Highlights from Christie's US$94.1m evening sales in Hong Kong, led by Andy Warhol's US$8.5m Flowers

On 28 May, Christie's Hong Kong staged back-to-back evening sales of 20th and 21st-century art which pulled in HK$735 million (US$94.1 million) from the 68 of 81 lots sold. 

The auction house has come prepared for the evening: ahead of the auctions, 12 lots, mostly big-ticket ones, have already been secured by a third-party guarantee. Among those were the top lot, Andy Warhol's Flowers which sold for HK$66.6 million (US$8.5 million), market darling Yayoi Kusuma's Pumpkin Sculpture and monumental triptych Buds, and René Magritte's dreamlike painting of a floating rose L’invitation au voyage. 

The night also marked Christie's last season at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Toward the end of the sale, the auction house has officially announced that sales at its new Asia Pacific headquarters at The Henderson building will commence on 26 and 27 September 2024 with 20th and 21st Century Art, followed by a series of Luxury sales in October, and Asian Art sales in November.

Rendering of Chrisitie's state-of-the-art gallery at the new Asia Pacific Headquarters at The Henderson

Inaugural Sale Series

  • 20th/21st Century Art | 26 - 27 September 2024
  • Luxury | October 2024
  • Asian Art | November 2024

Francis Belin, President, Christie’s Asia Pacific commented: “In a matter of months, Christie’s new Asia Pacific headquarters at The Henderson will open to the world – a year-round and unified art and luxury destination alongside Christie’s at Rockefeller Centre in New York, King Street in London, and Avenue Matignon in Paris. The curation of our inaugural sales is underway and promises to be an unmissable event in the market. We are looking forward to introducing global collectors and enthusiasts to our new home this September.

Lot 69 | Andy Warhol (1928-1987) | Flowers, Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
Painted in 1965
208.3 x 208.3 cm

  • The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York (acquired from the above)
  • Private collection, New York, 1994
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$62,800,000 - 92,800,000
Hammer Price: HK$55,000,000
Sold: HK$66,625,000 (US$8.5 million)

A singular work from Andy Warhol's iconic Flowers series, the present work stands as the larger of just two examples of this single-flower composition where one hibiscus flower is magnified and another partially visible. It is also one of only twelve Flowers of the same scale recorded, with the other works all featuring four flowers. 

Bidding for this cover lot opened at HK$50 million, and the only bidder was Francis Belin's client on the phone. The gavel eventually came down on a bid of HK$55 million, placed by that bidder, with paddle number 8988, and presumably the third-party backer.

Francis Belin won the lot for his client with paddle number 8988

Warhol’s Flowers series began following a suggestion by Henry Geldzahler, the then-curator at the Met, who during a visit to the Factory – Warhol’s legendary studio – nudged the artist to try his hand at something less dire.  

"I looked around the studio and it was all Marilyn and disasters and death", recalled Geldzahler. "I said, 'Andy, maybe it’s enough death now.' He said, 'What do you mean?' I said, ' Well, how about this?' I opened a magazine to four flowers." 

The magazine in question was the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography, in which a spread by editor Patricia Caulfield demonstrated the effects of different Kodak color processes on a photograph of hibiscus flowers. The original, though, depicted seven flowers, contrary to Geldzahler's memory. 

Andy Warhol's Flowers series is created on square canvases

From this found image, Warhol created the ensuing silkscreen series by first cropping it to a square composition, then running the design through the Factory's new Photostat copier multiple times to flatten its definition, before sending it to his screen-maker to be enlarged into screens of different sizes.

He would then paint the background and the flowers by hand using different colors, with each resulting surface featuring visible brushstrokes that contrast with the more mechanical layer of stenciled black. 

In 1965, the year this work was created, Warhol was at the apogee of his creative powers, having already revolutionized the art world with his serial depictions of Campbell Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe. The same year, he also had his first-ever solo museum show, held at the ICA Philadelphia, whose opening was famously mobbed by legions of fans and propelled "Warhol Mania" to new heights. 

