HK$70m Zao Wou-ki Reigns Supreme at Phillips Contemporary Art Sale in Hong Kong

This spring season in Hong Kong, contemporary art sales across different auction houses have mostly been headlined by Zao Wou-ki. There is no exception for Phillips. Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale was held yesterday in Hong Kong, led by a HK$70m Zao Wou-ki’s painting. The sale achieved a total of HK$233m, setting a new sale record for the auction house in Asia.

Presided over by Jonathan Crockett, Phillips’ Deputy Chairman of Asia, the sale started in a crowded room packed with collectors, art dealers and journalists. The centrepiece of the sale, Zao Wou-ki 04.01.79, came up for auction as lot number 5.

04.01.79 was painted in 1979. Measuring 250 x 260 cm, it is the largest one by the artist from the 1970s that has ever come to the auction market. Though it is an abstract painting, it actually refers back to the ancient Chinese landscape paintings. Depicted on the top area are rocks and mountains while the white suggests clouds and rising mist.

All the colours, white, black, brown, blue and pink, are referencing to the various forms of rocks and mountains in landscape paintings. The white suggests mist whereas the dark tones suggest hard and rocky landscape.

The auctioneer started the bidding at HK$40m, followed by telephone bidders offering alternate bids. Yet, the winning bidder turned out to be a gentleman in the room, who bought the piece for a hammer price of HK$60m. The final price was HK$69.85m with premium. The painting not only exceeded its presale estimate of HK$50m, but also broke the record for any work by Zao Wou-ki in the 70s.

Realising the second highest price was Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No.9. In this rare and nostalgic painting, Zhang challenges the notion of identity in the context of Chinese collectivism through his iconic stoic figures. The painting was hammered down for HK$32m and sold for HK$38.35m after fees.  

Drawn from Zhang’s memories of Cultural Revolution-era China, the painting illustrates the joint consciousness of the country at a time of social turmoil. It comes from a sentimental photograph of the artist’s family depicting his brother on his 100th Day Birthday with their parents.

The third top lot was Fang Lijun’s Series 2 No. 10, estimated at HK$6m-9m. As a pioneer of Cynical Realism, Fang creates fictional and ambiguous narratives to examine the shift in China following the social movement in China in the late 1980s. 

Created in 1992, Series 2 No. 10 implies an openness in society and a sense of affluence and freedom coming after Deng Xiaoping’s Open Door policy in 1978. The painting was hammered down for HK$8m after receiving 11 bids, selling for HK$9.7m with buyer’s premium.

Auction houses have all pulled off satisfactory contemporary art sales this spring. For Phillips, it recorded a 91 percent sold by lot in this sale, netting a sale total of HK$233m.


Top five lots sold

Zao Wou-ki (1921-2013). 04.01.79.

Lot no.: 5
Created in: 1979
Size: 250 x 260cm

  • Private Collection, Asia (acquired directly from the artist)
  • Private Collection, Asia
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: about HK$50,000,000
Hammer price: HK$60,000,000
Price realised: HK$69,850,000

Zhang Xiaogang. Bloodline: Big Family No.9

Lot no.: 12
Created in: 1996
Size: 148.7 x 189.2cm

  • Serieuze Zaken Gallery, Amsterdam
  • Private Collection, The Netherlands
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate upon request
Hammer price: HK$32,000,000
Price realised: HK$38,350,000

Fang Lijun. Series 2 No.10

Lot no.: 13
Created in: 1992-1993
Size: 70.1 x 116.4cm

  • Serieuze Zaken Gallery, Amsterdam
  • Private Collection, The Netherlands
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$6,000,000 - 9,000,000
Hammer price: HK$8,000,000
Price realised: HK$9,700,000

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985). Le Chien Rôdeur.

Lot no.: 6
Created in: August 1955
Size: 81 x 99.3cm

  • Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
  • Mr. and Mrs. Arthur J. Kobacker Steubenville, Ohio
  • Sotheby's Parke-Bernet, New York, 28 October 1970, Lot 64
  • Dr. Irving Stoner (acquired at the above sale)
  • Robert Elkon Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1975)
  • Marisa del Re Gallery, Inc., New York
  • Waddington Galleries, London
  • Mr. and Mrs. George Bloch, Hong Kong
  • Private Collection, Connecticut
  • Sotheby's, New York, 8 November 1994, Lot 42
  • Collection Stanley J. Seeger (acquired at the above sale)
  • Sotheby's, New York, 8 May 2001, Lot 35
  • Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
  • Phillips, London, 14 February 2013, Lot 18
  • Private Collection, Geneva (acquired at the above sale)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$7,000,000 - 9,000,000
Hammer price: HK$6,200,000
Price realised: HK$7,540,000

George Condo. Black Standing Figures.

Lot no.: 41
Created in: 2000
Size: 152.4 x 254cm

  • Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
  • Artcurial, Paris, 21 April 2009, Lot 366
  • PaceWildenstein, New York
  • Private Collection
  • Christie’s, London, 17 February 2011, Lot 266
  • Simon Lee Gallery, London
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$6,500,000 - 8,500,000
Hammer price: HK$6,200,000
Price realised: HK$7,540,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Phillips Hong Kong
Sale: 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale
Sale date: 2018/5/27
Lots offered: 70
Sold: 64
Unsold: 6
Sold by lot: 91%
Sale total: HK$233,598,750