Romanian art star Adrian Ghenie leads Jay Chou x Christie's Hong Kong US$15.2m Post-Millennium Evening Sale

Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou, hailed as the "King of Mandopop", has been well-loved by fans all around the globe for more than two decades. In 2003, he became the cover face of Time magazine, which dubbed him "The New King of Asian Pop". And he has certainly lived up to that title, having won numerous music awards, selling over 30 million records worldwide, and now garnering 8.5 million followers on his Instagram account. 

Aside from being an influential icon in the entertainment industry, he is also a passionate art collector and auction curator. In 2021, the mega-star first crossed into the auction world as he collaborated with Sotheby's Hong Kong for a special contemporary evening sale, which soon became the talk of the town. 

This season, he has lent his artistic taste to another leading auction house, Christie's. In hopes of giving young contemporary artists a larger stage, together they co-curated the Post-Millennium Evening Sale in Hong Kong on 28 November, which was a thematic auction featuring avant-garde works of art completed after 2000, also the year when he released his first album. 

Of the 28 lots on offer, 25 found new homes, generating a sell-through rate of 89% and totalling HK$118.3 million (US$15.2 million). The most expensive lot of the sale went to Romanian rising star Adrian Ghenie's large-scale portrait Lidless Eye, which sold for HK$42.7 million (US$5.5 million). 

Jay Chou and Evelyn Lin, Christie’s Co-Head of 20th and 21st Century Art Department, in conversation about the sale

Lot 92 | Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977) | Lidless Eye, Oil on canvas
Painted in 2016 - 2019
185 x 170 cm

  • Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Estimate: HK$38,000,000 - 58,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$35,000,000
Sold: HK$42,725,000 (US$5.5. million)

With highly expressionist and distorted works rapidly comparable to post-war figurative titan Francis Bacon, Adrian Ghenie has risen from an art student in Romania to international stardom in merely dozens of years' time. 

The top lot of the sale, Lidless Eye (2016-2019) belongs to Ghenie's landmark series of works where he draws reference from Vincent van Gogh's iconic Self-Portrait.

Auctioneer Georgina Hilton opened the bidding on the lot at HK$30 million. After two quick bids, it was hammered at HK$35 million, going for a final price with fees of HK$42.7 million (US$5.5 million) to a telephone bidder with paddle number 8423, represented by Rebecca Yang, Christie's Chairman in China. 

Auctioneer Georgina Hilton wielded the gavel for the special sale

Rebecca Yang won the lot for her client with paddle number 8423 

Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie 

Born in Romania in 1977, Ghenie graduated from the University of Art and Design in Cluj in 2001. After trying to make it as an artist in Vienna and Sicily, he returned to Cluj in 2005 and had his debut solo exhibition there in 2006.

Interest in the then-little-known artist ignited from there, as he went on to hold solo shows in Zurich, Berlin, and Los Angeles the next year, followed by a lengthy list of exhibitions in the years to come. Notably, he came to represent his native country at the Venice Biennale in 2015. 

Besides an impressive institutional CV and a long waiting list of private buyers spread out between four continents, the 46-year-old artist's works have met with explosive demand on the secondary market. 

Especially propelled by an eager pool of Asian buyers, he is now crowned with an auction record at US$10.4 million, set by his largest single canvas Pie Fight Interior 12 (2014) at Christie's Hong Kong in 2022. 

Adrian Ghenie | Pie Fight Interior 12 (2014), 284 x 350 cm | Sold: HK$81,060,000 (US$10.4 million), Christie's Hong Kong, 2022 (Auction record for the artist)

Growing up under the iron rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Romanian artist has long been fascinated by the darker forces that shaped the 20th century, especially the powerful figures and pivotal moments during the Second World War. 

He once explained, "My generation knows what life was like before the Internet. And so you still happen to hear echoes of the old world when you wake up in the morning … Then, you realize that the world is changing its texture, is changing its skin. I am very sensitive to this aspect."

But above all, deep inside his heart lies an artistic hero: Vincent van Gogh, whose art was labelled "degenerate art" by the Nazi Party under its leader Adolf Hitler, being banned nationwide.

Adrian Ghenie | Lidless Eye (2016-2018), 180.3 x 150 cm | Sold: HK$54.9 million (US$7 million), Sotheby's Hong Kong, 2020

Adrian Ghenie | Degenerate Art (2016), 200.7 x 180.3 cm | Sold to an Asian collector for US$9.3 million, Sotheby's New York, 2022

And Ghenie's own fascination with van Gogh may be traced to his childhood, when he encountered a print of the artist’s celebrated Sunflowers on the cover of a Romanian art magazine. He was so entranced by the image that he kept it under his pillow.

Later, he stood before van Gogh’s 1889 self-portrait in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, overwhelmed by its hypnotic presence. The artist’s inward, self-critical gaze, saturated with inner turmoil, spoke deeply to Ghenie, who would go on to paint himself multiple times in the guise of his hero.

In addition to being the "King of Mandopop", Jay Chou is celebrated worldwide for his multi-talented prowess as a singer-songwriter, pianist, producer, actor, and film director. 

Beyond the entertainment industry, he is best known as an avid art collector and a familiar face at art events such as Art Basel and ART021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair, taking a special fondness for works by contemporary artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gerhard Richter, and KAWS.

Like many, the superstar's interest in collecting was sparked by a chance encounter. "It started at a flea market in France. There was a painting with various kinds of toys that caught my attention and wanted to get it for my children. This was the beginning of a colourful journey that has enriched my life," he recalled. 