Emblematic of a key moment in Warhol’s practice, the work was included in his major posthumous retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1989, which traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hayward Gallery, London and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

Lot 9 | Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji, 1920-2013) | 10.01.68., Oil on canvas
Painted in 1968
82 x 116.5 cm
Provenance (Consolidated by The Value):

  • Galerie de France, Paris
  • Private collection
  • Christie’s New York, 4 May 1988, lot 12
  • Private collection (acquired at the above sale)
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 3 October 2011, lot 781 (Sold: HK$68,980,000)
  • Private collection, Asia (acquired at the above sale)
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 24 November 2018, lot 133 (Sold: HK$68,932,000)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$46,000,000 - 76,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$52,000,000
Sold: HK$63,175,000 (around US$8.1 million)

A stalwart in the Asian art market, Chinese-French artist Zao Wou-ki is best loved by collectors for his works from the Hurricane Period, where an unrestrained universe deeply rooted in Chinese traditional landscape bursts into clashes of color on canvas in a nearly Abstract Expressionist manner. Painted in 1968, 10.01.68. is a seminal work from this period, being featured as the cover of the second volume of the artist's catalogue raisonné. 

The auctioneer opened the lot at HK$40 million and attracted eight bids from at least two interested buyers. The lot was eventually hammered for HK$52 million, a bid offered by Christie's Chairman in China Rebecca Yang's client on the phone with paddle number 8497. With fees, its final sum came to HK$63.2 million (US$8.1 million), becoming the night's second-most expensive lot. 

Notably, that same buyer also snapped up a cinematic masterpiece by Chen Yifei, Lingering Melodies from the Xunyang River (1991), for HK$35.4 million (around US$4.5 million) with fees. 

Zao Wou-ki

10.01.68 is one of the few known works by Zao from the 1960s that feature two contrasting colors as the main tones. The master had a fondness for orange and azure: From every period of his artistic development starting in the 1940s, there are iconic works that feature tangerine and sky blue as the main colors. The color orange brings to mind bountiful harvests in autumn, representing prosperity and joy.

As for the color blue, it is not rooted in China; even in the most signature Chinese blue-and-white porcelain, the blue glaze was introduced from West Asia. For Zao, his blue color palette was inspired by Virgin’s azure blue robe from Europe. In the West, blue, of which pigment was made of Lazurite in the Middle Ages, was a noble color, valuable and enduring.

10.1.68's performance at auctions has been steady. In 2011, it set a new record high for Zao when it sold for an eyebrow-raising HK$68.98 million (US$8.8 million) at Sotheby's Hong Kong, smashing his previous record of US$5.9 million. Seven years later, it was offered in the same saleroom once again and fetched HK$68.93 million. 

Another lot from Zao's Hurricane Period, 20.01.67featuring black and white as the main tones, was the night's fourth-most expensive lot, selling for HK$43.9 million (around US$5.6 million). 

Lot 27 | Zao Wou-Ki (Zhao Wuji, 1920-2013) | 20.01.67, Oil on canvas
Painted in 1967 
150 x 162 cm

  • Private collection, Paris
  • Private collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$36,000,000 - 48,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$36,000,000
Sold: HK$43,935,000 (around US$5.6 million)

Lot 68 | Yayoi Kusama (b.1929) | Pumpkin, Urethane on Fiber Reinforced Plastics, sculpture
Executed in 2013
205 x 210 x 210 cm

  • OTA Fine Arts, Tokyo
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$40,000,000 - 60,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$40,000,000
Sold: HK$48,775,000

One of the most universally recognizable images of contemporary art today, the pumpkin is central to Kusama’s widely celebrated oeuvre, appearing throughout the artist’s work from flat canvases and abstract paintings to gallery-wide installations.

Born in 1929 in post-war Japan, Kusama was the youngest of four children in a wealthy yet troubled family; her mother was abusive and her father a philanderer. During her childhood, Kusama began suffering from vivid hallucinations of kaleidoscopic patterns.

