Christie’s Hong Kong Evening Auction Poised to Fetch US$150.7m, Led by Zao Wou-ki, Nara, and Basquiat

Led by a splashed ink scroll painted by renowned 20th century Chinese artist Zhang Daqian, titled Temple at the Mountain Peak, which carries an unpublished estimate of around HK$100m (US$12.9m), Christie’s upcoming 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale has conjured a myriad of top-tier artworks by market stalwarts from the West, including Pablo Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat, together with names favored by Asian collectors, such as Sanyu, Zao Wou-ki, Yoshitomo Nara, Yayoi Kusama, as well as Matthew Wong. The blockbuster sale series carry a total presale estimate of HK$1.17bn (US$150.7m), marking the auction house’s highest for any equivalent sale series in Asia. 

As the art market slowly, but surely, trying to emerge from the pandemic, notably in the Hong Kong salerooms where sales are often buoyed by the resilience among Asian buyers, is the bustling hub’s growing appetite for Western artworks going to fuel the upcoming marquee event, or would it be an Asian artist who will stand in the spotlight?


Lot 62 | Matthew Wong (1984-2019), NIGHT 2

Painted in 2018
Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 152.5 x 152.5 cm

  • Massimo De Carlo, Hong Kong
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$6,800,000 - 8,800,000


The robust market interest for Matthew Wong’s works is hard to miss in the sales during the past few seasons. His works made their auction debut in 2020, a year after he took his own life at the age of 35. 

The self-taught Chinese-Candian artist created about 1,000 works before his passing. He is known for presenting seemingly contradictory ambiance with his ebullient palette. 

Matthew Wong (1984-2019)

Wong's 2017 painting, titled Shangri La, was sold for US$4.5m to shatter the artist's record at the time


The present work, titled NIGHT 2 is one of the seminal works executed in the final year of Wong’s prolific, yet short-lived artistic career. It depicts a long winding road that stretches out across an expansive landscape. Abandoning the vibrant hues of golden yellows, the artist went with a slightly melancholy palette of nocturnal blues captured by the unblemished night sky.

Lot 53 | Yoshitomo Nara (b. 1959), Untitled

Painted in 2007
Acrylic on canvas
Dimensions: 162 x 145.5 cm

  • Galerie Zink, Munich, Germany
  • Anon. Sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 3 April 2016, lot 1061
  • (Acquired from the above by the previous owner)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$45,000,000 - 65,000,000


Japanese sensational artist Yoshitomo Nara’s signature motif of the big-headed girl, in the present work, is given an unconventional twist. The girl’s usual creepy and a little sinister doe-eyed expression is turned into a piercing glaze emanating from the enormous eye filled with a gleaming iridescence.

Closer look at the present work

Yoshitomo Nara (b.1959)


“They say human eyes are the mirror of the soul, and I used to draw them too carelessly. Say, to express the anger, I just drew some triangular eyes. I drew obviously-angry eyes, projected my anger there, and somehow released my pent-up emotions. About ten years ago, however, I became more interested in expressing complex feelings in a more complex way.” the artist said. 

Though one eye is completely covered by the girl's hair, the mysterious vibe penetrates through the salient motif’s exaggerated features.

Lot 24 | Zao Wou-ki (1920-2013), 24.01.63

Painted in 1963
Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 115 x 88 cm
Provenance: (Organized by The Value)

  • Blair Lang Galleries, Toronto, Canada
  • Acquired from the above in 1963 and thence by descent to the previous owner
  • Anon. Sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, May 25, 2013, lot 2 (Price realized: HK$27,870,000 / US$3,589,919)
  • Private collection, Asia
  • Acquired from the above by the current owner

Estimate: HK$50,000,000 - 80,000,000


A total of four artworks by coveted Chinese-French contemporary artist Zao Wou-ki will be offered in the sale, including the crimson red canvas - one of the less than 15 predominantly red paintings from the artist’s Hurricane period during the 1960s.

Painted just two days before the Chinese New Year in 1963, the oil on canvas captures the festive vibe with its abundance of red - an auspicious color in traditional Chinese culture. Not only does the painting harken back to the roots of the Beijing-born artist, it bursts with unparalleled energy through the convergence of red and black. 

