Led by Basquiat's US$37.3m Triptych, Sotheby's Star-Studded Evening Auction Pulled in Another US$109m for the House

Last night, Hong Kong saw Sotheby’s inaugural edition of its Contemporary Curated: Asia Evening Sale. Curated by Taiwanese singer-songwriter and “King of Mandopop” Jay Chou, the sale offered a total of 46 lots and was spearheaded by a Basquiat triptych that once went on the cover of The New York Times, which realized HK$289.3m (US$37.3m).

With every single lot sold, the white-glove sale pulled in for the house a total of HK$846m (US$109m), which came close to the HK$951m (US$122.5m) Contemporary Art Evening Sale that took place just two months ago. 

This season, it has been clear that major auction houses feel no burden to stick to the traditional auction calendar, and with the Asian megastar taking the curatorial reins this time, the spring auction results definitely serve for the house, a farewell gift from Yuki Terase, who will step down from her current position as Head of Contemporary Art, Asia in July.

Yuki Terase, who oversaw last night's sale, announced her departure last month

Lot 15 | Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled

Painted in 1985
Acrylic and oilstick on wood, in three parts
Dimensions: 217.2 x 275.6 x 30.5 cm

  • Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich
  • Private Collection 
  • Christie's, New York, May 4, 1994, lot 46
  • Collection of Carmen Riera, Barcelona (acquired from the above sale)
  • Christie's, London, February 9, 2005, lot 25 (consigned by the above)
  • Private Collection, USA
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner 

Estimate: HK$255,000,000 - 350,000,000
Hammer price: HK$250,000,000
Price realized: HK$289,316,000

Auctioneer Ian McGinlay opened the proceeding of the present lot at HK$200m and the price climbed steadily up in HK$10m increments. While two proxy bidders were in the Hong Kong saleroom to relay bids from London and New York, the bidding battle for this lot was mainly between the Hong Kong specialists. Phone bidders with the two Chairmen of Sotheby’s Asia, Nicolas Chow and Patti Wong vied for the prized work. After a total of six bids, it was Chow who acquired the painting for his client, with the paddle number 100. After fees, it was sold for HK$289.3m (US$37.3m). 

Auctioneer Ian McGinlay brought the hammer down for the night's top lot by Basquiat, at HK$250m

Nicolas Chow (Chairman of Sotheby's Asia) won the present lot for his client

In triptych format, the present painting was executed in 1985 and draws on the visual vocabulary of African masks and the Jaguar - an important Aztec warrior symbol, together with a figure that resembles Don Quixote - Miguel Cervantes’ farcical knight errant. The ferocity of African and Mesoamerican visual cultures is juxtaposed with Basquiat’s iconic black warrior. 

Closer look at the iconic black warrior

The Jaguar, an Aztec warrior symbol

A figure resembling Don Quixote, Miguel Cervantes’ farcical knight errant

The subversive graffiti rebel began rising to stardom in the 1980s. In 1985, Basquiat made it on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, which catapulted him to the list of famed artists at the time.

The present work, which exemplifies Basquiat's iconic pantheon of heroic figures, was also the very same work that the artist chose to be featured on the prominent publication. The cover story, entitled "New Art New Money: the Marketing of an American Artist" fittingly celebrates one of the most pivotal moments in Basquiat's artistic career, as he went from being a street artist to a more mainstream art sphere.

Basquiat with the present lot, featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine, February 1985 issue

As a Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, Basquiat was highly aware of the lack of representation of African American population in art history. His works often confront the issue of inequality in society, through a burst of combative energy. 

He is also the highest-grossing American artist. His 1982 painting, Warrior, fetched a whopping HK$323.6m (US$41.7m) three months ago, and is Asia’s auction record for the most valuable Western artwork. 

Lot 12 | Pablo Picasso, Buste d’Homme

Painted in 1969
Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 116 x 89 cm

  • Galerie Schmit, Paris
  • Maruko Company, Ltd., Tokyo
  • Invoice RM Group, Tokyo
  • Ikaan Art International, Osaka
  • Acquavella Galleries, New York
  • Steve Wynn, Las Vegas
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner 

Estimate: HK$93,000,000 - 143,000,000
Hammer price: HK$93,000,000
Price realized: HK$108,923,000

Another coveted lot that elicited fierce bidding in the Hong Kong saleroom was by Picasso. The first runner-up of the evening saw an opening bid of HK$70m and three bids in HK$5m increments propelled the price to HK$85m, offered by a floor bidder. The bidding increments later were lowered to HK$1m and the auctioneer brought the hammer down at the low estimate of HK$93m, to sell the painting to the bidder with the paddle number 14, represented by Carrie Li (Senior Specialist of Chinese Works of Art). 

