Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Nets painting fetches US$6.8m, a double increase in 3 years

Tonight, Christie's Hong Kong raked in HK$678 million (around US$87 million) with its much-anticipated 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sale. A total of 51 lots were offered after two lots withdrawn, and only eight failed to find new buyers, achieving a sell-through rate of 84%.

The crowning lot of the night went to American artist Joan Mitchell's Untitled, which fetched HK$83.3 million (around US$10.7 million) with fees. 

The spotlight, however, was stolen by the 'Queen of Polka Dots' Yayoi Kusama. A rare gold-and-vermilion painting from her signature series, Infinity Nets (TWHOQ) drew at least four bidders to sell for HK$53.3 million (around US$6.8 million) with fees, doubling its last auction price of HK$27.7 million in 2019. 

Lot 18 | Yayoi Kusama | Infinity Nets (TWHOQ), Acrylic on canvas (triptych)
Created in 2006
Each: 194 x 130.3 cm
Overall: 194 x 390.9 cm

  • Private Collection, Asia
  • Acquired from the above by the previous owner circa 2013-2015
  • Christie’s Hong Kong, 25 May 2019, Lot 79
  • Acquired from the above sale by the current owner

Estimate: HK$28,000,000 - 38,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$44,000,000
Sold: HK$53,250,000 (around US$6.8 million)

The highlight moment of the sale came when numerous bidders enthusiastically pursued Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Nets (TWHOQ). Bidding for the lot started at HK$20 million, and within a minute, the overwhelming bids had already driven the work past its low estimate of HK$28 million.

The main bidders in the battlefield were the clients represented by Ada Tsui, Head of 20th and 21st Day Sales and Sherese Tong, Specialist in the Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art Department. With both parties outbidding each other multiple times, the lot was finally hammered on a bid of HK$44 million, placed by Sherese's client with paddle number 8355.

After fees, the lot sold for an impressive HK$53.3 million (around US$6.8 million), well beyond its last auction result of HK$27.7 million in 2019 – and its value has almost doubled in only three years. 

Sherese Tong won the lot for her client with paddle number 8355

A magnificent triptych measuring 194 x 390.4 cm, Infinity Nets (TWHOQ) stands as a true museum-quality work, as most Infinity Net paintings of such scale are now housed in museum collections, leaving only a handful in private hands.

Born 1929 in post-war Japan, Kusama was the youngest of four children in a wealthy family. During her childhood, Kusama began to repeatedly experience vivid hallucinations of kaleidoscopic patterns, memories of which she described: "I was always standing at the centre of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me."

To seek creative freedom from the constraints of conventional Japan, Kusama landed in New York in 1958 in pursuit of a flourishing artistic career. The following year, when she exhibited her debut Infinity Net painting Pacific Ocean at Bruta Gallery, her avant-garde, intricate work was unanimously hailed by artists, collectors, and critics – some even likened it to the artworks of Jackson Pollock, a major figure in the American Abstract Expressionist movement. 

Yayoi Kusama made a name for herself in the New York art scene throughout the 1960s

Yayoi Kusama started the Infinity Net series in New York

Since then, Inifinity Net became an iconic motif which she continues to depict over six decades of her artistic career, an emblem that paves the way for many of her sculptures and installations. 

Executed in 2006 during the artist's mature period, Infinity Nets (TWHOQ) is remarkable for its rare colour palette of gold and vermilion. It was born out of a sight that fixated in the artist's mind when she first flew to Seattle in 1957. These gleaming gold loops of pigment create negative spaces around the vermilion dots, generating an undulating net field that mesmerizes the boundless expanse of shimmering ocean waves under the setting sun's beaming light.

Of such high quality, the present work was included in Kusama’s acclaimed 2013 retrospective KUSAMA YAYOIA Dream I Dreamed, which toured internationally at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, Seoul Arts Center, and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung, among others. 

Lot 41 | Joan Mitchell | Untitled, Oil on canvas
Created in 1966 - 1967
278 x 199 cm

  • The Estate of Joan Mitchell
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2004)
  • Edward Tyler Nahem, New York
  • Private Collection, US
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018

Estimate: HK$80,000,000 - 120,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$70,000,000
Sold: HK$83,350,000 (around US$10.7 million)

The most expensive lot of the sale was prominent American artist Joan Mitchell's Untitled, her first painting to be auctioned at Christie's in Asia. Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen started the bidding at HK$50 million. After multiple bids, the lot was hammered for HK$70 million, selling for HK$83.4 million (around US$10.7 million) to the telephone bidder with paddle number 8202, represented by Barrett White, Executive Deputy Chairman for the Post-War & Contemporary Art Department.

