by Jon Burris, December 3, 2006
The 2006 Asian fall auctions of Chinese 20th Century and Contemporary Art held in Hong Kong by Christie’s on November 26 reached a combined total of U.S$67,978,560, the highest ever achieved anywhere in the world for both categories of Chinese art sales.
Many record prices were set at the Christie’s sales including the highest ever for any Asian oil painting. Slave and Lion, 1924 by Xu Beihong sold for $7 million toppling by far the artist’s previous record of $417,470 set in 2003. Known for his powerful and expressive depictions of animals, this graphic interpretation of the mythical story of Androcles is considered one of the artist’s greatest works. The painting measured 48 1/2″ x 60 1/4″ and its provenance was credited to a private Singapore collector. It sold to an anonymous phone bidder said to be from mainland China.
The second highest price at the Christie’s 20th Century Chinese Art sale was paid for a 1950’s Sanyu oil painting of a still life entitled Potted Chrysanthemum in a Blue and White Jardiniere that brought $3,801,200. This was a world record for the artist. Following closely was another Sanyu still life, Flowers in a White Vase,1930’s selling at $2,345,200. A third still life, Potted Chrysanthemums, 1950’s sold for $1,471,600.
In the same multi-million dollar category was Zao Wou-Ki’s abstract, Composition No. 8, 1958 that sold for $3,218,800 and Liao Chi Ch’un’s colorful abstract, Spring Scene in the Garden, 1970 that brought $2,490,800. Both sales represented record prices for the artists.
Another highpoint in the 20th Century Art sale was achieved with a series of four Wang Huaiqing paintings: San Wei Book Room, 1995, $519,394; Double Chairs, 1989-1991, $361,004; Chinese Chair Acrobatics I, 1998, $260,211, and The Corridor, 1991, $169,703.
A beautifully multi-colored Wu Dayu, Colour Rhymes 59, 1970’s set a record for the artist at $361,000. Wu Guanzhong’s prices remained steady over previous auctions with the sale of: Miao Village, 1972, $418,890; A Carrot’s Plot, 1996, $361,254, and Scene of My Hometown, 1996, $390,072.
The prices of sculpture by Taiwan artist Ju Ming continued to rise at the Christie’s sale. His 1976 Taiji Series, Single Whip (38″x22″x26″) as a unique wood piece went for $361,254 while his stainless steel version of the same sculpture, #2/9 sold for $332,436, as did a bronze casting in a smaller size (22″x32″x17″) #20/30.
At the Asian Contemporary Art sale, an unusual Zhang Xiaogang urban landscape painting of Tiananmen Square produced by the artist in 1993, went for $2,345,200 from a pre-sale estimate of $385,689. This easily eclipsed the artist’s $979,200 record set last March for the sale of one of his more well known portrait paintings Bloodline Series: Comrade No. 120 made in 1998. In the same auction, Zhang Xiaogang’s Father and Son, 2005 sold for $1,908,400. His Boy in Pink Colour, 2005 brought $1,107,600 and his Young Girl, 1993 went for $962,000. Even art world insiders acknowledged these were astounding prices generated by a 48-year-old artist not even considered to be in mid-career! Other highlights included: Yue Minjun’s Kites, 1993 that sold for $962,000; Zeng Fanzhi’s, Mask, 1999 No. 3 that went for $816,400, and Cai Guo Qiang’s Ascending Dragon: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 2, 1990 that brought $816,400.
Altogether, Christie’s realized $20,626,466 for 213 lots sold in the Asian Contemporary Art auction. While the international press has already begun to ask how long the ‘bubble’ can hold for Chinese art given the fantastic figures being generated by such sales, Theow Tow, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s Asia and the Americas and International Director of Chinese Works of Art commented: “These sales establish beyond doubt the firm position that Chinese Contemporary Art has in the roster of international collecting categories.”
Eric Chang, Senior Vice President, International Director of 20th Century Chinese Art and Asian Contemporary Art at Christie’s said: “These sales were a milestone in the history of Asian contemporary art and 20th Century Chinese art auctions. The cohesive presentation of Christie’s sales opened the gates to a new era in Asian art and reaffirms Christie’s leadership in the field. New buyers have entered the market and are competing vigorously with established collectors. The tremendous success demonstrates the strength of the market in Asia and at the same time, the pan-Asian composition of the sales resulted in buying across national boundaries.”
Clearly Christie’s is confident about the future of the contemporary Chinese art market, one can only imagine what the artists themselves must be thinking.