Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara Dominates Hong Kong Joint Auction

Last night saw the success of the first-ever Phillips and Poly Auction joint sale in Hong Kong, featuring many highly sought-after pieces by such influential modern and contemporary artists as Gerhard Richter, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Zao Wou-Ki, Matthew Wong, and the global sensation: Yoshitomo Nara.

Hothouse Doll, created by Yoshitomo Nara - the most expensive artist in Japan, became his second highest priced work, realizing an astounding HK$103m (US$13.3m) after premium. It was also the very first artwork to be auctioned off at over HK$100m for Phillips Hong Kong, since the international auction house set foot in Hong Kong in 2015.



Phillips, with its international presence and the ability to source quality artworks, oversaw the curation of the sale. Whereas Poly Hong Kong, a part of Beijing’s Poly Culture Group, brought to the room its impressive clientele based in mainland China.

Nara’s star lot also marks the tremendous success of the collaborative auction that replaced the marquee 20th Century and Contemporary Art sales of both houses this fall. Just as we saw the auction houses being competitors, the strategic alliance proved that the joint sale has created the synergy needed to broaden both houses’ global reach by leveraging the strengths of both.


Phillips’ representatives occupying one side of the room

Poly's representatives sitting on the other side


The evening grossed a combined hammer total of HK$318.5m (US$41m), 24% higher than the pre-sale total low estimates of HK$257m. Thanks to the live video and bidding feeds from the two auction houses’ specialists in Beijing, the energy in the room was considerably palpable. The mainland Chinese bidders represented by Poly's specialists, though might not be able to join the sale in person due to travel restrictions, offered a number of high increments to several lots, including the top lot of the evening, Hothouse Doll by Yoshitomo Nara, hammered down for HK$87m (US$11.2m).


Lot 5 | Yoshitomo Nara (B.1959), Hothouse Doll

Acrylic on canvas

Painted in 1995

119.8 x 109.9 cm


  • Gallery Hakutosha, Nagoya 

  • Private Collection 

  • Christie's, New York, May 14, 2008, lot 334 

  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$50,000,000 - 70,000,000 

Hammer price: HK$87,000,000

Price realized: HK$103,115,000


The joint sale was headlined by Yoshitomo Nara’s Hothouse Doll. Auctioneer Jonathan Crockett opened the sale at HK$24m and soon it attracted bids from an interested client from Beijing, represented by Poly, and another bidder represented by Phillips. 

The overwhelming bids soon drove the work past its high estimate of HK$70m. A bidder represented by Taiwanese specialist Lihua Tung (Senior Specialist, 20th Century and Contemporary Art, Asia) brought it to HK$67m, which edged the work towards the its high estimate quickly. The bidding war escalated as another interested client from Beijing, represented by Blair Zhang (Business Representative based in Beijing of Poly Auction Hong Kong) immediately offered HK$76m, which was a whopping HK$9m increment. 

Yet it was Nicholas Wilson, Phillips’ General Manager, Asia, who acquired the work for his client - as the hammer went down at HK$87m. It was finally sold for a whopping HK$103m (US$13.3m) after premium. That catapulted the work into Nara’s top two results at any auction. Hothouse Doll only trails Knife Behind Back, which was sold last year for HK$195.7m after premium.


Phillips’ General Manager, Asia, Nicholas Wilson, won the bidding war for his client, paddle number 346


Yoshitomo Nara, a Japanese artist 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.

As the youngest child of working parents, the artist spent much of his time in solitude with little to do but explore the depths of his imagination. The signature style in his oeuvre was first developed during his lonesome years in Germany, which reminded him of his childhood. The sensation captured slowly manifested itself from the ‘90s, into the character’s signature bob cut, pudgy cheeks, and almond-eyes.


Yoshitomo Nara with the present work on the cover of his 2011 catalog raisonné


Hothouse Doll appeared in numerous institutional exhibitions and was also hand-picked by Nara himself as the cover of his catalog raisonné, “Yoshitomo Nara Complete Works 1984-2010,” published in 2011.


The first and second runner-ups of the evening were:


Lot 7 | Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Ancient Scientist

Acrylic, oilstick, Xerox and paper collage on canvas

Executed in 1984


  • Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles 

  • Private Collection, Chicago 

  • Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York 

  • Private Collection, Arizona 

  • Sotheby's, New York, May 11, 2005, lot 348 

  • Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditesheim & Cie, Geneva 

  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$50,000,000 - 70,000,000

Hammer price: HK$48,000,000

Price realized: HK$58,330,000


The second top lot of the evening was from Jean-Michel Basquiat, the most expensive American artist. Basquiat was a subversive graffiti-artist and street poet in the late 1970s. The Pope of pop art, Andy Warhol also connected with the artist, not just in the art world, but on a personal level. Ancient Scientist features an African Banda Mask of the 19th- to 20th-century. It is also a nod to Pablo Picasso’s Cubist aesthetic derived from ancient masks and sculptures.

