sotheby’s was the first auction house to set up in Hong Kong in 1973 while its rival Christie’s did not arrive until 1986. In 2012, it is again the first Western auction house to open a branch in mainland China (hitherto closed to foreign auctioneers). To obtain the good graces of the Chinese government in its expansion, Sotheby’s has associated with an little-known Chinese company to create a joint-venture Beijing Gehua Art Company, for which Sotheby’s is the operator. Western artists now have an open door to the Chinese art market, the most powerful market in the world.