This year, Phillips Hong Kong inaugurated its new Asian headquarters, located in the West Kowloon Cultural District. The headquarters includes a permanent auction room, providing this international auction house with greater flexibility in scheduling sale dates.
Taking this season's Hong Kong Autumn Auction as an example, Phillips has departed from its usual practice of holding the 20th Century & Contemporary Art Sales in November. Instead, the auctions will take place earlier on 6 and 7 October, coinciding with Sotheby's, Poly Auction's, and China Guardian's fall sales.
Earlier this month, the auction house unveiled two star lots in advance. They include Yoshitomo Nara's painting titled No Means No, estimated at HK$52 to 72 million (US$6.7 to 9.2 million); and Still Life with an Olive, an iconic still life painting by Swiss contemporary artist Nicolas Party, estimated at HK$26 to 40 million (US$3.3 to 5.1 million).
Both artworks will be making their auction debut.
Yoshitomo Nara | No Means No, Acrylic on canvas
Created in 2006
162.5 x 130.8 cm
Estimate: HK$52,000,000 - 72,000,000 (US$6,670,000 - 9,230,000)
Auction House: Phillips Hong Kong
Sale: 20th Century & Contemporary Evening Sale
Date: 6 October 2023
Venue: Phillips Asian Headquarters
Address: G/F, WKCDA Tower Cultural District, 8 Austin Rd W, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Yoshitomo Nara has been highly sought after in the Asian art market, with his painting Knife Behind Back setting an auction record at HK$195 million (US$25 million), making him the most expensive artist from Japan. Up to this day, Nara's paintings featuring the little girl motif continue to demonstrate strong market performance, with seven artworks achieving prices exceeding HK$100 million.
In March of this year, Phillips held its inaugural evening sale at the new Asian headquarters, headlined by Nara's little girl painting. The 1995 artwork titled Lookin' for a Treasure changed hands for HK$83.85 million (US$10.7 million), acquired by Rebecca Wei, Founding Partner of the renowned gallery LGDR & Wei in Asia (formerly known as Lévy Gorvy).
Knife Behind Back (2000) sold for a staggering HK$195 million
Lookin' for a Treasure (1995) changed hands for HK$83.85 million at Phillips this past March
When comparing the aforementioned two artworks with No Means No, which will be auctioned in October, the most noticeable differences lie perhaps in the depiction of the little girl's eyes and the background color.
Regarding the portrayal of the girl's eyes, Nara once described, "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. I began to stop and think, to take a breath before letting everything out."
This statement reflects the evolution of Nara's artistic approach. Looking back at Nara's artworks from the 1990s, they predominantly featured solid lines and simple colors to depict the physical bodies and facial features of his characters. Knife Behind Back and Lookin' for a Treasure are examples of this style.
As the new millennium arrived, Nara's artworks adopted softer color blocks and lines, expressing intricate and complex emotions. In a more complex manner, he portrayed a profound sense of ambiguity and poetic ethereality within the protagonist's eyes, as seen in this 2006 painting No Means No.
No Means No to be auctioned this October
Yoshitomo Nara | After the Deluge (2006), | 162.5 x 145 cm | Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
Yoshitomo Nara | No Means No (1991) | 20.7 x 14.6 cm | Collection of Aomori Museum of Art
In addition to the little girl's eyes, the background colors are also noteworthy. In No Means No, Nara employs his signature gradient technique. Upon closer inspection, within the pearl-white background, there are layers of rich brushstrokes forming soft pastel hues. Through a concise visual framework and a hazy background, the girl with sparkling eyes emerges before the viewer.
This painting technique can also be seen in After the Deluge, created in 2006, which is now part of the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
The title of this artwork, No Means No, traces back to a paper work from 1991. The original piece is currently held in the collection of the Aomori Museum of Art in Japan. It depicts a crashed fighter plane with the red text "No Means No". This demonstrates the artist's intention to convey anti-war sentiments, love, and peace. It is believed that the 2006 version, which will be auctioned, carries a similar message.
Nicolas Party | Still Life with an Olive, Oil on canvas
Created in 2012-2013
143 x 186.5 cm
Estimate: HK$26,000,000 - 40,000,000 (US$3,330,000 - 5,130,000)
In recent years, the Asian art market has witnessed a growing demand for Western artworks. Collectors, in particular, have shown a keen interest in young contemporary artists, hoping to acquire art pieces with investment potential.
Aligning perfectly with this trend, Phillips is presenting Nicolas Party's artwork titled Still Life with an Olive. Focusing on portraits, still lifes and landscapes, his works are primarily executed in soft pastel, a nortoriously volatile and challenging medium, yet one that allowed him to create an over-saturated palette calls to mind the work of Fauvist master Henri Matisse.
An artist born in the 1980s, Nicolas Party splits his creative endeavors between Brussels and New York. In 2018, he held an exhibition at M Woods Museum in Beijing, where his landscape and fruit-themed paintings were well-received by Asian collectors. He has achieved remarkable auction results, notably in Hong Kong. In December of last year, his landscape painting Blue Sunset sold for HK$52.05 million (US$6.7 million) at Christie's Hong Kong, setting a new artist's record.
Still Life with an Olive is Party's iconic still life painting, completed in 2013. It was showcased as part of the artist's solo exhibition at The Modern Institute in Glasgow, Scotland, that same year. It is one of seven still life paintings exhibited, with each piece taking approximately 10 to 20 months to complete.
In this artwork's harmonious composition, Nicolas Party employs vibrant and highly saturated tones of yellow, red, green, and blue. This showcases the artist's versatility in color application and precision in painting. He transforms familiar fruits and still life objects into forms imbued with other-worldly colors, rhythm, and dynamism, adding a touch of whimsy.
Besides announcing its first batch of lots for the autumn auction, Phillips recently unveiled its new digital platform, Dropshop, which officially launched on 20 August.
Phillips has partnered with artists to release a monthly limited-edition artwork, exclusively available for sale on Dropshop. Buyers will have the opportunity to instantly purchase these artworks on a first-come, first-served basis, effectively disrupting the traditional, long-held dynamics between the primary and secondary markets.
Phillips launched a new digital platform Dropshop
Unlike typical e-commerce platforms that offer a variety of products for customers to choose from, Dropshop will only feature the works of one artist each month. Phillips believes that this approach allows collectors using the platform to focus on one artist at a time, giving them the attention they deserve.
From conceptualization and planning to execution and promotion, Phillips closely collaborates with the artists at every level. What sets this platform apart is that if the artworks released on Dropshop are later sold in Phillips' auctions or sales, the artists will receive a resale royalty commission. This can be seen as a mutually beneficial move that fosters a symbiotic relationship between the auction house and the artists.
Crown Volume I by Cj Hendry was the inaugural artwork of Dropshop
The red crown is made of bronze
The inaugural artwork on Dropshop is the Crown Volume I created by Australian hyperrealist artist Cj Hendry. It is a limited edition of 100 pieces. At first glance, the crown may resemble an inflatable toy, but it is actually made of solid bronze material, giving it a sturdy and substantial appearance. Officially offered for sale on 20 August, they are currently all sold out.
Born in 1988 in Brisbane, Australia, Cj Hendry now resides in New York. She gained popularity on social media with her hyper-photorealistic drawings and even received a collaboration invitation from Christian Louboutin, the renowned red-soled high heels brand. Her Instagram account has attracted over 680,000 followers.