Led by Zao Wou-ki's US$35m record-breaking masterpiece, Christie's Hong Kong evening sale garnered US$180m

After Christie’s New York’s huge success, 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sale continued with strong results in Hong Kong on 26 May.

Amongst 58 lots offered, 55 were sold – which achieved a sale rate of 94.8 per cent and a sale total of HK$1.4 billion (around US$180 million) dollars. Eleven artists set new auction records, while 28 lots fetched more than HK$10 million (US$1.2 million) dollars.

Compared with its main rival and during this Spring season, Sotheby’s two evening auctions of Modern and Contemporary Art achieved a sale total of HK$1.2 billion dollars. Christie’s, in comparison, overtook this margin with their sale total of HK$1.4 billion dollars.

Due to the many lots sold, Eastern and Western art which featured in the sale will be divided into two articles. This present article will introduce the Eastern Art section – topped by the Zao Wou-ki’s HK$278 million (US$35.5 million) chef-d'oeuvre – now the most expensive single painting by the abstract master.

As for Western Art, click here for Picasso’s HK$175 million(US$22.2 million) masterpiece.

Lot 15 | Zao Wou-ki | 29.09.64., Oil on canvas
Created in 1964
230 x 345 cm

  • Private collection, France (acquired directly from the artist by the previous owner in 1969, and thence by descent to the previous owner)
  • Christie’s Hong Kong, Contemporaries: Voices from East and West / Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale), 27 May 2017, lot 4
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Fondation Zao Wou-Ki on 13 June 2017.
Estimate: HK$220,000,000 – 280,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$240,000,000
Sold: HK$278,000,000 (US$35.5 million)

Zao’s artistic style is generally divided into four stages: Hangzhou Period, Oracle Bone Period, Hurricane Period and the Infinite Period.

Among them, the most sought-after ones in the market are from Hurricane Period, where he reached the pinnacle of his stylistic maturity, creating a bold, powerful and wildly cursive style.

At 230 x 345 cm, 29.09.64. is known to be one of the largest paintings from Zao Wou-ki’s Hurricane Period.

29.09.64. has delivered stellar results at auctions in the past years. In 2017, 29.09.64. sold for a staggering HK$152.9 million (US$19.7 million), once set the auction record for the artist – a wave of craze for Zao’s works has since then ignited in Asian market. Now that five years have passed, its performance at Christie's this time was equally impressive.

Holding the telelphone was the bidders; from left to right: Vickie Sek, Eric Chang, Francis Belin

The bidding began at HK$170 million and saw quite a restrained bidding among the telephone bidders. The bidding battle was mainly between the clients represented by Francis Belin, president of Christie's Asia Pacific and Vickie Sek, Chairman, Christie's Jewellery Asia. The price climbed steadily up in HK$10 million increments.

At HK$230 million, Eric Chang, Chairman, Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art, joined the battle to bid against Vickie Sek. After a long deliberation, Eric Chang finally outbid his rival by placing a victorious bid of HK$240 million and won the lot for his client with paddle number 8173.

After fees, 29.09.64. fetched HK$278 millions (US$35.5 million), making it the most expensive single painting for the artist and also his priciest painting auctioned at Christie’s.

Looking through the artist’s auction record, 29.09.64 now ranks second only to his largest-ever 10-metre-wide triptych Juin-Octobre 1985, which sold for HK$510 million (US$65.1 million) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2018.

Zao's largest painting, Juin-Octobre 1985, sold for a record-breaking HK$510 million (US$65.1 million)

In 1961, Zao moved into a more spacious studio on Rue Jonquoy in the Montparnasse district of Paris, allowing him to confront himself with larger canvases and further extend his compositions.

Created in 1964, 29.09.64. manifests the artist’s profound knowledge of literati painting, represented by the intricate networks of truncated black and white Chinese calligraphic strokes at the centre of the composition. Without any recognizable characters, the work is a magnificent abstract that takes the art of calligraphy to another extreme.

Zao’s color palette here is dominated by all shades of blue, from deep dark night blue to warm turquoise, with splashes of brilliant white fighting an underneath rusty orange in the middle. Large ink-like washes of oil around the edges give place to a detailed intricate network of small lines acting as the turmoil of the universe.

Part of 29.09.64.

Part of 29.09.64.

Zao with the original version of 29.09.64.

Originally, 29.09.64. measured 255 x 345 cm, the same as his Hommage à Edgar Varèse 15.10.64. It was specially commissioned from Zao Wou-Ki by the former collector's father, who hoped for a imposing, powerful work that would resonate within clean, modern architectural spaces.