Jay Chou singing and playing piano at his concert, which is often sold out within minutes and attracted tens of thousands of audience

Jay Chou's first photo on Instagram shows a photo of him and his mother in front of a piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist he greatly admired 

In recent years, the Taiwanese star has had one more role to add to his lengthy resume: a curator.

Back in 2021, Chou first proved his sharp curatorial eye in an evening sale with Sotheby's Hong Kong. Riding on the success, he went on to curate numerous art exhibitions in Asia, including in Singapore and Shanghai. 

"Curating an exhibition is like planning a concert. The works and songs chosen must resonate with the audience," said the superstar. It is his belief that music and paintings are similar in the fact that there are numerous styles and nuances. While the creators do not have a standard answer, it is crucial for the audience to interpret the artwork in their own way. "Similarly, my songs will evoke memories that only belong to you."

The music video of Greatest Works of Art pays tribute to numerous artists, including Magritte and Monet

In 2022, Jay Chou shook the music industry as his 15th album Greatest Works of Art topped the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) charts as the best-selling album in the world – beating K-pop boy band BTS and Taylor Swift – and he made history as the first-ever Mandopop singer to claim the top spot.

Devoted to bridging the gap between general audiences and fine art, for that hit title track, he pays tribute to some of the biggest names of the 20th century, including Surrealist masters René Magritte and Salvador Dalí, Impressionist pioneer Claude Monet, and Fauvist leader Henri Matisse.

Very soon after its release, discussions deconstructing the lyrics and music video swept across the internet, and the music video attracted more than 26 million views on YouTube. 

As much as he admires the great masters in art history, Chou is immensely supportive of living artists, saying, "I think these young artists deserve a stage for them to be seen and show their gift." He added, "Not everyone is born a master, and renowned masters of art had withstood the test of time. I hope that the creations of these emerging artists will become masterpieces someday."

On the occasion, let's take a look at some more highlight sales from the mega-star's hand-picked selection of works by young and emerging artists. 

Lot 90 | Avery Singer (b. 1987) | Untitled, Acrylic on canvas
Painted in 2017
198.1 x 154.9 cm

  • Krupa-Tuskany Ziedler Gallery, Berlin
  • Private collection, Europe
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$11,000,000 - 18,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$11,000,000
Sold: HK$13,685,000 (US$1.75 million)

Lot 96 | Jadé Fadojutimi (b. 1993) | Turmoil, Oil on canvas
Painted in 2019
190 x 200 cm

  • Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$7,000,000 - 9,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$6,800,000
Sold: HK$8,568,000 (US$1.1 million)

Lot 106 | Kohei Nawa (b. 1975) | Pixcell-Deer 32, Mixed media sculpture
Executed in 2013
196.3 x 149 x 81 cm

  • SCAI The Bathhouse, Tokyo
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$6,500,000
Sold: HK$8,190,000 (US$1.05 million)

Lot 86 | Lucy Bull (b. 1990) | Snail Effects, Oil on canvas
Painted in 2020
91.5 x 122 cm

  • High Art, Paris
  • Private collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$2,800,000 - 3,800,000
Hammer Price: HK$5,800,000
Sold: HK$7,308,000 (US$937,300)

Lot 98 | Jia Aili (b.1979) | Wasteland - 0042, Oil on canvas
Painted in 2007
267 x 200 cm

  • Platform China, Beijing
  • Private collection, Asia
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$3,800,000
Sold: HK$4,788,000 (US$614,110)

Lot 81 | Jonathan Gardner (b. 1982) | Two Tone, Oil on linen
Painted in 2018
152.4 x 127 cm

  • Casey Kaplan, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$800,000 - 1,500,000
Hammer Price: HK$2,200,000
Sold: HK$2,772,000 (US$355,500)

Lot 89 | Emma Webster (b. 1989) | Last Standing, Oil on linen
Painted in 2020
213.4 x 167.6 cm

  • Stems Gallery
  • Private collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$600,000 - 900,000
Hammer Price: HK$1,800,000
Sold: HK$2,268,000 (US$290,900)

Lot 82 | Ji Xin (b. 1988) | White Cat, Oil on canvas
Painted in 2021
190 x 150 cm

  • Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$300,000 - 500,000
Hammer Price: HK$1,600,000
Sold: HK$2,016,000 (US$258,600)

Lot 95 | Zhang Zipiao (b. 1993) | Peony 08, Oil on canvas
Painted in 2021
230 x 190 cm

  • Pace Gallery, Palo Alto
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$500,000 - 800,000
Hammer Price: HK$950,000
Sold: HK$1,197,000 (US$153,500)

Lot 93 | Sun Yitian (b. 1991) | Seven Centimeters above the World, Acrylic on wood panel
Painted in 2019
41 x 41 cm 

  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$580,000 - 680,000
Hammer Price: HK$850,000
Sold: HK$1,071,000 (US$137,360)

Lot 91 | Yukimasa Ida (b. 1990) | Jean-Michel Basquiat No.2, Oil on canvas
Painted in 2019
194 x 194 cm

  • Fabien Fryns Fine Art, Beijing
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$600,000 - 900,000
Hammer Price: HK$700,000
Sold: HK$882,000 (US$113,100)

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's Hong Kong
Sale: Post-Millennium Evening Sale, a Collab with Jay Chou
Date: 28 November 2023
Number of Lots: 28
Sold: 25
Unsold: 3
Sale Rate: 89.3%
Sale Total: HK$118,339,000 (US$15.2 million)