Her profound connection with the pumpkin motif can be traced back to a vivid episode during her childhood: “I first saw pumpkins when I was at elementary school; at that time, my grandfather had taken me to a seed collection field ... and it was there I saw a pumpkin as big as a person's head, and it animatedly started to talk to me.”

She also recalls having overconsumed the vegetable to the point of nausea in her childhood years during and after the war but which in later years has become one of her favorite subjects. She explains, "They hold a spiritual space from my childhood, bringing a poetic sense of peace and tranquillity to my heart. Pumpkins speak to me, emanating a solemn and sacred spiritual state. They embody the source of joy in life that is shared by all humanity. That's why I continue to create pumpkins."

Lot 61 | Yayoi Kusama (b.1929) | Buds, Acrylic on canvas (triptych)
Painted in 1987
Each: 194 x 130 cm
Overall: 194 x 390 cm

  • Gallery TE, Tokyo
  • Gallery HAM, Nagoya
  • Private collection, Asia (acquired from the above)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 - 30,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$19,500,000
Sold: HK$23,970,000 (US$3.1 million)

Another major Kusama work on offer at Christie's evening sale was the monumental purple-and-white triptych Buds (1987), the sister painting of Imagery of Human Being (1987) which was included in the major retrospective Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now at M+ Museum in Hong Kong last year. 

Both works were painted in 1987, a pivotal year when Kusama had her first retrospective exhibition held in her homeland at Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Japan. After a decade of being hailed as "The Queen of Scandal", it was the year where Kusama triumphed by the public with a renewed perspective of her art practice.

Expanding upon the "infinity nets" motif that earned her recognition from the West, Buds takes on a new seed-like motif uniquely resembling living organisms, an allegory of life and hope. The grouping of these subjects, some more densely clustered while others appear dispersed, forms an undulating visual flow across three panels. 

Rather than being isolated, they intertwine and interact, highlighting the intricate and inseparable connection among the lives in the world, while at the same time examining the humility of each individual within the universe. 

Yayoi Kusama in 1987

Lot 6 | René Magritte (1898-1967) | L’invitation au voyage, Oil on canvas
Painted in April 1944
60.5 x 80 cm

  • Galerie Lou Cosyn, Brussels
  • Anonymous sale, Sotheby’s, London, 16 April 1975, lot 45
  • Anonymous sale, Sotheby’s, London, 4 July 1979, lot 125
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$28,000,000 - 38,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$35,000,000
Sold: HK$42,725,000 (around US$5.5 million)

René Magritte’s dreamlike L’invitation au voyage (1944) attracted at least two interested buyers on an opening bid of HK$25 million. After nearly ten bids, the piece went to a telephone bidder with paddle number 8769, for HK$42.7 million (around US$5.5 million) with fees. 

In early April 1944, Brussels was brought into its fourth consecutive year of German occupation. Living in the shadow of Second World War, a dejected Magritte felt the need for a new visual idiom that could adequately respond to the horrors of the conflict and lift his spirits.

He wrote to his Surrealist peer Marcel Mariën: "For my modest part, I have thought of a very simple idea, but its simplicity doesn't worry me for a moment, because it is an idea that allows me to give a more vivid and effective expression to a particular feeling, made up of a nostalgia, poetry, etc. It is a big rose which appears far out at sea.

Magritte with the present lot at Lou Cosyn Gallery in 1944

Inspired by the late career of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, during this period Magritte also began to experiment with a distinctly impressionistic technique, creating works filled with light, colour, and vivid brushwork, a new style which the artist coined Le Surréalisme en plein soleil (Surrealism in full sunlight). 

Magritte’s depiction of the rose not only marks this departure in style, gently sailing over the horizon, but also acts as a promise of hope. As its title announces, L’invitation au voyage envisions a journey toward life, and it was taken from the title of a poem by Charles Baudelaire which featured numerous references to roses, sunsets, and other forms of beauty. 

In combining the aesthetic pleasure of beautiful, color-filled scenes with subversive, mysterious images, Magritte believed he could best reveal the inherent chaos of the world, and make of art a count-offensive to the turbulence of war. 