Later, in the 1970s, the collector moved to a new house in Paris, but the painting's dimensions did not fit with that interior. After consulting with the artist, it was sent back to Zao Wou-Ki's studio for revision. The artist personally cut 25cm from its lower edge, rearranged the painting and its composition, and placed a new signature in the lower right.

Lot 51 | Yoshitomo Nara | Wish World Peace, Acrylic on canvas
Created in 2014
194 x 162.2 cm

  • Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
  • Private Collection
  • Sotheby’s New York, 17 November 2016, Lot 29
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above sale

Estimate: HK$88,000,000 – 128,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$82,000,000

Sold: HK$97,090,000 (US$12.4 million)

The highest valued Japanese artist, Yoshitomo Nara is one of the hottest names in the Asian art market in recent years. Created in 2014, Wish World Peace is a portrait of his signature little girls with big eyes. 

The auctioneer started the bidding at HK$70 million and the hammer finally went down at HK$82 million to a gentleman in the saleroom with paddle number 9811. With buyer's premium, the lot realized HK$97 million (US$12.4 million).

Wish World Peace by Yoshitomo Nara

Wish World Peace is the largest among the only six works by Nara which features a pink and fleshy-undertone background.

While in the early 1990s Nara used the emblem of the young girl to explore hostility, rebellion and playful violence, after a disaster in 2011, his artistic style significantly changed.

In 11 March 2011, a powerful earthquake hit north-east Japan. Having grown up by the borders of the disaster zone, Nara was deeply traumatized and unable to pick up his brushes for months. Nara even questioned the meaning of art and when he returned to his studio, Nara started to paint with a hope to bring happiness to people.

Nara then experimented with new colors, hues and layering, creating shimmering ethereal translucencies on the canvas. Standing still against a soft bright pastel pink background, the eyes and hair of the girl glimmered with colours. Her naughty and stubborn sides in her early years have lost, and instead her image became softer.

Nara (middle) held his first special exhibition in Taiwan and showed his works painted after the disaster

Another Nara's work created after the disaster: Miss Spring, kept in Yokohama Museum of Art

Emerging from this intense period of reflection was Wish World Peace. Eyes are considered by Nara mirrors of the soul. In this painting, the pupils uniquely consist of symbols of harmony like no other Nara portrait.

In the right pupil is the ‘Coexist’ icon constituting the Christian crucifix, the Islamic star and crescent, and the Jewish Star of David—symbols of the three most widely practiced religions. Created by a Polish designer, the icon has been widely used since 2000 to symbolize the unity and coexistence of human beings despite the different civilizations.

The left pupil shows the peace sign. Originally designed for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament movement, the sign was prominent in America in the 1960s and 1970s. Nara, born in 1959 and a fan of Western rock music since young, would indeed have special memories and feelings tied to the symbol.


The right pupil with the ‘Coexist’ icon

The left pupil shows the peace sign

Lot 54 | Zeng Fanzhi | Hospital Triptych no.3, Oil on canvas
Created in 1992
Each: 150 x 115 cm

  • Acquired directly from the artist
  • Private collection, Asia
  • Christie’s Hong Kong, 23 November 2013, lot 50
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$38,000,000 – 60,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$40,000,000
Sold: HK$48,450,000 (US$6.1 million)

The lot opened at HK$30 million. Four bids propelled the work to the HK$40 million hammer price, offered by Evelyn Lin, Co-Head of the 20th and 21st Century Art Department, Christie's Asia Pacific, for her client with paddle number 8078. It fetched HK$48.4 million (US$6.1 million) after fees. 

Zeng Fanzhi is one of the most valuable Chinese contemporary artists. He is best known for his Mask Series paintings, of which Mask Series 1996 No.6 was crowned the highest valued Chinese contemporary artwork at RMB 161 million (US$23.3 million) at Yongle Auction in Beijing in 2020. 

Mask Series 1996 No.6 sold for RMB 161 million (US$23.3 million)

Zeng Fanzhi

Hospital Triptych No. 1, created in 1991

Hospital Triptych No. 2, created in 1991

In the early 1990s, Zeng Fanzhi was in his early twenties, just an ordinary art student whose dormitory was situated next to a hospital. Having witnessed the heart-breaking compromise between life and death every day, he decided to adapt these scenes into paintings.

The Hospital Triptych series began as a graduation project, with three triptychs each bearing different connotations.

The last painting in the series, Hospital Triptych No. 3 portrays the scenes of the donation and transfusion of blood. In the work, Zeng first touches on the concept of “individual versus collective” – every character wears the same numbed expression as they interfuse into a collective existence. Their individual suffering are muted by the toil of the everyday.