Carrie Li (Senior Specialist of Chinese Works of Art) acquired the present lot for her phone bidder, paddle number 14

Executed in 1969, Buste d’Homme is from Picasso's seminal oeuvre and is a striking self-portrait that epitomizes the warmth and vitality through the expanses of vivid primary colors, strong black lines, and geometric shapes. 

The painting also served as his tribute to yet another world-renowned artist Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat from 1887. Picasso combines the tribute with the musketeer, Van Gogh’s alter-ego, recognized from the playful half moustache. 

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat (1887) | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Lot 8 | Richard Prince, Runaway Nurse

Executed in 2005-2006
Inkjet and acrylic on canvas
Dimensions: 280 x 168 cm

  • Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist) 
  • Christie's, New York, May 10, 2016, lot 38B
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner 

Estimate: HK$75,000,000 - 95,000,000
Hammer price: HK$80,000,000
Price realized: HK$93,986,000


The auctioneer opened the bidding at HK$50m for this lot and bids streamed in from the specialists at both the New York and Hong Kong phone banks. A total of nine bids brought the work to the hammer price of HK$80m, offered by the same client who bought the Picasso painting. It was sold for HK$94m (US$12.1m) after premium, about 25% higher than when it last changed hands for US$9.7m at Christie’s New York. It has now renewed the auction record for the artist, and was the evening's second runner-up.

The present lot by Richard Prince is the artist’s tribute to two vintage novels: the 1948 film noir crime novel “Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye,” and the 1964 dime-store novel “Runaway Nurse.” The artwork challenges traditional gender constructs while embodying Prince’s complex conceptual project.

Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2008 runway, inspired by Prince’s Nurse Paintings series

Cover of "Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye" by Horace McCoy

Richard Prince is one of the most controversial artists. The painter and photographer allegedly sold enlarged screenshots of Instagram-sourced pictures without permission of the original photographers. Despite the wave of copyright infringement suits, the series, titled New Portraits, continued to sell.

Other highlights of the sale include:

Lot 20 | Frank Stella, Untitled (Double Concentric Square)

Painted in 1978
Acrylic on canvas
Dimensions: 205.5 x 408.5 cm

  • Private Collection, USA
  • Gagosian, New York  
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner 

Estimate: HK$32,000,000 - 48,000,000
Hammer price: HK$35,000,000
Price realized: HK$42,281,000

Lot 18 | Zao Wou-ki, 14.05.63 

Painted in 1963
Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 100 x 80.5 cm

  • Important Private Asian Collection

Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - 50,000,000
Hammer price: HK$32,000,000
Price realized: HK$38,834,000

Lot 26 | Yoshitomo Nara, Untitled

Executed in 2003
Acrylic on cotton mounted on FRP
Dimensions: 180 (diameter) x 26 cm

  • Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
  • Private Collection, Philadelphia
  • Sotheby's, New York, November 15, 2007, lot 421
  • Private Collection 
  • Borobudur Fine Art Auction, Singapore, May 22, 2011, lot 148 
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$18,000,000 - 28,000,000
Hammer price: HK$22,500,000
Price realized: HK$27,400,000

Lot 29 | Adrian Ghenie, Pie Fight Interior 9

Painted in 2013
Oil on canvas 
Dimensions: 198.6 x 150.5 cm

  • Pace Gallery, New York
  • Private Collection 
  • Christie's, New York, May 13, 2015, lot 22B
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$22,000,000 - 38,000,000
Hammer price: HK$22,000,000
Price realized: HK$26,795,000

Lot 37 | Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin

Painted in 1992
Acrylic on canvas
Dimensions: 45.5 x 53 cm

  • Der-Horng Art Gallery, Taiwan
  • Private Collection 
  • Sotheby's, Hong Kong, April 3, 2017, lot 891
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner 

Estimate: HK$3,000,000 - 5,000,000
Hammer price: HK$22,000,000
Price realized: HK$26,795,000

Auction Summary:

Auction house: Sotheby’s Hong Kong
Sale: Contemporary Curated: Asia | JAY CHOU x SOTHEBY’S Evening Sale
Date: June 17, 2021
Lots offered: 46
Sold: 46
Sale rate: 100%
Sale total: HK$845,984,600 (US$108,970,551)