Zao Wou-ki (right) and his wife Chan May-kan (left)

Zao Wou-ki, 24.01.63


The noticeable central axis running across the canvas - or the “radiating center,” as the artist once explained, is where the yin-yang harmony is fully illustrated. “I wanted to express movements, their nagging slowness or violent outbursts. I wanted to calibrate the canvas with visual contrasts and vibrating shades of a single color. I needed to find a radiating center.” he said. 

The intensity of his creative prowess during the 1960s, also the apex of Zao's career, was met by his encounter with Chan May-kan, who later became his second wife and the love of his life. His works felt more unrestrained as he let his paint brush roam freely on canvas. It was also then, when the artist decided to almost exclusively title his works after their dates of execution, including the present 1963 work.

Lot 26 | Sanyu (1895-1966), Potted Chrysanthemums

Painted circa 1950s
Oil on masonite
Dimensions: 91.5 x 48 cm
Provenance: (Organized by The Value)

  • Private collection, France (acquired directly from the artist by the previous owner)
  • Anon. Sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, May 24, 2014, lot 23 (Price realized: HK$46,040,000 / US$5,966,784)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$78,000,000 - 120,000,000


Another lot to watch is by Sanyu. Potted Chrysanthemums is the artist’s “largest floral work to feature blue-stemmed pink chrysanthemums,” and the rare colorway is met with the artist’s poetic treatment of light.

While there are several nighttime scenes in Sanyu’s oeuvre, the artist painted the present oil on masonite work late at night in his studio awash with quiet moonlight. The meticulously arranged potted chrysanthemums - one of the artist’s three most emblematic subjects, shine in the indigo night. The tips of the pink petals are tinged with red, while the stems and leaves are rendered in different shades of tranquil blue, to define the front to back positioning and the textures produced by the glowing moonlight. 

Sanyu (1895-1966)

A side-by-side comparison between the present lot (right) and another 1950s work of similar composition, titled Fleurs Dans un Pot Blue et Blanc (left), the latter was sold for a little over HK$187m (US$24.1m) last October


The work had been kept in private hands by a French owner for over six decades and had only appeared at auction once, when it was sold to the present owner for HK$46m after premium, or nearly US$6m, also in Christie’s Hong Kong saleroom seven years ago.

Lot 67 | Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face)

Painted in 1982
Acrylic, spray paint, oilstick and Xerox collage on panel
Dimensions: 182.9 x 121.9 cm
Provenance: (Organized by The Value)

  • Annina Nosei Gallery, New York
  • Private Collection, USA
  • Sotheby’s New York, November 5, 1987, lot 209
  • Galerie Willy D'Huysser, Brussels
  • Private Collection, Belgium
  • Private Collection, Paris
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Private Collection
  • Sotheby’s London, March 8, 2017, lot 13 (Price realized: £11,971,250 / US$14,555,843)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$140,000,000 - 170,000,000


Following the market momentum for Basquiat’s works, especially those created in the artist’s watershed year of 1982, the Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face) carries the highest presale estimate in this sale and is expected to fetch upwards of HK$140m (US$18m). The painting last went to auction in 2017 and was sold for £12m (US$14.6m).

A very similar sized painting, Warrior, went under the hammer in March and realized a whopping HK$323.6m (US$41.7m) at Christie’s Hong Kong to become the auction record in Asia for any Western artwork. Last week, over in a New York sale, his Versus Medici went further and snapped up US$50.8m.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Basquiat's Warrior, sold for HK$323.6m (US$41.7m) at Christie's Hong Kong to become the most expensive Western artwork auctioned off in Asia


The most desirable year to avid collectors out of the artist’s decade-long output, 1982 perhaps took Basquiat’s visual audacity to its peak, driven by his transition from street graffitist to a more liberating artist. The very same year also saw his first of the string of six solo exhibitions, from Los Angeles, Zurich, Rome and Rotterdam. He was also the youngest artist ever exhibited in "documenta 7" alongside Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol.

The present 1982 panel work portrays a one-eyed man with raised arms. The stylistic language goes beyond the anatomical imagery that Basquiat is known for. The powerful, yet beatific subject matter is laced with hints of vulnerability. 

Preview: (By appointment only)

Dates: May 20-26, 2021 
Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, No. 1 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong

Auction Details:

Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale: 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale
Date: May 24 | 7:30pm (local time)
Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, No. 1 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Total number of lots: 75