The pre-sale estimate for the work was between HK$50m and HK$70m. The opening bid was HK$32m, and after six bids, the hammer went down at HK$48m, still shy of the pre-sale low estimate. It was Delissa Handoko, Phillips’ Associate Specialist, who acquired the work for her client on the phone, with the paddle number 348. 


Lot 4 | Matthew Wong (1984-2019) River at Dusk | Artist's record

Oil on canvas

Painted in 2018


  • KARMA, New York 

  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018

Estimate: HK$7,000,000 - 10,000,000

Hammer price: HK$31,000,000

Price realized: HK$37,760,000


The late Chinese-Canadian artist Matthew Wong has become one of the hard-to-miss names this year. His painterly approach and the use of complementary colors are often compared to the works of Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, and Edvard Munch. The present lot, River at Dusk, is one of the exceptional pieces from his oeuvre.

The pre-sale estimate range for the work was between HK$7m and HK$10m. The bidding quickly surpassed the high estimate. After 19 more bids, with the winning bid from a client represented by Phillips’ Nicholas Wilson, the work was hammered down for HK$31m, or HK$37.7m (US$4.86m) after premium - nearly four times its high estimate. It also is the new record for the artist.

Matthew Wong’s previous record was set just a month ago at a Christie’s New York sale. It was his Shangri-La, sold for US$4.47m (HK$34.6m) with premium.


Matthew Wong (1984-2019) Shangri-La | oil on canvas | 243.8 x 182.9 cm

Sold for US$4,470,000, Christie's New York


Lot 8 | Gerhard Richter (B.1932), Abstraktes Bild (682-4)

Oil on canvas

Painted in 1988

72.5 x 62.2 cm


  • Galerie Jean Bernier, Athens 

  • Farideh Cadot Gallery, New York 

  • Private Collection 

  • Sotheby's, London, February 7, 2003, lot 182 

  • Private Collection (acquired at the above sale) 

  • Private Collection Phillips, London, June 29, 2017, lot 8 

  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$50,000,000 - 70,000,000

Hammer price: HK$26,500,000

Price realized: HK$32,315,000


The most expensive Western artist to sell in the Asian market, Gerhard Richter is renowned for his prolific photo-based paintings. The oeuvre of the German abstract painter evolves throughout his career. Abstraktes Bild (682-4) was created as Richter dragged a paint-covered squeegee, a long strip of plastic, across the surface of the canvas, leaving behind thin layers of pigment that are successively built upon. This creates impasto overlays, thickly applied oil paint that is blotchy in its appearance.

The opening bid for the work was HK$20m. After 11 bids from the room and online, the hammer went down at HK$26.5m.


Here are the remaining highlights from last night, including the auction records for three artists, namely Salman Toor, Bernard Frize, and Lucas Arruda. 


Lot 6 | Yoshitomo Nara (B.1959), Untitled

Acrylic on wood, in artist’s frame

Painted in 2007

Work: 286 x 241 cm

Frame: 310 x 265 cm


  • Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York 

  • Private Collection 

  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$24,000,000 - 36,000,000

Hammer price: HK$24,000,000

Price realized: HK$29,290,000


Lot 1 | Salman Toor, Group Dance

Oil on linen

Painted in 2012

119 x 152 cm


  • Lawrie-Shabibi Gallery, Dubai 

  • Private Collection 

  • Acquired from above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$380,000 - 480,000

Hammer price: HK$3,200,000

Price realized: HK$4,032,000


Lot 29|Lucas Arruda, Untitled

Oil on canvas

Painted in 2013

50 x 60 cm


  • Gallery Mendes Woods, São Paulo 

  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$1,500,000 - 2,500,000

Hammer price: HK$3,000,000

Price realized: HK$3,780,000


Lot 16 | Bernard Frize, Wir

Acrylic and resin on canvas

Executed in 2018

250.2 x 215.2 cm


  • Simon Lee Gallery, London 

  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$1,000,000 - 2,000,000

Hammer price: HK$1,700,000

Price realized: HK$2,142,000


Auction Summary

Auction houses: Phillips and Poly Auction 

Sale: 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Date: December 3, 2020

Lots offered: 31

Sold: 29

Unsold: 2

Sale by lot: 94%

Sale total: HK$387,995,000