LGDR Asia Founding Partner Rebecca Wei buys Yoshitomo Nara's painting for US$10.7m at Phillips Hong Kong

On 30 March, Phillips presented the much awaited inaugural 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Auction at its brand-new state-of-the-art Asia headquarters in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District. With 36 of the 40 lots on offer finding new buyers, the night's sale total came to HK$351.7 million (US$44.8 million), representing a strong sell-through rate of 90%

While records were set for two emerging artists – including Chen Ke and Brett Crawford – the centerpiece of the sale was best-selling Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara's Lookin' for a Treasure, which sold for HK$83.9 million (US$10.7 million) to a lady clad in white with paddle number 398.

The floor bidder turned out to be Rebecca Wei, former Chairwoman of Christie’s Asia. After stepping down from the position, the art-market heavyweight has joined LGDR & Wei in Asia (formerly known as Lévy Gorvy) as a Founding Partner since 2020. It is unknown on whose behalf she bought the work.

Phillips held the inaugural evening sale at its new Asia headquarters in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District

Lot 13 | Yoshitomo Nara | Lookin' for a Treasure, Acrylic on canvas
Painted in 1995
120 x 100 cm
Provenance (Edited by The Value):

  • Galerie d'Eendt, Amsterdam
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1995)
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2008)
  • Christie's, Hong Kong, 26 November 2011, lot 1053 (Sold: HK$4,220,000)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate on request (Expected to fetch in excess of HK$70 million / US$9 million)
Hammer Price: HK$70,000,000 
Sold: HK$83,850,000 (US$10.7 million)

Heading to the auction block with a third-party guarantee, the lot saw interested buyers making cautious moves after opening at HK$52 million.

When the work was about to hammer at HK$68 million – a bid placed by a telephone bidder represented by Meiling Lee, Senior International Specialist in Taiwan – a lady dressed in white suddenly stepped in and called out a higher bid of HK$70 million.

As Lee's client quitted bidding, the floor bidder – who is known to be Rebecca Wei – eventually won the lot at HK$83.9 million (US$10.7 million) after fees. Last surfaced at auction and fetched HK$4.2 million, the work saw a nearly 20 times increase in value over the course of 12 years..

Rebecca Wei with paddle number 398 purchased the present lot

Rebecca Wei is now the Founding Partner of LGDR & Wei Asia

Nara is best known for his paintings of children that appear adorable but at the same time, a little sinister. Behind the intense gaze from the girl’s wide doe-eyes, one can almost sense the subtle melancholic expression and her loneliness. 

The present work was painted in 1995, when Nara was studying art at the prestigious Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany alone. Titled Lookin' for a Treasure, the canvas features the Nara girl pointing forward a pair of L-shaped dowsing, which captures her adventurous spirit as she searches intently.

A type of divination, dowsing has a long and diverse history in Germany, with many distinct practitioners and schools of thought arising over the years. The theory behind the practice suggests that divining tools such as a forked stick or prongs react to subtle vibrations or energy fields emanating from water, minerals, or other hidden treasures.

For Nara, whose time in Germany was marked by intense loneliness, the ideas Lookin’ for a Treasure conveys of discovery and exploration serve as a powerful metaphor for the artist’s own journey.

Yoshitomo Nara is the highest-priced Japanese artist

Yoshitomo Nara | Untitled (Broken Treasure) (1995), acrylic on canvas | Collection of The Tokushima Modern Art Museum

1995 marked a pivotal year for Nara's artistic career. Besides having published his first monograph, he also presented his first major gallery exhibition in Tokyo with 'In the Deepest Puddle' at SCAI the Bathhouse, as well as being represented by Blum & Poe, which honoured him with a solo show in Los Angeles.  

In the same year, the artist created a small series of only four canvases featuring a golden-yellow dressed girl against blue background, including the present lot. One of them, titled Untitled (Broken Treasure), has been acquired by Tokushima Modern Art Museum for its permanent collection, while the other two have never been offered at auction before.

In fact, among Nara's colour-dressed subjects, those wearing yellow are the rarest – which is particularly the case for his works before 2000. According to the artist’s printed catalogue raisonné, there are a mere 16 paintings of Nara subjects wearing yellow, compared to 84 paintings of red-dressed subjects and 59 in blue.

Lot 10 | Yayoi Kusama | Pumpkin, Acrylic on canvas
Painted in 1995
112.3 x 145.8 cm

  • Gallery Kasahara, Osaka
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000

Estimate: HK$40,000,000 - 50,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$46,000,000
Sold: HK$56,110,000 (around US$7.2 million)

Coming second place in the sale was an iconic pumpkin painting by Yayoi Kusama, one of the best-known contemporary Japanese artists in the world. With her blockbuster retrospective taking place at Hong Kong’s M+ museum – the landmark museum flanking Phillips' new space – the Queen of Polka Dots has been brought at the forefront of the local art scene and her works continue to gather momentum at auctions. 

As auctioneer opened the bidding for Pumpkin at HK$32 million, the lot drew interests from multiple bidders, pushing the price past its low estimate to hammer at HK$46 million. After fees, it sold for HK$56.1 million (around US$7.2 million) to a bidder on the phone with Isaure de Viel Castel, Head of Department in Hong Kong.