Throughout the series, Zeng gradually developed his unique visual style: brash brushwork, high contrast palette, enlarged facial features and exaggerated hand proportions – all of which laid the foundation for his later Mask Series paintings.

Hospital Triptych No. 3

Hospital Triptych No. 3

Hospital Triptych No. 3

Lot 19 | Zhang Daqian | Temple by the Waterfall, Hanging scroll, ink and colour on paper
Created in 1963
136.2 x 69.5 cm

Estimate: HK$60,000,000 – 80,000,000

Carrying an estimate between HK$60 - 80 million, the highly-anticipated Temple by Waterfall by the Chinese master Zhang Daqian unfortunately went unsold.

New records for Asian artists:

Lot 32 | Ting Yin Yung | Abstract Triangle; & Still Life with Flowers, Oil on board, double sided
Created in 1969 (Abstract Triangle); 1972 (Still Life with Flowers)
92 x 61 cm

  • Private collection
  • Sotheby’s Taipei, 14 April 1996, lot 10
  • Private collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$9,000,000 - 12,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$9,000,000
Sold: HK$11,250,000 (US$1,439,367)

Lot 53 | Zhang Enli | Maidens, Oil on canvas (set of 3)
Created in 1999
Each: 147.5 x 107 cm

  • Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 2006

Estimate: HK$6,500,000 - 9,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$8,000,000
Sold: HK$10,050,000 (US$1,280,320)

Lot 59 | Ayako Rokkaku | Untitled, Acrylic on canvas
Created in 2021
180 x 140 cm

  • Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$800,000 - 1,200,000
Hammer Price: HK$8,200,000
Sold: HK$10,290,000 (US$1,310,895)

Lot 14 | Rhee Seundja | Subitement la loi (A Sudden Law), Oil on canvas
Created in 1961
146 x 113 cm

  • Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Estimate: HK$3,000,000 - 4,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$4,500,000
Sold: HK$5,670,000 (around US$722,330)

Lot 37 | Firenze Lai | Weight, Oil on canvas
Created in 2013
100 x 80 cm

  • Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou
  • Private Collection
  • Acquired from the above the present owner

Estimate: HK$1,200,000 - 2,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$4,000,000
Sold: HK$5,040,000 (around US$642,071)

Lot 60 | Madsaki | Birth of Venus II, Acrylic paint, aerosol on canvas
Created in 2018
172.5 x 278.5 cm

  • Galerie Perrotin, Paris
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$1,000,000 - 2,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$3,800,000
Sold: HK$4,788,000 (around US$609,967)

Lot 7 | Natee Utarit | God, Oil on linen in the artist’s original frame
Created in 2011
200 x 320 cm ; 238 x 358 cm with frame

  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$900,000 - 1,500,000
Hammer Price: HK$3,200,000
Sold: HK$4,032,000 (US$515,869)

Lot 34 | Liu Kang | Adjusting The Waistband, Mixed media on canvas
Created in 1997
118.5 x 170 cm

  • Private Collection, Singapore

Estimate: HK$800,000 - 1,500,000
Hammer Price: HK$2,500,000
Sold: HK$3,150,000 (around US$401,294)

Other highlight lots:

Lot 39 | Yayoi Kusama | Starry Pumpkin Gold, Fiberglass-reinforced plastic and tile sculpture
Created in 2014
185 x 214 x 214 cm

  • Victoria Miro Gallery, London
  • Private collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 - 30,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$33,000,000
Sold: HK$40,050,000 (US$5,124,145)

Lot 50 | Liu Ye | The Sailors With Red Flag, Acrylic on canvas
Created in 1998
120 x 140 cm

  • Galerie Serieuze Zaken, Amsterdam
  • Private Collection
  • Sotheby’s London, 21 June 2007, Lot 70
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$19,000,000 - 25,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$31,000,000
Sold: HK$37,650,000 (US$4,817,080)

Lot 31 | Chen Yifei | Still Life - Flowers, Oil on canvas
Created in 1996
200 x 200 cm

  • The artist’s estate, and thence by descent to the present owner

Estimate: HK$6,000,000 - 12,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$19,000,000
Sold: HK$23,250,000 (US$2,974,691)

Auction Summary:
Auction House: Christie's Hong Kong
Sale: 20th/21st Century Art Evening Sale
Date: 26 May 2022
Lots offered: 58
Sold: 55
Unsold: 3
Sell-through rate: 95%
Sale total: HK$1,407,183,000 (around US$180,116,966)