Contemporary Cools in Sotheby’s $97.8m HK Sale as Demand Shifts to New Discoveries

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Red Warrior)

Sotheby’s Hong Kong sales cycle was down substantially from the Spring with the Contemporary art category falling from $141 million in sales to just under $100 million. Looking at the sales results, it would appear the problem was more one of limited supply more than cooling demand.

The top Contemporary art lot, Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s Untitled (Red Warrior), sold after bidding confined to a narrow range just below the low estimate. The guaranteed work seemed to have but two bidders. Only one of them seemed to be bidding with any determination. The $20.9 million result brought the momentum of high-value Basquiat sales in Hong Kong to an abrupt halt.

This Spring there were three Basquiat sales above $30 million in Hong Kong. Aby Rosen’s Warrior had kicked the sales off in March when it made $41.6m. That was followed by the May sale of another 1982 figure for $30.2 million and June sale of a 1985 work featured in a famous portrait of the artist that made $37 million.

The red warrior went to an American buyer. Although auctions at this level are truly global at this point, the sale does reverse some of the market narrative around Asian buyers’ interest.

Overall, the top lots in the evening sale were a mix of Asian and Western artists with only Cecily Brown and Kazuo Shiraga‘s works showing any sign of aggressive bidding. In the chart below, we can see that all but two of the top 10 lots in the Evening sale were sold within the estimate range.

That observation shouldn’t suggest Asian buyers are dormant. The aggressive bidding in Hong Kong was very much on display in the day sale. This list of the top 25 day sale lots is color coded by bidding. The green lots achieved prices above the estimate range. A full 60% of the top 25 lots were sold for prices above the estimate range.

The list includes a range of artists. Bidders were excited by works from Yayoi Kusama (four works in the top 25; three bid above estimates), Yoshitomo Nara (two works in the top 25; one bid above estimates), Lee Ufan, Jonas Wood, Zhang Xiaogang and Shara Hughes who also had a record price set in the Evening sale.

Ding Yi‘s market seems to be having a comeback after a decade of slow sales. There was strong bidding on his Appearance of Crosses, 2002-12. Izumi Kato‘s untitled work confirmed the new level of demand first seen in Hong Kong this May. This is the second sale of the artist’s work in the mid-six-figure range which is roughly twice the previous level of top sales.

Several other artists saw breakout sales on the most dynamic lot list.

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