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Christie's primes the pump for coming auction

Updated: 2012-11-02 17:15
By Lin Qi ( China Daily)

Christie's primes the pump for coming auction

Chinese-French artist Sanyu's (1901-66) Pot de Chrysanthemums Roses will be under the hammer at the upcoming Christie's autumn sales in Hong Kong.

In a less active market where sellers are inclined to hold on to their treasures, the appearance of high-quality artworks is what all bidders are keen to find in salesrooms. In response, Christie's will auction several important works of Asian art in the upcoming autumn sales in Hong Kong.

The top lots include Pot de Chrysanthemums Roses by Sanyu (1901-66). The dark background under bold, incomplete brushstrokes, together with pink and white flower petals that were carved out with knives, gives a touch of Oriental refinement. The oil painting was created in the 1940s, when Sanyu fell into desperate straits financially. It nevertheless reflects the artist’s homage to the aesthetics of Chinese literati painting.

Sanyu's paintings have performed strongly at auctions in the last few years. His Five Nudes fetched HK$128.32 million ($16.6 million) at Taiwan auction house Ravenal’s Hong Kong sale in 2011, a record for the artist. He is among those Chinese oil painting pioneers, also including Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-chun, whose works are believed to be the backbone of the 20th-century Asian art category.

Meanwhile, the contemporary art market is undergoing a reshuffle following the withdrawal of capitals in search for short-term profits. The spring sales were disappointing in the contemporary segment, especially for lots of star artists such as Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun. Their classic early works, however, have become a relatively secure choice, even though not generating rocketing prices.

For instance, Zhang Xiaogang's oil painting from 1993, Tian'anmen No 1, topped Sotheby's Hong Kong sale of contemporary Asian art in October. It was sold to a European buyer at the price of HK$20.82 million, not meeting its highest estimate of HK$25 million.

Christie's will present another influential contemporary figure, Zhou Chunya, with 15 paintings from the 1970s to early 1990s, all from a private German collection. The rare assembly shows his important growth from initial experiments as an art student to the full-blown expressionism he has adopted since the 1990s.

The consignor offered great help to Zhou when he studied at Germany's Kassel Academy of Fine Art from 1986 to 1988. He got those paintings as a gift of return from Zhou before he came back to China.

"When I was in Kassel, the collector often invited me to his home in the countryside. He drove me to dinner, to exhibitions and to other cities in Germany. He introduced me to his many relatives, from whom I learned about ordinary German people," says Zhou in a recent interview with China's major art information portal

The estimates are between tens of thousands of Hong Kong dollars to hundreds of thousands. Zhou's record in art auctions surpasses 30 million yuan ($4.8 million), which was achieved at China Guardian's sales in 2011. "I think the prices are fine. If the paintings are too expensive, there won't be many people in the sales. I think lower estimates will make my paintings accessible to more people," Zhou says.

Auctioneers also believe a price re-adjustment isn't so bad. "The contemporary Chinese art segment boomed too fast in previous years, and the prices surged up violently. It is a pity that many buyers treated arts as if they had invested in stock or real estate," says Ken Yeh, chairman of Christie's Asia and also a contemporary art expert.

He says the slowdown is good for a healthy market. "Chinese buyers have learnt a lot in the rise and fall of the market. The recent two to three auction seasons have seen active participation of new buyers, who are more cautious and reasonable."

Christie's first half-year figure of 2012 shows that although the sales for Asian art and auction sales in Hong Kong decreased from the record levels of 2011, the number of registered Asian clients to bid in New York and London increased by 31 percent.

Yeh says mainland buyers contribute about 30 percent in auction turnovers in Christie's Hong Kong sales.

"It is a good time for newcomers to enter the market, if they have done enough homework about art auctions and the contemporary category, and have much confidence in the market," he says.

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