East-West chef-d’oeuvres realise US$52.2m at Poly Auction HK’s decaversary sale, with single buyer purchasing top lots

On 12 July, Poly Auction Hong Kong’s 10th anniversary Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale set sparkling results. All 24 lots offered were sold – which produced a white-glove sale and garnered a sale total of HK$410 million (around US$52.2 million) dollars.

American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1981 Untitled painting was the most expensive lot – which landed HK$105 million (around US$13.4 million) dollars. It was also the first lot to exceed HK$100 million dollars during the house’s decennial sales.

Alongside Untitled, the same buyer – with paddle number 1358 – also purchased Wayne Thiebaud’s Encased Cakes and Yayoi Kusama’s Infinite Net (BSGK). In summary, this client spent more than HK$200 million dollars on East and West contemporary art – attributing to nearly 50 per cent of the sale’s total.

Basquiat's three-pointed crown masterpiece, Untitled, was hammered at HK$88 million dollars

Lot 8 | Jean-Michel Basquiat | Untitled; Acrylic, spray paint, oilstick and paper collage on canvas

Created in 1981
122 x 142 cm

  • Didier Imbert Fine Art, Paris, France
  • Annina Nosei Gallery, New York, USA
  • Christie’s London, 27 June 2000, Lot 42
  • Private Collection

Estimate upon request
Hammer Price: HK$88,000,000
Sold: HK$105,600,000 (around US$13.4 million)

Jenny Lok was the auctioneer for Poly Auction HK's decennial sale

Alex Chang with the winning bid

In 2000, this painting was auctioned at Christie’s London. After 22 years, it returns to an Asian sale – this time at Poly Auction Hong Kong.

The auctioneer, Jenny Lok, started the bidding at HK$55 million dollars. After seven bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$88 million dollars. The winning bid went to Alex Chang, Managing Director, for his client with paddle number 1358. In the end, it garnered HK$105 million (around US$13.4 million) dollars with buyer's premium.

This present painting's black protagonist is shown wearing a three-pointed crown 

This present masterpiece, with its combative, African mask-like black figure at its heart, is the first fundamental figure of African descent used as a symbol of his early collage-based paintings.

Throughout his career, it remained with Basquiat as his most personal visual language. Untitled depicts a heroic, enigmatic figure with meaningful symbols. Images from primitive tribes such as Africa and Egypt, materials drawn from children's drawings, American pop culture, or inspiration from Masters of different periods – such as Pablo Picasso, Cy Twombly and Jean Dubuffet – are all presented in this work.

Basquiat's championed figures of the African diaspora – such as American boxer and heavyweight world champion, Joe Louis – as depicted in an artwork called St. Joe Louis Surrounded by Snakes (1982)

Jean-Michel Basquiat

With its large blocks of red and black, this oeuvre is a powerful portrait of Basquiat's intensity at the age of 20. The painting is dominated by a black man wearing his iconic triple-tipped crown. Protagonists of Basquiat's paintings are often drawn from black celebrities whom he admired – such as boxers Jersey Joe Walcott and Joe Louis, baseball star Hank Aaron and jazz musicians Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.

The figure is a combination of a hero and the crown, a symbol of warrior and conqueror. The protagonist’s head looks like he is pierced by an X-ray – his face and features are penetratingly multi-layered. His head is held high, while having a firm posture and an energetic expression. On his chest, there are three iron spikes – a symbol of energy spikes of the Congo – expressing an emotional tension between heroism and martyrdom.

Lot 11 | Wayne Thiebaud | Encased Cakes, Oil on canvas

Created in 2010-2011
182.9 x 121.9 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Acquired directly from the artist in 2011
  • Sotheby's New York, 14 November 2019, Lot 30 (Sold: US$8,464,800)
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$60,000,000 – 86,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$66,000,000
Sold: HK$79,200,000 (around US$10 million)

Wayne Thiebaud’s Encased Cakes was the sale’s second most expensive lot, and had the same buyer as Basquat's Untitled.

The bidding commenced at HK$45 million dollars. After four bids, the hammer was dropped at HK$66 million dollars. The winning bid went to Alex Chang, Managing Director, for his client with paddle number 1358. In the end, it garnered HK$79.2 million (around US$10 million) dollars with buyer’s premium. 

Wayne Thiebaud

During the 1960s, Thiebaud was obsessed with ritualistic arrangements of cakes, sandwiches, and sweets. Known as the hungriest artist in California, his work frequently depicts commonly-seen food and consumer goods. He began painting outdoor landscapes in the 1970s, adding vibrant colours and delicate painting techniques to his work. The creative experience of him studying and overlooking river landscapes in the 1990s allowed him to familiarise with switching different perspectives, and the block-like composition of vertical and horizontal views.

Created from 2010 to 2011, this present painting uses basic characteristics of triangles, circles, and squares. By combining these geometric shapes with cakes and pies in daily life, these motifs opened doors to the artist's culinary journey in art. These piles of food symbolise the richness of the American culture and the middle-class consumer culture at the time. The artist leverages the spirituality of pleasure created by refreshments and sweets to render the audiences and lead them into the affluent and happy environment he created.