One of the most important artists of the century, Mitchell's works are housed in major museums around the world, including Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Tate Collection, London. Recently, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Baltimore Museum of Art has co-organized a comprehensive retrospective for the artist, which is now on view at the Fondation Louis Vuitton until February 2023. 

Mitchell's auction record stands at US$16.6 million, set by her 1969 abstract Blueberry when it sold beyond an estimate between US$5 and 7 million at Christie's New York in 2018. In Hong Kong, her 1962 12 Hawks at 3 O'Clock sold for US$20 million to a private collector by gallery Lévy Gorvy at Art Basel in 2021, showing her appeal to the Asian market. 

Barrett White won the lot for his client with paddle number 8202

Joan Mitchell

Bluerry, sold for US$16,625,000 at Christie's New York in 2018

At a time when women were underrepresented in the art world, Joan Mitchell was one of the few female artists to attain critical acclaim and commercial success, establishing herself as a key figure among the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. 

Born in 1925, Mitchell arrived in New York in 1949 after graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her expansive, dynamic canvases packed with rhythmic counterposed lines had swiftly attracted the attention of the city's Abstract Expressionist leaders, including Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Philip Guston. 

Mitchell, however, refused pure abstracts or any other aestheitc labels, instead developing her own artistic vocabulary, known as 'abstacted landscape', in which she captured in paint internal topographies of emotion and remembered vistas. 

Painted between 1966 and 1967, the present canvas sees her signature style developed between New York and Paris, unfurling in formal exuberance and vibrant colours. It was made during her hunt for a country home, and is richly evocative of water, sky and vegetation, seeming to foreshadow the growth and freedom that her new rural setting would bring.

Lot 34 | Yoshitomo Nara | Present, Acrylic on canvas
Created in 1994
180.3 x 149.9 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Gallery d'Eendt, Amsterdam
  • Sotheby's New York, 9 November 2004, Lot 11 (Sold: US$209,600)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$65,000,000 - 95,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$60,000,000
Sold: HK$71,900,000 (around US$9.1 million)

Perennial auction-house favorite Yoshitomo Nara's Present came second place in the sale, selling for HK$71.9 million (around US$9.1 million) with fees to Italian Chairman Mariolina Bassetti's client with paddle number 8335. 

Nara is best known for his paintings of children that appear adorable but at the same time, a little sinister. Behind the intense gaze from the girl’s wide doe-eyes, one can almost sense the subtle melancholic expression and her loneliness.

As the youngest child of working parents, the artist spent much of his time in solitude with little to do but explore the depths of his imagination. The signature style in his oeuvre was first developed during his lonesome years in Germany, which reminded him of his childhood. The sensation captured slowly manifested itself from the 1990s, into the character’s signature bob cut, pudgy cheeks, and almond-eyes.

Italian Chairman Mariolina Bassetti's client with paddle number 8335 won the lot

Yoshitomo Nara

The Girl with the Knife in Her Hand  | San Francisco of Modern Art

Painted in 1994, Present is one of the 14 portraits featuring a child with a knife Nara created since the 1990s, a limited group which also included The Girl with the Knife in Her Hand  collected by San Francisco of Modern Art. 

Measuring 180.3 x 149.9 cm, the present lot is one of the largest painting in the series, and the only one feauring the girl in red dress against a blue backdrop. It was exhibited Gallery d'Eendt in Amsterdam in 1994. In 2004, it went under the hammer for US$209,600 in New York in 2004. Now having fetched HK$71.9 million (around US$9.1 million) with fees, its value has increased by 43 times in 18 years of time. 

Lot 29 | Adrian Ghenie | Degenerate Art, Oil on canvas
Created in 2018
180 x 200 cm

  • The Artist
  • Private Collection, Europe

Estimate: HK$48,000,000 - 68,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$47,000,000
Sold: HK$56,850,000 (around US$7.3 million)

The third most expensive lot of night belonged to Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie's Degenerate Art. Opening on a bid of HK$35 million, the lot was soon hammered for HK$47 million, selling for a final price of HK$56.8 million (around US$7.3 million) with fees.