The work is an early example that is archetypal of Kusama’s pumpkin motif, encapsulating the artist’s obsessional focus on accumulation, repetition, and the infinite through the combination of the three pillars that define her artistic practice – dots, nets, and the pumpkin.

Fresh to market, the lot came from the collection of the Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum in Clarinda, Iowa, United States. It was donated by esteemed collectors Karen & Robert Duncan, who owned the painting for 23 years. The sale proceeds will further the Museum’s mission of promoting the arts to the global community, while also supporting local arts and youth programs.

Yayoi Kusama's major restrospective is taking place at M+ Museum in Hong Kong

Lot 8 | Matthew Wong | The Road, Oil on canvas
Painted in 2018
177.8 x 152.4 cm

  • Karma Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$24,000,000 - 35,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$29,500,000
Sold: HK$36,145,000 (around US$4.6 million)


The night's third most expensive lot went to late Chinese-Canadian artist Matthew Wong's The Road, which was hammered at HK$29.5 million against an opening bid of HK$17 million. With buyer's premium, it sold for HK$36.1 million (around US$4.6 million) to Managing Director for Asia Robert Sleigh's client with paddle number 1002.

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. In less than three years' time, the artist's auction record has reached an impressive US$5.9 million, set in 2022 at Sotheby's New York for his landscape painting The Night Watcher.

Before his death, the largely self-taught artist made around 1,000 works that were inspired by his daydreams, movies, and lengthy walks. He is noted for portraying seemingly contradicting ambience with his vivid palette, the striking canvases which evokes great masters such as Vincent van Gogh, David Hockney and Matisse.

Late Chinese Canadian artist Matthew Wong

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 11 | Yayoi Kusama | Infinity Dots (HTI), Acrylic on canvas, triptych
Painted in 2001
Overall: 194 x 390 cm

  • Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$25,000,000 - 30,000,000 
Hammer Price: HK$22,500,000
Sold: HK$27,675,000

Lot 18 | Roy Lichtenstein | Reflections on Brushstrokes, Oil and magna on canvas
Executed in 1990
148.3 x 222.4 cm

  • Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
  • Herland Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm
  • Cindric Meyer Gallery, Florida
  • Private Collection, United States (acquired from the above in 1998)
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2014)
  • Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
  • Private Collection, Europe

Estimate: HK$14,000,000 - 19,000,000 
Hammer Price: HK$16,000,000
Sold: HK$19,810,000

Lot 14 | Takashi Murakami | Flower Parent and Child, Gold leaf on bronze
Executed 2018-2020
248.5 x 152.3 x 115.3 cm

  • Perrotin Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$15,500,000 - 23,500,000 
Hammer Price: HK$11,200,000
Sold: HK$14,002,000

Lot 19 | Claude Monet | Paysage à Villez, Oil on canvas
Painted circa 1883
60.3 x 78.8 cm

  • Wildenstein & Cie., Paris
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above)
  • Private Collection, England (gifted from the above)
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above)
  • Christie's, New York, 13 November 2015, lot 1265
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$5,500,000 - 8,500,000
Hammer Price: HK$7,000,000
Sold: HK$8,890,000

Lot 9 | Hernan Bas | The hillsides must not know it, Acrylic airbrush and block print on linen
Executed in 2011
183.2 x 213.5 cm

  • Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich
  • Acquired from the above by the current owner in 2015

Estimate: HK$6,500,000 - 8,500,000 
Hammer Price: HK$6,500,000
Sold: HK$8,255,000

Lot 33 | Liu Ye | Flagship No.1, Acrylic and oil on canvas
Painted in 1997
29.2 x 22.2 cm

  • Mingjingdi Gallery, Beijing
  • Christie’s, Hong Kong, 29 October 2001, lot 1
  • Private Collection
  • Borobudur Auction, Singapore, 18 May 2008, lot 1108
  • Private Collection
  • Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 6 April 2014, lot 895
  • Private Collection, Hong Kong
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$5,500,000
Sold: HK$6,985,000

Lot 6 | Loie Hollowell | A Gentle Meeting of Tips, Oil, acrylic, sawdust and high-density foam on linen mounted on panel
Executed in 2018
121.9 x 91.4 cm

  • Pace Gallery, London
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$5,000,000 - 7,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$5,200,000
Sold: HK$6,604,000

Lot 15 | Izumi Kato | Untitled, Oil on canvas, diptych
Painted in 2017
Overall: 130.5 x 356 cm

  • Perrotin Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 
Hammer Price: HK$4,500,000
Sold: HK$5,715,000

Lot 37 | Chen Ke | Outside the Window, Oil and acrylic gesso on canvas (Auction record for the artist)
Painted in 2020, signed in 2022
180 x 250 cm

  • Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Estimate: HK$2,000,000 - 4,000,000 
Hammer Price: HK$4,000,000
Sold: HK$5,080,000

Lot 42 | Brett Crawford | H3RE HE COMES, Acrylic on linen (Auction record for the artist)
Painted in 2023
81.3 x 121.9 cm

  • Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Estimate: HK$600,000 - 800,000 
Hammer Price: HK$1,700,000
Sold: HK$2,159,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Phillips Hong Kong
Sale: 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Date: 30 March 2023
Number of Lots: 40
Sold: 36
Unsold: 4
Sale Rate: 90%
Sale Total: HK$351,701,500 (US$44,806,771)