Lot 12 | Adrian Ghenie | Lidless Eye, Oil on canvas

Created in 2016-2018
180.4 x 149.8 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Acquired directly from the artist
  • Private Collection, International Collector
  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 6 October 2020, Lot 1123 (Sold: HK$54,920,000)
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$50,000,000 – 75,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$50,000,000
Sold: HK$60,000,000 (around US$7.6 million)

During the sale’s live broadcast, Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie's Lidless Eye work was not sold. However, it was later re-opened and fetched HK$60 million (around US$7.6 million) dollars – which became the auction's third priciest lot. 

Measuring 180.4 by 149.8 centimetres, Lidless Eye is a self-portrait of Ghenie and is one of the largest self-portraits by the artist to appear on the market to date. The Romanian artist created a series of portraits around 2009 – including this present work. Among these however, there are two with whom he personally identifies: of Ghenie’s titled self-portraits, the most remarkable are those belonging to a small group of recent self-images centred on the effigies of Vincent van Gogh and Charles Darwin.

Created between 2016 and 2018, the artist's face in the painting is covered in thick layers of paint – inspired by British figurative painter, Bacon's swirling technique and German abstract artist, Richter's scraper strokes – creating a distinct artistic language. The protagonist's face is formed from fragments – each dash of colour is like a piece of memory and is hard to recognise. The way Ghenie's hair is combed and how his moustache is portrayed are hints for the viewer to identify him as the subject matter.

One effigy that inspires Ghenie is Vincent van Gogh – as seen in the Dutch Master's Self Portrait (1887) | Art Institute of Chicago 

Another figure who inspires Ghenie's self-images is British naturalist, Charles Darwin – as seen in his 2013 work, The Death of Charles Darwin

Adrian Ghenie 

Lot 9 | Yayoi Kusama | Infinity Nets (BSGK), Acrylic on canvas

Created in 2015
162 x 162 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • OTA Fine Arts, Tokyo, Japan
  • Private Collection
  • Phillips London, 8 March 2017, Lot 2 (Sold: £605,000)
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$16,500,000 – 25,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$16,500,000
Sold: HK$19,800,000 (around US$2.5 million)

In addition to Western art, the buyer with paddle number 1358 also purchased Japanese contemporary artist, Yayoi Kusama’s oeuvre. In the end, it fetched HK$19.8 million (around US$2.5 million) dollars with buyer’s premium.

In 1959, Kusama’s first solo exhibition in New York featured this series of Nets, which attracted widespread attention in the American city’s art world at the time and was covered by many mainstream media. During the 1960s, it was the beginning of her most important series, Infinity Nets, which became increasingly varied in colours – creating a vivacious visual experience through the application of a variety of contrasting colours.

Created in 2015, this present painting has a bright yellow underlay of orange-red netting and is a display of two bright yet similar colours. The work brings a strong visual impact from the orderly repetition of the structure.

Yayoi Kusama 

During this sale, four highlight lots also fetched more than HK$10 million dollars: 

Lot 18 | Wu Guanzhong | Warm Spring in the Mountain Village, Oil on board

Created in 1976
46 x 61 cm

  • Sotheby's Hong Kong, 24 October 2005, Lot 789
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$16,000,000 – 24,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$23,500,000
Sold: HK$28,200,000 (around US$3.5 million)

Lot 7 | Jean-Michel Basquiat | Logo, Acrylic, oilstick and silkscreen on canvas

Created in 1984
152 x 122 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles, USA
  • Galerie Beaubourg, Paris, France
  • Private Collection, Marciano
  • Christie’s New York, 19 November 1992, Lot 445
  • Private Collection, New York, USA
  • Private Collection, USA
  • Sotheby’s Paris, 7 December 2010, Lot 11 (Sold: €840,750)
  • Private Collection, New York, USA
  • Opera Gallery, Hong Kong, China
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 30 September 2018, Lot 1058 (Sold: HK$29,520,000)
  • Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, China
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$11,000,000 – 22,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$21,000,000
Sold: HK$25,200,000 (around US$3.2 million)

Lot 23 | Chu Teh-chun | Subtiles nuees, Oil on canvas

Created in 1991
200.4 x 200 cm

  • Private Collection, Asia

Estimate: HK$15,000,000 – 25,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$15,200,000
Sold: HK$18,240,000 (around US$2.3 million)

Lot 19 | Zao Wou-ki | 23.6.66, Oil on canvas

Created in 1966
81 x 65 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Galerie de France, Paris, France
  • Private Collection, Paris, France
  • Private Collection, Asia
  • Christie's Hong Kong, 24 May 2014, Lot 8 (Sold: HK$9,040,000)
  • Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: HK$10,000,000 – 15,000,000
Hammer Price: HK$13,800,000
Sold: HK$16,560,000 (around US$2.1 million)

Auction Details:

Auction House: Poly Auction Hong Kong
Sale: Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Date: 12 July 2022
Number of lots: 24
Sold: 24
Sale Rate: 100%
Sale Total: HK$410,040,000 (around US$52.2 million)