In recent years, Ghenie is an increasingly popular artist amongst Asian collectors. This past May, Ghenie’s Degenerate Art garnered US$9.2 million and set a then new auction record in New York. That same month, his largest single canvas work, Pie Fight Interior 12, fetched a whopping HK$81 million (around US$10.3 million) at Christie's Hong Kong to become his new auction record.

Adrain Ghenie

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Courtauld Institute Galleries, London

Born in Romania under the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu and currently based in Berlin, Ghenie has long been fascinated by the darker forces that shaped the 20th century, with a particular emphasis on powerful figures and pivotal moments during Second World War, including scientists, artists and dictators.

Titled 'Degenarate Art', the painting takes reference to a term adopted by the Nazi Party in Germany to describe modern art. During the 1930s, the Nazis sought to supersede what they saw as irrational and chaotic artistic expression with sanitised, government-approved style and subject matter. At the time, works by renowned artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch and Pablo Picasso were seized – it is this specific historical context that has attracted Ghenie. 

Measuring 180 x 200 cm, the present Degenarte Art is one of a series of five monumental works that meld the artist's own likeness with that of van Gogh, and the sole example based on its arguably most iconic self-image, his Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear.

Other Highlight Lots: 

Several lots were animatedly pursued by bidders, including Canadian artist Jean Paul Riopelle's Autriche III (Austria III), which sold for HK$42.5 million against its low estimate of HK$19 million, nearly setting a new auction record for the artist.

A few auction records for artist were set, though, such as Georgette Chen, Hernan Bas and Jonathan Gardner.

Lot 38 | Jean Paul Riopelle | Autriche III (Austria III), Oil on canvas
Created in 1954
195 x 300 cm

  • The Baron Berthold and Gigi Urvater Collection, Brussels
  • Private Collection
  • Christie's Paris, 3 Dec 2014, Lot 15
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$19,000,000 - 28,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$35,000,000
Sold: HK$42,450,000

Lot 6 | Huang Yuxing | Boundless Landscape, Acrylic on canvas
Created in 2015 - 2019
200 x 400 cm

  • Private Collection, Asia (acquired directly from the artist's studio)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$2,500,000 - 4,500,000
Hammer Price: HK$11,000,000
Sold: HK$13,650,000

Lot 8 | Georgette Chen | Still Life with Rambutans, Mangosteens and Pineapple, Oil on canvas (Auction record for the artist)
Created circa 1960s
53 x 65.2 cm

  • Gallery 1, Singapore
  • Private Collection, Singapore (acquired at the above by the previous owner)
  • Christie's Hong Kong, 26 May 2018, lot 35
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$5,000,000 - 7,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$10,500,000
Sold: HK$13,050,000

Lot 30 | Hernan Bas | The Bats and the Barn Bridge, Mixed media on linen laid on panel (diptych) (Auction Record for the artist)
Cretaed in 2009
Each: 213 x 152.5 cm; Overall: 213 x 305 cm

  • Sandroni Rey Gallery, Los Angeles
  • Phillips New York, 11 May 2012, Lot 137
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$9,000,000 - 15,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$9,000,000
Sold: HK$11,250,000

Lot 37 | Christine Ay Tjoe | The Highest Player 01, Oil bar on canvas
Created in 2016
170 x 200 cm

  • White Cube, London
  • Private Collection

Estimate: HK$1,000,000 - 2,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$8,200,000
Sold: HK$10,290,000

Lot 26 | Scott Kahn | Griswold Pond, Oil on linen
Created in 2010
157.5 x 182.8 cm

  • Private Collection, USA (acquired directly from the artist by the present owner)

Estimate: HK$1,500,000 - 2,500,000
Hammer Price: HK$6,200,000
Sold: HK$7,812,000

Lot 24 | Jonathan Gardner | Suits and Flutes, Oil on linen (Auction Record for the artist)
Created in 2017
152.4 x 144.8 cm

  • Mary Mary, Glasgow
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$500,000 - 1,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$2,600,000
Sold: HK$3,276,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's Hong Kong
Sale: 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sale
Date: 30 November 2022
Number of Lots: 51
Sold: 43
Unsold: 8 
Sale Rate: 84%
Sale Total: HK$678,210,000 (around US$87 million)