The present painting, fresh to the market since 1979, was once owned by Galerie Lou Cosy, whose founder Lou Cosyn knew the artist personally and where Magritte’s works were regularly exhibited. Notably, many of Magritte's fine examples came from this gallery. 

Other Highlight Lots: 

Lot 3 | Sanyu (1895-1966) | Vase de fleurs (Vase of Flowers), Oil on canvas
Painted in 1931
80.9 x 65 cm

  • Henri-Pierre Roche, Paris
  • Hotel Drouot Paris, 23 November 1984, lot 56
  • Jean-Claude Riedel, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
  • Private collection, USA (acquired in the 1980s)

Estimate: HK$18,000,000 - 28,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$30,000,000
Sold: HK$36,675,000

Lot 22 | Chen Yifei (1946-2005) | Lingering Melodies from the Xunyang River, Oil on canvas
Painted in 1991
131 x 149.8 cm
Provenance (Consolidated by The Value):

  • Christie’s Hong Kong, 30 September 1991, lot 38 (Sold: HK$1.37 million)
  • Private collection
  • China Guardian Beijing, 20 April 1999, lot 38 (Sold: RMB 2.97 million)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - 40,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$29,000,000
Sold: HK$35,465,000

Lot 65 | Yoshitomo Nara (b.1959) | Portrait of AE, Acrylic on canvas in artist's chosen frame
Painted in 2009
80.5 x 65 cm

  • Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
  • Private collection
  • Sotheby's New York, 12 November 2015, lot 425
  • Private collection, Asia (acquired at the above sale)
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 30 September 2018, lot 1069 (Sold: HK$26,520,000)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$28,000,000 - 38,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$24,000,000
Sold: HK$29,415,000

Lot 66 | Yoshitomo Nara (b.1959) | Rock You!, Acrylic on wood board
Painted in 2006
162 x 162 cm
Provenance (Consolidated by The Value):

  • Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo
  • Private collection
  • Christie's London, 1 July 2010, lot 116
  • Private collection, Asia
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5 October 2014, lot 1055 (Sold: HK$8,440,000)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 - 30,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$20,000,000
Sold: HK$24,575,000

Lot 62 | Yayoi Kusama (b.1929) | Fruits [EPSOB], Acrylic on canvas
Painted in 2011
112 x 145.5 cm
Provenance (Consolidated by The Value):

  • Victoria Miro, London
  • Private collection
  • Opera Gallery, Paris
  • Private collection
  • Phillips Hong Kong, 3 December 2020, lot 10
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 - 30,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$19,000,000
Sold: HK$23,365,000

Lot 25 | Rhee Seundja (1918-2009) | La Montagne Sans Ombre (The Mountain without Shadow), Oil on canvas (Auction record for the artist)
Painted in 1962
95.8 x 193.5 cm

  • Galerie Charpentier, Paris
  • Gallery Hyundai, Seoul
  • Private collection
  • K Auction Seoul, 25 March 2009, lot 13
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$6,500,000
Sold: HK$8,190,000

Lot 1 | Ay-O (b. 1931) | Rainbow Sea-Scape, Acrylic on canvas (Auction record for the artist) 
Painted in 1970
183 x 244 cm

  • Minami Gallery, Tokyo
  • SBI Art Auction, 27 July 2019, lot 96
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$480,000 - 680,000
Hammer Price: HK$700,000
Sold: HK$882,000

Lot 82 | Sholto Blissett (b.1996) | Ship of Fools IV, Oil and acrylic on canvas (Auction record for the artist)
Painted in 2022
110 x 300.5 cm

  • Hannah Barry Gallery, London
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$300,000 - 500,000
Hammer Price: HK$550,000
Sold: HK$693,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's Hong Kong
Date: 28 May 2024

Sale: 20th Century Evening Sale
Number of Lots: 34
Sold: 31
Unsold: 3
Sale Rate: 91%
Sale Total: HK$404,613,000

Sale: 21st Century Evening Sale
Number of Lots: 47
Sold: 37
Unsold: 10
Sale Rate: 79%
Sale Total: HK$332,064,000